Mountain Kiln / Black Orchid

Site-fired, performance-kiln/furnace tableau, 60 ft. (18.2 m) long, steel, ceramic fiber blanket, sheet metal, propane tanks, sand, soda ash

The Embarcadero Field Project, International Sculpture Center Confernce, Estuary shore, Jack London Square, Oakland, CA, 1982
Sponsored by: ISC, NEA, in cooperation with the Port of Oakland, SFAI and Pro-Arts.

Left: pre-firing tableau

Middle: night firing

Right: kiln removed, supporting sand excavated from beneath fused "Black Orchid" kiln floor.
A photographic print of this part of the process is in the collection of the Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.

Mountain Kiln/Black Orchid is a site-fired, kiln tableau, commissioned for the ISC Conference, Oakland, CA, 1982. As a critical early Project: Land Kiln work, Mountain Kiln/Black Orchid, explores a poetic and structural relationship between the instrument of change (kiln) and what is changed (interior work). The Mountain Kiln structure was developed from the form of the interior, Black Orchid. The orchid form is the floor of the kiln with the ‘throat’ of the orchid connecting underground to a remote flue of galvanized metal forming a down-draft kiln structure. Heat from propane powered burners at the tips of each orchid petal enters the kiln and is drawn through the interior mountain kiln space out through the throat and flue, fusing the self-glazing clay mixture coating the petals into a obsidian-like glass surface.

Several similar ideas about flora, geology and process were imagined during the conceptualization of Mountain Kiln/Black Orchid. These include: an imaginary concept of volcanic magma upwelling through the throat of a volcano propagating over it’s surface layering petal-like lava flows over it’s flanks, as well as an alchemical idea of the molecular structure of molten lava as orchidic. These ideas were inspired by a geochemical percpetion of geology, the forms and habits of numerous orchid species as well as a giant flower in the jungles of Sumatra known as Arnolds Rafflesia, a parasitic, fleshy and odorous organism.

As a landscape-scale flower conjured from volcanic-like processes of lava-like materials from the interior of a mountain-like kiln, Mountain Kiln/Black Orchid, attempts to poetically engage with fundamental organic/inorganic/metabolic thematics.

After Prairie Starfish/Glacial Epoch, 1980, this work is the second Land Kiln to investigate ideas relating organic and geologic processes as functions of global metabolism. This large-scale concept of metabolim is explorded in the form of objects, kilns and non-fired environmental projects. In addition to many smaller-scale ship and tableau works, larger studies and projects such as Collision: Lava Ship/Trellis Ship, 1984, and the proposed:Study: Orchid Eclipse (spherical furnace with slowly closing refractory petals), 1990, as well as recent projects such as: San Francisco Wharf Complex: Coral Orchid/Seamount, 2012, are examples of this organic/inorganic exploration. Recent works of ceramics, installations and mixed media site works such as: Magma Chambers (Corvus/Orchidacaea/Kolumbo), 2016, that reference “obsidian orchids” as being the metaphorical heart of a volcano or magmatic plume, can be traced back to Mountain Kiln/Black Orchid and other early engagements with topics of global metabolim.



Furnace Projects, Constance Lewallan;

Kiln Projects: Material and Process Experiments in/of the Landscape, John Roloff