Center for Art + Environment Blog

January 1, 2012   |   William L. Fox

Seattle Studio Visits: Lorna Jordan and John Grade — Part 1 of 3

Seattle Studio Visits

Lorna Jordan, Terraced Cascade (Scottsdale, Arizona), 2002-2007. This environmental artwork is also a garden and an outdoor theatre designed as a miniature watershed and abstraction of the human body. Photo by Lorna Jordan.

Lorna Jordan, Terraced Cascade (Scottsdale, Arizona), 2002-2007.  This environmental artwork is also a garden and an outdoor theatre designed as a miniature watershed and abstraction of the human body. Photo by Lorna Jordan.

Lorna Jordan, Terraced Cascade (Scottsdale, Arizona), 2002-2007. This environmental artwork is also a garden and an outdoor theatre designed as a miniature watershed and abstraction of the human body. Photo by Lorna Jordan.

January 2012

I spent the days before Christmas with CA+E Research Fellow and writer David Abel making studio visits in Seattle. It’s hard to imagine a more congenial and collegial group of people than the six people with whom we met. Upon our arrival on a Thursday afternoon, we first visited environmental artist Lorna Jordan, who has worked on projects for public spaces from Arizona to Wisconsin, Fort Worth to Calgary. As is obvious by the drawings, blueprints and models in her spacious studio, her designs are informed by the marks humans make on the land, sustainability issues, and systems theory. Increasingly, she acts as much as an urban planner and architect as an artist, employing a variety of professionals in various fields to work on projects as needed.

Jordan has conceived her current work for “Central Park” in Madison, Wisconsin as “a laboratory that synthesizes nature and art, utility and recreation…. [that] manifests the expressive potential of art in an emerging eco-society.” Working as the artist within a large design team, she appeared to us to be raising the bar for how an urban park can reclaim a former brownfield through green technologies, as well as providing a unique aesthetic experience in the city. There’s an excellent interview with Lorna in the March 2011 issue of Sculpture Magazine, if you want to learn more about her work.

The next morning David and I travelled downtown to the former residential hotel where sculptor John Grade has colonized several of the ground floor rooms, converting them into a woodworking studio on a large scale. The first thing John pointed out were sections of 165-foot-long wooden beams salvaged from a 19th-century sailing ship, pieces of which will be assembled into a 65-foot-high sculpture suspended from the ceiling of Seattle’s new Museum of History and Industry. The museum is built on a pier over Union Lake, and the work, which you will be able to gently swing by the push of a hand, will pierce the floor to connect with the water below the pier. This will allow the bottom of the sculpture to slowly degrade over time. Grade, while making exquisite objects large and small, never travels far from his preoccupation with entropy. An almost surreal metaphor for this connection to time and decay were his exhibitions in 2009 and 2010 of tall white forms suspended over and then lowered into pools of black ink, which essentially melted them. Grade has also buried wooden sculptures in Washington State and Nevada to see how they disintegrate differently over time.

Evident during both visits were commitments to the integrity of concept, high levels of craft, and a desire to serve the public as well as the formal demands of their media. This would continue throughout the other visits we made, more about which in the next two posts.

John Grade, Elephant Bed (Brighton), 2009. Corn-based polymer, biodegradable methyl cellulose skins. 20 forms, 24' x 6' x 6' each. Image courtesy of Davidson Gallery.

John Grade, Elephant Bed (Brighton), 2009. Corn-based polymer, biodegradable methyl cellulose skins. 20 forms, 24′ x 6′ x 6′ each. Image courtesy of Davidson Gallery.