The Bain Project

The Bain ProjectThe Bain Project is the talk of the town this week in the Triangle. For the next two weekends, installations and performances by 12 local artists will be on view in the abandoned E.B. Bain Waterworks–which some have called “the foremost Art-Deco style building in Raleigh.” (Some great photos here and here.) Two of those artists have their day jobs here at the Museum: Jen Coon coordinates tours for the Education Department, and Stacey Kirby works as a technician in the Conservation lab. I was eager to ask them a few questions about their art…

Chad: How did you get involved in the Bain Project?

Stacey: I was introduced to the actual site through a close friend who had ‘discovered’ the beauty of this building during his own journeys. After visiting the site and hearing about the possible site-specific project, I contacted the coordinator of the project and went through an application process.

Jen: Stacey and I are members of a group studio together with four other artists–she knew about the potential for something to happen at the Bain Building a year ago, and had expressed excitement about the massive scale, openness and uniqueness of the space.

Incidentally, around the same time I first saw the site, the Triangle area was under severe drought conditions. This led me to focus on how architectural structures near water have served and survived, and to look at religious rituals that involve water (which is so often the case) to express our sense of its preciousness.

Through the working process, I landed on themes (oasis, wanderer, the rustic Buddhist tea ritual) that are strongly interrelated to each other and to these ideas.

Chad: Does your experience at the Museum have an impact on the work you’ve done for the Bain Project?

Jen: I think being ‘on the inside’ of the Museum over the past year and gradually taking it on as part of my daily life has helped me to understand the Bain Facility as a museum of a different sort, that (like NCMA) will always be a partial and subjective experience, no matter how many times one visits it.

And to flip the question around, I now think of the Museum as an oasis where people come to be renewed and to remember what is essential in life (or so I hope!).

Stacey: My work is definitely influenced by my daily environments–such as my work in Conservation at the Museum as well as my previous jobs in textile conservation at the NC Museum of History and as a dresser for the Broadway South Series at Memorial Auditorium. Specifically, I draw inspiration from the intense level of detail, observation and documentation required in conservation of museum collections for my ‘performative interactions.’ The stage that I set for these interactions is comprised of similar furniture and objects found in my daily office environments found at NCMA. Needless to say, I love State surplus!!

Chad: At the Museum, almost everything we do these days is influenced by the excitement, anticipation, and intense preparation related to the opening of our sleek, modern new building. You, however, must be consumed by those same emotions, focused on a wholly different space: old, time-worn, abandoned, industrial. Can you reflect on these spaces and how they affect both the viewing and creation of art work?

Jen: I have experienced the new building only once and have honestly tried not to picture it too much in advance, in order to enjoy the way it will change my experience of the collections.

As much as I like modernist ideas in architecture, it’s been a delight and privilege to work in a space that is itself a relic, and fills one with a sense of wonder about its past (and future). The textures are just jaw-dropping. Attempts to introduce elements from the outside/contemporary world have been tricky. (It would be fascinating to curate the Bain Building with NCMA works – Classical comes to mind.) So what we have done at Bain is more of a transformation of what is there, with particular attention to function and the theme of public utility.

Chad: What would you create for a gallery in the Museum’s new building? Something totally different from what you are doing for Bain?

Stacey: I would create an installation of an old large wood state office desk (purchased from surplus) placed in the center of one empty gallery. The desk would be painted Superwhite. I would sit at the desk dressed in a Superwhite suit. As visitors approached me, I would hand them a Superwhite postcard and ask them to: a) fill in their name and address b) place one of my custom-printed Superwhite stamps in the top-right corner c) on the reverse with a black ink pad, print their fingerprints from their dominant hand (wipes for their fingerprints would be provided)

Each postcard would be installed with a Superwhite pin in a grid pattern (fingerprint side showing) on the wall of the gallery behind me. Each participant would receive a customized 1″ Superwhite button. At the end of the exhibition, I would send all postcards to participants via the USPS.

Jen: I would  create a rock garden somewhere in the new building, ideally in sight of the Plensa (press release). A tea hut or similar Zen structure in the oasis might serve small groups as a space (like Cloud Chamber) to gather and/or mark a special event.

Chad: What’s your favorite work of art at the NCMA?

Stacey: Currently On Display–Joseph Cornell or Louise Nevelson pieces. Off Display – African collection – Porcupine Quill Tunic (It will be on display in the NEW BLDG!)

Jen: Different ones for different reasons. Alison Saar’s sculpture (Tippy Toes) is a recent favorite, for its inscrutability. Is she landing, with just a few more hoops to work through, or taking off? Do the vines protect and support her, or are they a snare? Why/how is her body so static, almost an icon, and yet so familiar?

Chad: What are you working on today at the Museum?

Stacey: I have been meeting with the design department regarding the layout for the new African Gallery. Design and Conservation are working together to create appropriate mounts and displays for the collection. The NCMA Conservation staff have been working with an objects conservator in the D.C. area who has been assessing and treating pieces in our African collection. Specifically for the African gallery, I will be dealing with costumes and textiles as I have a background in mounting from a conservation perspective after working under a textile conservator at the NC Museum of History.

Jen: Tour schedules, docent communications and monthly stats. But yesterday, I got a call from the Oasis Performing Arts School (no joke — Mecklenberg County) for a group of 12 students wanting a tour. I wish I could have offered them a tour of the Bain Building Oasis, followed by our musical performance in the filtration tanks!


  1. Chad
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Check out New Raleigh for a great Q&A with Daniel Kelly, the project’s organizer.

  2. Chad
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    And here’s more on Stacey’s project.

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