A Utah artist hopes a 40-foot, rust-red I-beam he plans to erect in Utah's western desert will help him make a point about abortion rights.
Darin Biniaz sees the beam, planned for an isolated site near Dugway Proving Ground, as "the most perfectly paternal form we've ever come up with."The art work, entitled "No Choice (No Freedom)" also will feature a sealed box containing the names of 100 American women, ages 14 to 43, who died from illegal back-alley abortions.
The 26-year-old sculptor received a $2,000 grant for the project, an expenditure blasted by the president of Utah's Right to Life chapter.
"Here we've taken federal funds away from abortion clinics . . . and yet we are allowing an agency that should be totally neutral to make a statement at a time when Utah is in the middle of abortion litigation," Rosa Goodnight said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, an NEA defender, declined to comment on Biniaz's project because he hasn't seen it. But he does say he believes artists have a right to express themselves as long as their projects don't promote pornography or obscenity.
Salt Lake City architect M. Ray Kingston, a Reagan appointee to the National Council on the Arts, indicated he had no problem with the expenditure.
"We're spending federal funds on nerve gas right around the corner (at Dugway)," he said.
The Bureau of Land Management leased property to Biniaz for the six-week project, but avoids taking a stand.
"I have no idea what the piece even is. That's as apolitical as you can get. Even if it were something that had religious or personal connotations, we would be inclined to permit it because the Bill of Rights allows freedom of expression," said Deane Zeller, Salt Lake district manager for the BLM.
Previous installations by Biniaz also have been eye-catchers. Last year at this time he constructed a plexiglass cube, filled it with Deer Valley air and suspended it in the murky air above a downtown Salt Lake City intersection.
Signs informed pedestrians that "The Clean Air Is in the Box." In April at the Salt Lake Art Center he created "No Home for the Brave" about homeless children.
Those works helped Biniaz obtain funding for the abortion project. Galen McKibben of Montana's Helena Presents, co-administrator of the grant, said a three-person panel rated Biniaz's proposal "at the very top" of 160 applications.
"They thought his work was young but adventurous, and they were intrigued by the project," McKibben said.
It is the political message of the project that concerns Susan Roylance of the Utah Association of Women's Life Defense Fund.
"I support freedom of expression, so long as the work isn't a federally funded political statement," she said. "I can't get terribly concerned about somebody's names on something that isn't portraying anything obscene."
The handwritten names that fill Biniaz's box came from a list provided by Susanne Millsaps, executive director of the Utah National Abortion Rights Action League. Of the 100 women listed, two were from Utah.
Biniaz said he is not for or against abortion, "because I'm a man and because I respect women's rights as individuals to make that decision for themselves."
The artist envisions a large I-beam stretching north to south three feet above the ground over a pool dug out of the frozen earth. A smaller beam will drop from the center into the muddy ice water, holding down the casket of names with 700 pounds of steel.
To the east, a wooden post painted yellow will stand sentinel; a black post will guard the west.
Biniaz sees abortion as a gender issue, "the tradition of patriarchal law," and explained that up close the beams are reminiscent of "all those movies in the '50s of real men building big buildings."