Andy Goldsworthy is a legendary artist known for his site-specific outdoor sculptures, made from natural materials found in the surrounding landscape. We’ve admired his work for decades, and have often felt a kinship in the way Goldsworthy’s work brings new forms and perspectives to materials that are already—in and of themselves—organically beautiful. We like to think the same holds true for our ceramics. Crafting by hand in any medium enables us to see nature more deeply, and gain respect for it by working with its intrinsic properties.
So it was a true dream to be contacted by Goldsworthy and his team in the fall of 2021 for a collaboration as part of an exhibition curated by the San Francisco-based arts organization, FOR-SITE Foundation. The new show, entitled Lands End, features a global assembly of luminary artists, each of whom has created work that reflects on climate change and the future of the planet. Goldsworthy’s contribution would be installed inside the now-shuttered Cliff House Restaurant, which operated for over 150 years in its iconic location at the coastal edge of San Francisco, before closing down during the pandemic.
We were inspired by the proposed project: Inside the empty restaurant, Goldsworthy planned to cover the old dining tables with raw white clay—a reference to white table cloths and formal dinnerware—then leave it subject to the elements, evolving over the duration of the exhibition. Though Andy was unable to come to California to install with us, we worked with the inimitable curator Cheryl Haines, director and founder of FOR-SITE Foundation; as well as artist Jaimie Healy and our entire Heath Clay Studio team to plan and execute the work.
The clay, which weighed in at over 2000 lbs, came from the tiny town of Ione in Northern California to Heath’s Sausalito factory, where we processed it and transported it to Cliff House. On site, we experimented to discover how the wet clay would react when laid over the old wooden restaurant tables, with their rounded corners and slightly uneven planes, which we had to level before loading them down with the weight of wet clay. After two days of rolling slabs and laying them across the dining room surfaces, we stood back and waited. “It was a celebration when we saw the first crack,” Heath Executive Design Director Blaise Bertrand says with a laugh. In the factory, it’s a pity, but here, it was the hope.
When the show opened in early November 2021, the installation, titled Geophagia, was a well-hydrated expanse, smooth and bright, lightly reflecting the sun that streamed through the windows. But within a few weeks, the clay grew parched and cracks began to stretch in irregular patterns, resembling a dry desert and leaving no doubt about its symbolism. In this work, we see the effects of drought, the impacts of agriculture, and the degradation of the land. “This work is not about climate change,” Cheryl Haines points out, “It is climate change.” It’s sobering, yet critically important, to bear witness to this living illustration of our planet’s vulnerability.
Lands End will be on view through March 27, 2022. If you have the opportunity, go visit the many striking works in the show, and be sure to take some time to stand in the grand old dining room of the Cliff House, still filled with so many echoes of San Francisco culture through the generations. Out the windows, past the clay-covered tables, an expansive view of the ocean awaits, inviting a long moment of reflection on where we are and where we’d like to go.
Thanks to Cheryl Haines, Blaise Bertrand, Rie Dion, Jay Dion, Nora Guergah, Jeff Perkins, Alex Corrin, Peter Berg, and Jaimie Healy.