granary project

A 2000 year old ceramic granary sits on display at the Art Institute of Chicago while its contemporary twin–a recent commission by the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park–placidly overlooks a 50 acre field on the outskirts of the city.

This project activates a conversation exploring the ecological linkages between these two objects, their histories, and the two sites they now inhabit.

The concept for the Granary project emerged from a decade long fascination with a small grouping of Han Dynasty burial ceramics in the Asian collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. They caught my attention, not just for the humble rural elegance I'd come to admire in them, but as objects invested with ecological knowledge that felt familiar and legible to me across a two thousand year span of time. This small suite of ancient objects–a pigsty latrine, a small grain milling shed, a granary–spoke directly to my ecological concerns today: my garden; my interest in waste, nutrient, and energy cycles; my interest in food systems and food security; back-to-the-land desires that I'd been shoe-horning into a city of 8 million. As funerary objects, they reminded me of my mortality; they made me ponder what, if anything, I might want to take with me into the afterlife–or leave behind. But most riveting, was the recognition that these modest proposals from the Han Dynasty were offering me a new perspective on where to position myself across an enormous spectrum of time. They provoked the recognition that I was standing, and living my life, at a halfway point on the way to the year 4000. I continue to digest this discovery.

It is common for pottery granaries, both cylindrical and box-like, to be raised. Some stand on stilts and others on feet in animal form, often bear. The bear motif plays a prominent part in Han artefacts. Probably because of the strength of the bear, the form was fashioned as support for various structures. There are comparable examples to the bear motif. Men also appear in Han pottery granaries, shaped in different postures. Figure 4.44 provides a close-up view of a sculptured squatting man as a foot for a granary of the Western Han 31. It seems that men appeared a bit earlier than bears in terms of Han mingqi.

The mingqi Pottery buildings of Han Dynasty China 206 BC-AD 220, Quinghua Guo, Sussex Academic Press 2010, p. 100