San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bridge gets a bamboo face-lift

On a recent afternoon, German artist Mark Huebner perched high up on the footbridge over the busy Calle 42 east of San José’s Sabana Park and placed the finishing touches on his latest bamboo sculpture. Huebner, a 46-year-old resident of Matapalo on the southern Osa Peninsula, was invited by director of the nearby Costa Rican Art Museum, Florencia Urbina, to create the huge spiky structure as a natural link between the city and its large urban park where many of this year’s International Arts Festival (FIA) events are being held.

Using only natural materials, the structure dresses the drab, functional metal and cement pedestrian bridge and is constructed of stems of bamboo bolted together with hardwood pins. Because the Public Works Ministry restricted building the piece directly over traffic, Huebner could only continue his creation between midnight and 5 a.m. when the road was closed. For the past week, morning commuters have been watching the oeuvre transform from what looked like lopsided third-world scaffolding into an eye-catching work of art.

The bamboo lengths were brought in from the Osa Peninsula, where Huebner runs a small eco-resort and yoga retreat, Ojo del Mar. The technique behind the Calle 42 installation looks simple enough. “It’s a bit like putting together IKEA furniture,” explains Huebner, referencing the European home products company that sells ready-to-assemble furniture. “But in fact it’s much more complicated. Drilling cleanly through the bamboo stems is a challenging technique.” Not to mention balancing everything 20 feet up without a safety net.

The structure is complete in time for the FIA, and city residents and visitors will also be able to enjoy it for at least a year. In the mean time, Museum director Urbina has invited Huebner to construct several 98-foot bamboo towers above the museum later this year as part of an growing outdoor sculpture gallery.  Urbina is a crusader when it comes to bringing art into public spaces. She supported the popular cow parade in 2008 and the current Birds of Peace that dot the streets and public spaces of San José.

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