Ten years ago, I began making sculpture that was inspired by landscape, and gradually, I became interested in shaping sculptures directly within landscapes.

John Grade Collector

Collector, John Grade. Photo: John Grade

This exploration has come to include juxtaposing disparate landscapes and focusing on how a sculpture can travel through them in a compelling way, gathering an imprint of an environment through a journey, and altering it in a subtle way as well. Anticipating and predicting forces within these landscapes has become a central concern and point of departure for formal and structural decisions within each of my projects. It is important to me that with each sculpture I balance the imposition I am inherently making upon a landscape with a vulnerability of form or material, so that unexpected detours can come about over the course of each work. I think of many of these projects as a kind of choreography of collapse and aim to more fully embrace improvisation as each work evolves.

Collector by John Grade

Collector, John Grade. Photo: John Grade

Wood, 1 x 1 x 1 feet
Willapa Bay, WA. Escalante Plateau, UT.

Collector was initially designed to fit precisely into a specific gap within a slot canyon in a remote area of Utah’s Escalante Plateau. Floodwaters surge through these canyons each year in late summer. By siting the sculpture in this flood route, I wondered if the water would completely destroy my work, leave it in broken pieces or just scour it clean. Prior to wedging it into the canyon, I anchored Collector in Willapa Bay on the Washington coast for 16 months. I wanted the sculpture to remain under the water until the oysters that grew on it were large enough to eat. To balance my intention for the piece with an element of chance or vulnerability, I loosely floated the sculpture within a net of yellow webbing that could potentially wear through and release the sculpture from its anchor.

Collector by John Grade

Collector, John Grade. Photo: John Grade

A “hundred year storm” hit the bay that winter, and though it failed to break loose the sculpture, it tore all of the brown seaweed from the sculpture’s surface. This muted seaweed was eventually replaced by a different species of bright grass-green seaweed that grew in a kind of halo around the sculpture—–it was the only place in the bay where this new variety of seaweed took hold. After removing the sculpture and harvesting its oysters, I bolted the wet sculpture with its mane of crustaceans and seaweed to the front of my truck so that it would frame my view like blinders as I drove south to Utah. The sculpture’s surface dried, and flakes of it dispersed before accumulating a crust of dead, black bugs and ochre dust on the way to the canyon. In the end, it was not the desert flooding that washed the sculpture of its remaining barnacles, clams and vestiges of seaweed; it was the wrens that picked it clean.

Collector is currently on view at Cynthia Reeves Gallery, New York, NY.

The Elephant Bed by John Grade

The Elephant Bed, John Grade. Photo: John Grade

The Elephant Bed
Corn-based resin, methylcellulose
20 forms, each 24 x 6 x 6 feet
2009–2010, Fabrica, Brighton, UK.

The Elephant Bed was initially exhibited at Fabrica in the UK. The twenty forms that comprise this installation are made of materials designed to rapidly deteriorate through exposure to moisture. Each form is 24 feet high and made with cornbased plastic and binder-free methylcellulose skins. Half of the exhibition space, a former church, was flooded with India ink. Over the run of the exhibition, half of the forms were gradually lowered, disappearing into the pool of ink. At the conclusion of the exhibition, the remaining forms were carried in a procession through narrow city lanes and walked directly into the English Channel where they immediately disintegrated into the waves.

Microscopic calcium shells that protect phytoplankton called coccolithophores inspired the sculpture’s fluted forms. Huge blooms of these organisms occur annually, discoloring the surface of the sea and lasting several weeks. As the organisms die en mass, their protective shells fall to the ocean floor. These incremental deposits made over thousands of years have formed a stratum geologists informally call The Elephant Bed, and make up much of England’s shoreline, including the White Cliffs of Dover.

A third version of the project is in the planning stages and will be exhibited in Valenciennes, France and New York City.