Introduction & afterword: art is...

– by Kiko Denzer (to read the full text, click HERE.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dig this! (What I learned while playing in the mud…)

Earthen Tool Shed, White Crane Springs Community Garden, San Francisco
A Hybrid Structure with Mosaic Urbanite Foundation, Stick-Frame Walls with Cob Infill and a Living Roof

– by Kat Sawyer

Building with earth has always ignited my imagination. Ever since childhood I've been drawn to places that combine the safety and comfort of an interior space with the excitement of being outdoors. The desire to break out of the box and create living architecture is shared by many people in the field of ecological design.

When I look back to other inspirations on my path to being an earth builder, my family's trip to Mesa Verde in Colorado was a formative experience. Walking among the adobe ruins as a teen, I could not predict how strongly I would connect to the experience looking backwards.

My love for earth building was solidified when several things aligned themselves to make it possible for me and my colleague Surane Gunesekara to design and build a cob tool shed in a San Francisco community garden.

Many hands and feet took part in the endeavor including the gardeners and their families, bay area residents with an interest in green building, our friends, and many other random people we met along the way.
Some of the most memorable moments for me involve intergenerational relationships, like a grandparent playing in the mud with his grandson. Younger kids instantly connect with earth building. Teenagers usually don't want to get dirty at first, but once they take the plunge they end up having a great time just like the rest of us!

Earth building brings people together – it is a beautiful expression of community spirit. Building with cob is hard work and very labor-intensive so it requires a group to be done effectively. Earth building by its very nature must be done with the help of others.

The real fun of community art is letting the design evolve over time and with the input of the participants… Many elements of our earthen structure changed from their original intent, including the roof and the walls. The people who helped us build the cob tool shed left their own unique marks (dare I say footprints?) on it.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Clay village and seasonal educational training camp for the cultural heritage of earth-building in Berlin

– by Rainer Warzecha

Keeping the heritage of the natural alive!

Our group of artists, united in the earthwork-artnet and Interglotz-team, has been erecting adobe playgrounds and sculptures made of clay and natural structures (using wood, bamboo, stone) since 1990. We are located in Berlin’s beautiful park area, Britzer Garden. From this beginning, our activities have spread across north and south Europe.

In creating structures, arranged in village-like groups, we interact with kids of any age, playing and building with earth. Our work serves as a magic kind of service towards cultural heritage. This work is important in our big cities, where so many inhabitants have lost their connection to the dirt beneath their feet. Our standard art-earth-construction-workshop – open to anyone – lasts 6 weeks during summer holidays. We have run these workshops every year since our first offering in 1990.

In the beginning, our activities were simple sticks and mud constructions. We continued with archaic huts, like people might have built in the stone age. Quickly, we developed our own style of sculptures: buildings in the form of large animals; earthen heads in the style of Mayan culture; and igloo-shaped huts.

In fact, our village is in some way reconnecting to the roots and heritage of architecture in its development. We use something very old: pure earth. In fact, the material has probably already has been built with at some point in the near or distant past. In any case, the resource is as local as you can get.

As in the old times, the time span between spinning and discussing an idea to a resultant building or sculpture is quite short. Also, children have the chance to erect something large, not the usual matchbox-size mock-up that is reserved for them in most cases. They get to experience shelter-building as a natural process, and get to experience the value of many hands working together. Our kind of teamwork supports a spirit of community and identification with the structure by the process of building a hut or house. The playground is made by those who are going to use it when it’s done.

The adults engaged in this process also learn a lot about how to work in a creative and joyful atmosphere, an experience mostly lost in today’s modern working world. Through this contact with the genuine heritage of mankind, we regain something lost: togetherness, support and brotherhood. And some of this do-it-yourself spirit may be taken home, after having worked some hours or days with the artist team. Even architects are astonished and almost convinced of the qualities that a simple building with clay can make clear. This is an important realization, in fact: simplicity! I can do it myself! We are so far from that point in the complex world of today.

Beneath the communicative, psychological and social experiences is the specific sensual attractions of clay. Often I heard that kids termed Lehm in their own words as Leben, which means “live“. And indeed that is a central truth of the material and element – earth – that we deal with.

“Makunaima” is a symbolic figure from South American religion and philosophy. Part of the philosophy states that kids are ‘elder spirits’, bringing in their own viewpoints, a heritage from beyond, when they come to birth. They have magic forces, as many of us who are parents will agree. This legendary figure Makunaima tells us more: we as adults should try to keep the child in ourselves alive (trying to follow this Bob Dylan song line “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now!”).

And so we do. Trying to keep it young, seeing things through the eyes of a child sometimes.

Clay or mud is an unformed, basic substance. EVERYONE can get it free, with no costs – or only cost of transporting it. Building shelter using the materials around us also is part of our human heritage. Hopefully we can retain this, just as we all should have the freedom to breathe fresh air and drink pure water.

To this point, our work with clay is more an example, a model of continued heritage and a joyful experience of the new. The effort to maintain a building and make it last over decades is another issue. However, we have already begun to survey and service the art space we have created. This garden and village-like settlement has been growing into shape over the last decade and a half in Berlin’s Britzer Garden. It will be maintained, as we care for it through the seasons.

Often we are asked whether we are imitating various African traditions or tribal architecture. In fact, we are not! But we do know about them, and understand that all these methods cultivate community and togetherness, as well as traditional skills and handicrafts. The concept that guides us may be related to ‘native’ philosophy, as it is grounded in the belief that every creation has some spirit living within it too. This is why many of our works are creatures with faces, showing “embedded souls”.

In this way, we tap into the children’s fantasies, and reconnect to the past and the spirit of traditional native art of African, Mayan, and Aboriginal roots. Beyond the TV representations that we consume daily as we travel forward in modern life, here we look backward from time to time, to reconnect authentically with those human roots. As well, we try to reintroduce joy and play into the process of work, instead of keeping them separate! For example, music performances often flow spontaneously from periods of intense work.

Interglotz - art network erects adobe playgrounds, single buildings and sculptures made of clay and natural materials, foremost wood, clay and stone.