Project Introduction

The idea for this project is both simple and complicated. The simple version is to take materials from, in and around, the construction site at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX and make work from it.

The original, 1972, Kimbell building is one of Louis Kahn’s finest buildings, one where many of his ideas about architecture are very clearly expressed. It is also regarded by many in the art and museum world as one of the best museum buildings in the country. In October 2010 construction began on a new Renzo Piano designed building at The Kimbell Piano’s just-begun addition to the Kimbell. The two buildings will be connected underground for staff, otherwise they will be freestanding buildings facing each other across a small grassy park. And behind the original Kahn building is The Fort Worth Modern Art Museum, designed by Tadao Ando and opened in December 2002. Kahn was a very influential figure on both Piano (who worked for Kahn briefly in the 60’s) and Ando. Kahn’s influence is evident in the work and writings of both architects, and I think both felt the pressure of Kahn’s presence when designing their buildings for this site.

For me as an architecture student, and then young architect, each of these three architects were very influential. And each of them continues to have a presence in my practice as a potter. So to find this opportunity to try to engage with the three of them, while they engage in their own conversation with each other is very exciting and intimidating and scary.

So the more complicated version of this project is how do I use materials (clays, wood, stones, water, etc.) harvested from this site to make a body of work that somehow reflects what is happening here. Work that reflects the interaction of these three architects, on this site, at this time.

The traditional country potter works by setting up his or her studio near a clay deposit and making pots from that clay. As you might imagine, different areas offer up different clay, and these differences cannot help but inform the end result, the finished pots.

Archaeology is the study of cultures through the analysis of their artifacts, usually artifacts that have been excavated.

How I’m thinking of this project is a combination of the country potter’s practice with a reversed archaeological practice. Or “Reverse Archaeology”.

Reverse Archaeology proposes a cultural version of the country potter’s practice—to harvest materials from a culturally significant site and imbue the work with that significance. For me, it is hard to imagine a more culturally (architecturally speaking) significant and complicated place to try this idea out.

So in June 2010 I pitched the idea to Malcolm Warner, the deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum, who came (slowly) on board and has since been my advocate in Fort Worth where, from this trio of architectural achievements, I will set up shop and harvest material from both the new construction and from any demolition occurring to the original Louis Kahn building—items from acorns, rocks, and clay to lumber, stone, travertine, and brick. I will also gather material from the regular course of on-site maintenance of Ando’s Modern Art Museum as well as the nearby towering Richard Serra sculpture, Vortex, which regularly sheds pieces of rust, which can be used as a source of iron oxide in glazes. The water from the Kahn fountains and the Ando pond will be used in the making of the work as well.

This project is very, very exciting for me. I feel like part of a family, like I share a design DNA with Kahn as a grandfather, and Piano and Ando as uncles. They have each had a strong influence on me, like a family might. So in some ways it feels very comfortable to be in their company. On the other hand, I have so much respect for each of them, that I sometimes feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the notion of making something that relates so closely to them.

Introduction to the Blog

This project will take over two years to complete, and will involve many, many phases, so a blog seemed like a perfect way for me to keep track of the work for myself and to share with anyone who is interested in following along.

Phase 1: Procuring the materials. For many months or longer I will harvest materials from the construction site and neighboring Ando building. Then the materials will be shipped back to my studio in Los Angeles.

Phase 2: Testing the materials procured to find out what works and what doesn’t. All clays differ in terms of their workability for a potter. It is pretty rare to take clay straight out of the ground and be able to use it in a way that you want to. All clays vary in their workability, firability, etc.

Phase 3: Figuring out what to make and then making it. I have no preconceived notion of what I will make for this project. This is the meat of the project. Getting and testing the materials will get me to the real starting place. Knowing what the materials can and can’t do will influence the project for sure. But there is a lot of research and thinking needed to determine what to make.

October 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum and so, ideally, I would like to have something ready by this date as a sort of commemoration.

The completion of Renzo’s addition is slated for Spring 2013, and so this will stand as the final deadline for the completed project, whatever it is.


2 responses to “Project Introduction

  1. Kathy Knowles

    As a pottery student and archaeologist, I am fascinated with your proposal and with your progress! I live in the mountains of western Virginia where there is a road called “China Clay Road” and riverbanks of rich red mud. I’ll follow your blog with interest as I continue to purchase Heath ceramics for my daughter and son, who love it and use it every day in their home in Boston.

  2. Pingback: What Excavation Dirt Wants To Be « Trouble in Xanadu

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