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Alumni and Friends

NC State Alum Matt McConnell’s ‘Evolution Field’ Featured in Brickyard

NC State graduate Matt McConnell with his "Evolution Field" sculpture in the NC State Brickyard.
NC State graduate Matt McConnell with his "Evolution Field" sculpture in the NC State Brickyard.

NC State students, faculty and staff and interested passersby on Hillsborough Street will notice a mesmerizing blend of light and color in the Brickyard over the next three months. 

Three sets of three panels of interwoven orange, green and purple curved lines make up a smaller scale version of Raleigh sculptor and NC State alum Matt McConnell’s “Evolution Field,” which will be on display near Bostian Hall until February, as a process that began in January has finally reached its desired outcome. 

“It’s exciting to come back and bring something to the school,” McConnell said. “The college I attended is on the other side of campus, and it was uncommon for me to visit this side of campus when I was in school. One of the things that I like about this is that, if people learn that it’s here, it’ll draw them across campus.”

Three stakeholder groups – the Friends of the Libraries, Arts NC State and Inter-Residence Council, came together to bring the sculpture to NC State. 

“It’s a phenomenal thing,” said Project Manager Mike Riha. “It’s a phenomenal display. It’s the neatest, most interactive thing. It wouldn’t have taken place if not for the willingness and the collaboration of the stakeholder groups to come together and make this thing a reality. In my role as a project manager, that is often the biggest hurdle, and they were on board, engaged and had it not been for that, this thing probably would have never come to fruition.” 

McConnell, who graduated from NC State’s College of Design in 1995 and focused on architecture and industrial design, explained that the idea for the piece started coming together five years ago after he traveled to an event in the United Arab Emirates and got to meet with numerous artists from different countries. 

McConnell wanted to feature a new piece at Burning Man, the annual art celebration in the Nevada desert. When he asked the Burning Man Foundation for a grant, they suggested that he first come to the event and learn more about it, so he did, learning more about the nature of people interacting with artwork and working to create a more dynamic piece. 

“Evolution Field” is about the blending of color, energy and light, McConnell explained. The piece is especially beautiful and fascinating at night when its electric lights shine in the dark, and the colors on the panels shift. 

For McConnell, that blending of energy represents a group of people coming together and ideas and beliefs blending together and changing – precisely what you’d see on a college campus such as NC State. 

“You’ve got thousands and thousands of people, and they’re all mixing together in different ways and in different places,” McConnell said. “The art represents the idea of this mix of energy and can be represented by people or their attitudes.”

You’ve got thousands and thousands of people, and they’re all mixing together in different ways and in different places.

After the COVID-19 pandemic put the project on pause in 2020, McConnell was able to feature his piece at Burning Man in 2022, after which NC State approached him about featuring it on campus, and McConnell now has two model versions of the sculpture on display – the one in Raleigh and one in Aspen, Colorado. 

The idea to bring it to campus started in January of 2023 when NC State Senior Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Greg Raschke saw a video of the piece at Burning Man and asked about bringing it to NC State. 

The NC State University Libraries’ Director of Community Engagement Marian Fragola said that, with the Brickyard under construction until about 2027, the piece will give students and staff a piece of beauty in a part of campus that won’t be up to full functionality for the foreseeable future.

“The idea was to bring something delightful into the Brickyard for students while they don’t have the Brickyard activated like they usually do,” Fragola said. “Just to have this little moment of delight, and I love where it is, that was the hope. It’s a little present for students and people on campus to enjoy while the Brickyard is under construction.” 

The idea was to bring something delightful into the Brickyard for students while they don’t have the Brickyard activated like they usually do.

McConnell said that, though his academic focus at NC State was on architecture, he was constantly “in the shop making things.”

The Wolfpack alum was more than happy to bring a piece of his to campus and perhaps provide inspiration to future NC State artists. 

“I’m honored that they asked,” McConnell said. “It means a lot that they would want to have something of mine here.” 

McConnell called his time at NC State and, after graduation, working with local artist Thomas Sayre and helping design the large outdoor rings at the North Carolina Museum of Art “pivotal” to his formation as an artist. 

He said that his education in problem-solving at NC State has helped him design pieces such as “Evolution Field,” which includes a complex system of circuit boards and switches that allows the electrical component to function as it should, creating a stunning display of color and light against the night sky. 

Finding ways to make those ideas come to life fits with NC State’s motto of “Think and Do.”

“In many cases, you don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re trying to figure it out,” McConnell said. “The education that I got here was about how you figure out things you’ve never seen before. How do you solve a problem you’ve never seen? How do you deal with the unknown? There’s a lot of that in this.”