What do you see in this sculpture? Artists honored ‘unique’ Boise feature

Geothermal heat is as emblematic of Boise as the Foothills or the famous blue turf at Boise State. Now, the university has a sculpture on campus based on the famous hot water that’s heated houses and buildings in the area for well over a century. The Warm Springs geothermal district was the first to start pumping hot water for heat in Boise.

Boise artists Ken McCall and Leslie Dixon created the colorful metal and plexiglass sculpture, “Transference.” It was installed Nov. 4 near the back entrance to the Environmental Research Building on University Drive.

The title of the piece, say the artists, refers to the circular system that pipes hot water underground throughout the city, then returns it to its underground source.

Dixon said the most compelling thing about designing “Transference” was exploring the interaction between a natural phenomenon and the community.

“We are perched on this ancient geothermal reserve that historically and currently has an impact on our lives. It is one of the more intriguing features that makes Boise unique,” Dixon said. “As artists we are always searching for an unexplored concept or subject to create something new, and so having the chance to make a sculpture to represent something that is relatively rare in the world is awesome.”

The artists avoided the type of spectacular images the public might associate with geothermal activity — think dramatic Yellowstone geysers and vivid calderas. Rather, they focused on the hidden, underground aspects of superheated water and its flow through hundreds of public buildings.

“Transference” stands more than a story high at approximately 15 feet tall. It is made from a real geothermal pipe, colored plexiglass and plasma-cut steel panels. Its colors shift from blue, representing cool water, to red, representing water that has gone through the geothermal heating process. The cut steel panels represent maps of the underground heating system as well as the machinery used throughout the geothermal cycle, including wheels and gauges.

The sculpture also commemorates the 2010 expansion of the geothermal heat system from Downtown Boise to the Boise State campus.

The city of Boise has operated its own geothermal district since 1983. The city’s hot water is pumped from the ground near St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center. It circulates through the downtown area, heating about 3.8 million square feet of building space.

A selection panel chose McCall’s and Dixon’s design following a competitive application process and public input.

The full project budget was $25,000, with half coming from the city’s Public Works Geothermal Percent for Art allocation and the other half from Boise State University, said Karen Bubb, public arts manager for the city. The university will own and maintain the piece.