What Excavation Dirt Wants To Be

At the intersection of classic architecture and unusual artistic experiments, the artist/potter Adam Silverman is currently in the process of developing an art project based on the clay found around the Kimbell Art Museum in the context of its new Renzo Piano-designed expansion (previously reviewed by me here).  Silverman hopes of exploring the artistic dialog between Piano and Kahn, as well as the “concerned observer” found in Tadao Ando’s nearby Modern Art Museum, by collecting samples of clay and other raw materials found at the sites of the three buildings.  So far he has excavated tons of earth from the construction site for the new building, taken trees from the site home in his rental car trunk, and even filled buckets of water from the Kimbell’s fountains, all to be shipped back to his studio in Los Angeles as fodder for his project.

The artist’s statement describes his project as a continuation of the traditions of ancient pottery, where works were informed by the particulars of the clay available at their site. This connected the art to its particular geography and climate in a way that seems distinctly architectural.

To quote the statement:

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.

The artist is currently studying the specific properties of the clay found at the site in a manner which seems true to Kahn’s own inquiries into what a brick “wants to be”:

After seeing s0me examples of the artist’s previous work, such as his Boolean Valley (with Nader Tehrani) at the nearby Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas …

… I can’t wait to see what he discovers that the clay at these excavation sites “wants to be.”

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