John Roloff


Artist Statement


My work is a examination of psychological and conceptual relationships between humanity and nature, materiality and process, often evoking a poetic interplay between primal and scientific conditions.  This exploration was inspired in the work of 1970’s through the early 1990’s by qualities of the sublime evoked by the geology and natural dynamics of the North American landscape.  Since the mid-1990’s other, related issues, particularly structural and systemic relationships between landscape, architecture and technology, have increasingly characterized the work. 


Originating from my studies of geology and oceanography as a student in the late 1960’s (this research is still very much ongoing) the materials of sculpture and ceramics are perceived and worked with from the viewpoint of natural origin, process and scale.  This attitude first found its expression in a series of landscape tableaus and sculptural works completed from the mid 1970's through the early 1990’s.  These relationships were expanded to environmental scale in the 1980’s to early 1990’s by a body of work utilizing site-generated kiln/furnaces as experimental instruments of transformation of natural materials in the landscape. A seminal, property of the kiln/furnace projects is a barely restrained unleashing of natural force, (fire in this case) where a visual, conceptual, aesthetic and empathetic synthesis is initiated between the viewer, site and force by the firing of the works.


The last set of kiln/furnace works: the group of 3 projects, 51 Million BTU’s, 1988-89, and another project, Metabolism and Morality/O2, 1992, deepened already evolving concepts of site-alchemical material/historical transformations into considerations of symbiotic merging of physical matter and living systems, a state of: synthetic ecology, that included integration of ecology, ontology, existentialism and aesthetics across all forms of substance and essence, “living” and “non-living.”  One aspect of this dynamic examines "metabolism" in terms of a full range of anabolic and catabolic (life :: death) potentials and systems.  This approach also includes research into proto-scientific investigations of the 17th and 18th centuries systems that extend empirical thought and process into non-linear/poetic, meta-romantic, concepts of form and substance in nature: the lineage of Heraclitus, Leibniz, Goethe, Coleridge, Gutarri and Deleuze, Serres, etc.  Dynamic projections of this thought from baroque art and architecture projecting towards a contemporary, natural, civic, personal, even absurd dimension (a building or project designed by the brain of an albatross, built by algae, maintained by glaciers..., Goethe's color theory applied to the tints of gasoline, etc).  Synthetic ecology strongly argues against the concept that nature is “unknowable’ or even at many levels distinguishable from humanity. Synthetic ecology morphs into trans-scientific forms of empathetic aesthetics, meta-ecology, and themes of alignment, indivisibility and equilibrium between living and non-living systems. 


Many post-kiln projects enlarge the inquiry and the observer/nature dialectic initiated in the kilns into other materials and contexts, such as: Deep Gradient/Suspect Terrain.., Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco, CA, 1993, is a publicly sited glass observatory presenting sediment dredged from the ocean floor from which future landscapes will be made. Incidental plant growth occurring in the structure is a product of dormant seeds in the sediment deposited by terrestrial rivers and nurtured by the greenhouse conditions within.  Similarly, Pitzer Project:  a Prototype System for the Production and Distribution of Ancient Sunlight, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA, 1996, presents, through programmed activations of the project’s mechanical/electrical system, the idea that ancient sunlight is being activated by contemporary electrical illumination and Rotting Flame I & II, 1994-2009, primarily composed of decaying oranges, are instruments of chemical transformation and time. The processes of fire and decay are essentially two forms of oxidation/reduction, fire is relatively fast and decay is much slower. In this sense Rotting Flame I & II are the image of fire animated within the time frame of the decay of oranges.


Projects of the late 1990’s until the present increasingly bring architecture and climates/paleo-climates concepts into my work. The works, Holocene Terrace, Lance Fung Gallery, New York, NY, 1999, Depositional Environment I, Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco, CA, 2001 and Holocene Passage, installed at the Archivio Emily Harvey, Venice, Italy as part the 2002 Venice Architectural Biennale, are comprised primarily of a structure containing natural materials integrated with the architecture of the gallery space and connected to the outside environment.  In these cases, the projects are dependent upon external conditions (weather and temperature) for their visual and vital condition. This interest in architecture and natural systems, related to such works as: Stratigraphic Column I-III, 2001-04 and Geology Flags Project: Franciscan Formation/San Francisco, CA I-II, 2004-05, informed by the concept of ‘anthroturbation’ where cities, architecture, roads and other construction produced by mankind are considered in a geologic context as part of the Athropocene, (the human portion of the Holocene Epoch), through analogies such as: quarrying as erosion, transport as flow and construction as sedimentation along with other orogenic/tectonic processes.


Most recent projects such as: Site Index, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 2000-09; Seventh Climate (Paradise Reconsidered), I-5 Colonnade Park, Seattle, WA, 2006, Estuary Channel Elliptic-Ohlone Epicenter, Oakland, CA, 2006-09, Yerba Buena Complex, San Francisco, CA, 2008 and San Francisco Wharf Complex, San Francisco, CA, 2009, are systemic in nature, examining and integrating interests in climate, geologic history, paleo-meta-landscapes and ecological/social dynamics through a wide range of media and processes including: plantings, technology, architecture, research and collaboration.