SANTA CRUZ, California — Occasionally ceramics gives us a feel-good environmental story to tell our readers. That was the case a few months ago when we reported on the work of Alex Goad, who repairs coral reefs with modular ceramic structures.
Now, environmental ceramic artist Nathan Lynch is giving us something new to share with you: a years-long project designed to help an endangered species of bird, the Rhinoceros Auklet. The Auklets live on Año Nuevo Island, a nature preserve off the coast of Santa Cruz. The birds are burrowers, meaning they make their nests in the sand. This is a problem because they share their already-degraded habitat with seals and (not that we’re body shaming) the seals often crush the nests of the Auklets.
Lynch, along with Matthew Passmore of MORELAB and Oikonos lend a hand by giving the Auklets sturdy, seal-proof, ceramic houses. They teamed up with students at California College of the Arts to teach “Designing Ecology: Año Nuevo Island.” The interdisciplinary course combined ceramics, design, and ecology. Students in 2010 fabricated more than 90 individual nests to install on the island. In 2012, Lynch returned to install 30 nests on the breeding grounds of Ashey Storm Petrels on the Channel Islands. Last year, the designers started work on a new nest prototype that mitigates heat.
Nathan Lynch was raised in Pasco, Washington an agricultural community in the shadow of Hanford Nuclear Power Plant, according to his biography. The futility of this environmental contradiction gave Lynch an acute sense of location and deep appreciation for irony. In the five formative years after graduation Lynch worked as the prop master for a local community theatre, the effects of which are still being realized in his current body of work. His concerns for political conflict and environmental upheaval are filtered through notions of absurdity, hand fabrication and the dramatic devices of storytelling.
As a sculptor and performance artist, Lynch has made collaboration and experimentation major components of his practice. Recent projects include Dead Reckoning for Bay Area Now 7 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a residency with the Exploratorium and nest module design for the Cassin’s Auklet on Año Nuevo Island . At the University of Southern California Lynch studied with Ken Price, and later earned an MFA at Mills College with Ron Nagle. Lynch is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Ceramics Program at California College of the Arts. He is represented by Rena Bransten Projects.
What do you think of this ecological architecture in contemporary ceramics? Let us know in the comments.