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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Another Earthwork Worth Testifying For

posted by on April 3 at 16:05 PM


It’s not just Robert Smithson’s world-famous Spiral Jetty in Utah that’s in need of public testimonials about its importance. South King County is a haven for incredibly little-known works of earth art, including, pictured above, Herbert Bayer’s Earthworks at Mill Creek Canyon in Kent.

The art, made 25 years ago, is an entire landscape sculpted into geometric shapes at the base of a canyon with a creek running through it. The water of the creek flows down toward the artwork, and when it reaches the art, the art functions as a water detention dam.

On Thursday, April 24 at 5 pm (at Kent City Hall Council Chambers, 220 4th Avenue South), there will be a public hearing on the historical significance of the piece. It has been nominated for City Landmark status by the Kent Arts Commission, and if the nomination is accepted, it will be the first historic property to be designated by the City of Kent.

But most importantly, a landmark designation will help to protect the work from future interventions by bureaucrats—although there is one such intervention that’s in the works already. Construction will start this summer to alter the landscape enough to bring it up to new state flooding codes—something about preparedness for the sort of flood that happens once every 10,000 rather than once every 100 years.

Cheryl dos Remedios, Kent’s visual art coordinator, has been working for more than a year on this. She’s been trying to see that the alterations to the piece’s formal aspects are as minimal as possible, while still maintaining the piece’s function, which was crucial to the artist, Bayer, who died in 1985.

To try to offer city engineers as many options as possible, dos Remedios enlisted the help of professor Nancy Rottle and her students in the UW landscape architecture department. They made a proposal that involved leaving Bayer’s shapes relatively untouched, and providing another outlet for the water by lowering the parking lot that’s adjacent to the landscape.

But recently, dos Remedios found out that this option—which she was pushing for—wouldn’t cut it, technically. She’s accepted the upcoming construction as a fair solution. “If you presume that you do (need to protect for a 10,000-year storm), this is a very responsible way to address the situation,” she said in a phone conversation.

But if the artwork becomes a historic landmark—and it should—then things might work a little differently next time.

“The decision-making process becomes consultative, meaning that—well, I don’t think I need to define that,” she said. “It would probably get me into trouble.”

It’s a delicate situation she’s handled well since she took the job less than two years ago. Go and testify not only to support Bayer’s art, but also to support the people who fight for art behind the scenes.

If you haven’t seen the piece, there’s a tour at 4 pm preceding the hearing. It’s at 742 E Titus in Kent, and it’s open year-round.

RSS icon Comments


Isn't that where the Teletubbies live?

Posted by Stolia | April 3, 2008 4:22 PM

I've been there. It doesn't always look so... clean. But it's a neat place to hang out.

Posted by Aislinn | April 3, 2008 4:43 PM

Believe it or not, planning for a 10,000 year flood is actually useful. In fact, it would have helped a lot in SW Washington last year.

Posted by Greg | April 3, 2008 4:48 PM

Except that flooding is an ecologically useful activity, and "preventing" it usually ends up having horrible consequences elsewhere. Still, it's Kent, so I guess they have to do something with this, since it's the only unpaved portion of the valley left.

Posted by Fnarf | April 3, 2008 5:44 PM

All I know about every cool piece of earth art in South King County involves stories from friends who took psychedelics there (probably because they are pretty Teletubby-esque).

Posted by Jessica | April 3, 2008 7:07 PM

OMG! Am I that old!?!?!? I remember when this place was being cleared to be built. Sorry about messing up that new grass too....

Posted by starwood | April 3, 2008 9:13 PM

All that's missing is the sun with a baby's face.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | April 3, 2008 9:41 PM

Does this really qualify for landmark status? I compare it to the Ballard Denny's and find it lacking.

Posted by tiktok | April 4, 2008 6:51 AM

That's the park where I smoked some pot laced with something...horrible and had a total freakout in that pit right there. So selfishly I want it torn down and not protected. But then again, that experience put me off drugs and I've led a healthy, happy, prosperous life so maybe not. Eh. I'll leave it to those with more objective observations to decide.

Posted by lkp | April 4, 2008 9:05 AM

@4: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Nobody said anything about "preventing" flooding. (Though try telling the people living along Highway 8 that it's 'ecologically useful' for their homes to be destroyed. Have an escape planned ahead of time.) Planning for 10,000 year floods doesn't mean building concrete bulwarks all around the property. It's about making a place for the water to go that will mitigate the damage to your site. Which is exactly what they're doing by lowering the parking lot.

Posted by Greg | April 4, 2008 9:21 AM

Awesome. I'm bringing my clubs. Thanks for the tip.

Posted by wbrproductions | April 4, 2008 12:43 PM

I am surprised there isn't already a Kent City Landmark, but that's a discussion for another post! If designated as a Kent City Landmark will the Tubbies have to be evicted? Not sure my kids would be okay with that... Maybe we could relocate them to the military housing in Discovery Park.

Posted by Brian Conlin | April 9, 2008 10:23 AM

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