An interactive sculpture by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is coming to downtown D.C. in spring 2020. The 20-foot-tall piece, “Speaking Willow,” will greet visitors as they enter the courtyard of Planet Word Museum, a new, language-focused museum, which will occupy the historic Franklin School at 13th and K streets NW.
The tree-shaped sculpture will consist of motion-activated speakers that murmur poems, songs and sayings in 500 different languages.
“As you walk underneath, you activate the speakers overhead, and they light up and create a kind of fragile but sweet and romantic atmosphere,” Lozano-Hemmer says.
The piece was commissioned and donated by Planet Word founder Ann Friedman, a philanthropist and retired reading teacher.
“My idea was that the fun with words and language should start even before people go inside the museum walls,” Friedman says.
“Speaking Willow” is Lozano-Hemmer’s first permanent installation in the United States. Three temporary pieces of his — “Pulse Room,” “Pulse Index” and “Pulse Tank” — are on view at the Hirshhorn through April 28.
All three pieces capture visitors’ heartbeats and transform them into communal, mercurial works of art. Both his “Pulse” series and “Speaking Willow” underscore the importance of acknowledging our shared humanity, Lozano-Hemmer says.
“For me, what’s important is to highlight our diversity and our unity,” he says. “I want the tree to be a reminder that all of these different human tongues are intimately interconnected, and that we are all part of the same worldwide family.”