On a recent afternoon, a few ceramics grad students knelt on the shiny Boise State Liberal Arts Building gallery floor, grabbing fistfuls of intricate clay shapes and fitting them together like a large puzzle.
Standing nearby, Roswell, N.M.-based ceramics artist Nathan Craven gave the students instructions on where to place the more than 14,000 pieces amid a din of clanking bricks.
Craven and co. were installing the piece Construct, which will have an opening reception today, from 6-8 p.m. in Gallery One of the Liberal Arts Building.
Craven has created large-scale ceramics installations for arts spaces across the world, including the Denver Art Museum, Joyce in Beijing, China, and the Bernardaud Foundation in Limoges, France. But it was a two-year residency at a former brickyard—the prestigious Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Mont.—that got him thinking about the humble brick.
“Bricks are usually used to create walls and they’ve been used throughout history to build architecture, and I thought, why not make them a little more interesting, instead of just straight brick,” said Craven.
He continued: “Walls and floors, they pretty much dictate where we move and how we move through architecture, but they pretty much go unnoticed … so I thought, why not just actually make the wall the work instead of making the wall and hanging something on it?”
Craven’s process is as intricate as his installations. It involves creating odd-shaped wooden dies and then pushing hunks of recycled clay through a giant Play-Doh Fun Factory-like extruder. The shaped logs are dried and then cut with a tile saw before getting sorted fired and, sometimes, glazed.
His Boise State installation, Construct, is comprised of 14,000 individual pieces that arrived in two large wooden crates. Though the pieces were shown once before at the Denver Art Museum, they have been completely reconfigured for the new space.
Attendees are invited to walk on the surprisingly sturdy floor piece, but high heels are discouraged. Construct will remain up through Friday, Oct. 26.
For a preview of the show and a behind-the-scenes look at the installation process, check out the video below.