Nearly one year ago, I began a project to address the political and cultural divisions in America. This was before the coronavirus pandemic swept the country and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others whose names will never be known ignited nationwide protests. The continued presence of the protests and the coronavirus crisis make the project feel both less and more relevant. While this project, which I call Common Ground, reflects on the systematic divisiveness and inequality that has come to characterize our country, it is a celebration of the universal and what brings us together.
Before there was America the country, or the individual states and the ensuing territorial identities and resulting politics, there was the land that America occupies. The ground (clay), the oceans, lakes, rivers (water) and the plants / trees (wood ash). Common Ground involves harvesting those three foundational materials (clay, water, wood ash) from each of the 50 states, plus Washington DC and the five inhabited US Territories (Puerto Rico, The US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands). The materials will all be mixed together, erasing the arbitrary borders of statehood, to create a single new material which will be used to make the project.
There are two parts of this project. One is to make a set of 56 plates, 56 bowls and 56 cups, and the second is a group of 56 objects.
The functional pieces (plate, bowl, cup) will be used to bring people together around food. One of the most effective and familiar ways to come together, talk and find common ground is through sharing a meal. I will organize several meals in different locations around the country where these plates, bowls and cups will be used by many different kinds of people, eating different kinds of food and having different kinds of conversations, which will symbolically represent and diversity. Each shared meal and conversation will leave marks or scars (visible or not) on the ceramics that hold the food. As the pottery moves from location to location, meal to meal and conversation to conversation, it will absorb the DNA of the encounters that it witnesses. The presence of the coronavirus around the country adds another layer of meaning to the meals, and will also complicate how, where and when the meals can happen. They will follow the path of recovery around the country. In addition to the initial impulse of bringing people together around a meal, to connect and talk, these post coronavirus meals may also have a veil (albeit it perhaps a dark one) of celebration around them.
The group of 56 objects will also physically embody the combined earth, trees and water from each state and territory. I hope that they will abstractly represent both the differences and common ground that the states and territories share as a larger, unified group, or country. As corny as this sounds, each piece that I make will literally be a “melting pot.” The forms are not subtle, they have large, pronounced feet and ears (handles). Although they stand on strong feet or foundations, they are battered, scarred, leaning over, showing the processes that got them here. The tops are open, symbolically. They share a formal DNA with historic pots from most centuries and countries, both ritualized and functional (urns, chalices, trophies, storage jars, etc.)
The project will conclude with a series of installations / exhibitions and meals, beginning around election day in November 2020. My hope is that this project will, in both a very literal / material way, and a symbolic / abstract way, show the richness that results when celebrating the differences and diversity of this country’s population.
— Adam Silverman
Common Ground was featured in a special installation at Design Miami/ America(s) in 2020:
Common Ground, 2021