As contemporary architects continue to integrate craft into their designs, they’d be well served to take a close look at the new exhibition Meeting the Clouds Halfway at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson (MOCA).
Stemming from a more than 10-year collaboration between New York architects Aranda/Lasch and Native American artist Terrol Dew Johnson of the Arizona-based Tohono O’odham Nation, the show examines the merger of contemporary and traditional materials, techniques, and ideas.
“I’ve always been fascinated by things that were really different and took me out of the traditional realm,” said Johnson. “I saw this as an exciting adventure.”
The show, staged inside MOCA’s generous, light-filled Brutalist main gallery, includes works ranging from jewelry and small baskets to furniture, sculpture, and large-scale structures that grew out of the designers’ experiments with the traditional native technique of coiling, in which a bendable material is woven around itself to create a solid surface.
The teams incorporated a large palette of traditional materials like bear grass, yucca, sinew, wood, gourd, horsehair, and feathers, and more modern ones like aluminum, steel, copper, and fiberglass. They merged coiling and weaving with computer modeling and fabrication techniques like CNC milling and water jet- and laser-cutting. Often a design would bounce between the teams across the country, digital and analog creations emerging in new and unexpected ways.
In one case, a wood basket was formed from laser-cut panels, assembled via weaving and connected with yucca and sinew. In another, a laser-cut metal loop would start in New York, and then come back from Arizona looking utterly transformed.
The artists first teamed up in 2006 for a show at New York’s Artists Space. The current show, curated by Alexandra Cunningham Cameron, displays diverse pieces on platforms and walls, and even hangs them from the ceiling.
The project was as much about process as it was output, said Chris Lasch, principal at Aranda/Lasch. “What it boils down to was looking for a way to exchange information. The design was always collaborative. The pieces were always done through discussions and design sessions.”
Both sides of this creative team are not only happy with what they’ve learned from the other, but are looking to collaborate again. Lasch notes that perceptiveness to local craft and materials is helping them with a new furniture system they’re developing for a school built by the 14 + Foundation in Zambia.
“The sky is the limit,” added Johnson. “I’m definitely looking for what the future holds with more collaborations or ideas to expand on what I need to express myself.”
Meeting the Clouds Halfway runs through January 29, 2017, see MOCA’s website for more details.