Art and science collaboration explores creativity of barnacles

Barnacle covered vessel by Jessica Swanson and Trygve Faste

Read our Q&A with Jessica Swanson

On first glance the barnacle-covered ceramic pieces created by Trygve Faste and Jessica Swanson look like artifacts from a shipwreck, but peer a little deeper and you will find the ceramics were in fact deliberately submerged in the ocean as part of the project "Intertidal Deployment of Objects." Faste, a professor in the UO Department of Product Design, and Swanson, an instructor in the Department of Art, designed the objects to be submerged in the ocean to attract and support barnacles, and then serve as functional or sculptural vessels after they are removed from the ocean.

vessel with barnacles

The barnacle-covered vessels are on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum through Aug. 16, 2015, as part of the exhibit, The New Frontier: Young Designer-Makers in the Pacific Northwest. Swanson and Faste’s work is prominently featured in The Seattle Times review of the exhibit. 

Swanson and Faste’s interest in creating sculptural and functional ceramics featuring life forms of the Pacific started with an earlier project, "Bryophyte Edition 1," which involved growing mosses on a special glaze developed to allow the rhizoids to attach to the ceramic forms. The couple runs the experimental studio Something Like This Design.

“Barnacles are considered by many to be a nuisance,” said Swanson, who was the ceramic lead on the project. “Intentionally manipulating barnacles to create something beautiful and desirable aligns with my wider interest to work with local and natural elements to create thought provoking artwork.” 

Swanson and Faste were in the initial conceptual stages of the project when Faste, the lead designer, applied for an Idea Award from the Office of the Vice President for Research & Innovation. Available to scholars from all disciplines, Idea Awards provide funds to stimulate new collaborative research projects that enhance research excellence.

“We had begun to experiment with barnacles on ceramics when we heard about the grant funding opportunity,” said Faste. “We thought the award was a perfect opportunity to expand and accelerate our project.” The award helped support the collaboration with UO marine biology professor Richard Emlet and the Oregon Institute for Marine Biology (OIMB), and allowed Faste and Swanson to employ undergraduate students.

Swanson and Faste carrying crates

They began the project by testing different glazes and surfaces that could support barnacle life while submerged in the ocean. After the testing phase, the buoy-influenced forms were cast, glazed and fired.

“We love the ocean and nautical forms such as buoys, floats, and ropes,” Faste said. “We wanted to create a visual vocabulary that would reference this place within the objects themselves whether or not the barnacles were attached.”

Special crates were created to hold the ceramics while they were submerged. The ceramics were deployed in their crates near OIMB in Charleston, Ore. Additional ceramics were deployed in Puget Sound, in order to compare growth rates and potentially attract a different species of barnacle.

Once the ceramics were removed from the water, they continued to evolve. Naturally the barnacles and seaweed die, and the mud needs to be removed, but the process also involves Swanson and Faste carefully examining each piece to determine what other pieces they need to construct in order to complete a finished form. In the final step, the individual pieces are assembled using ropes and nautical knots, a reference to the marine environments where the barnacles grew.

The work was exhibited to favorable reviews during Design Week Portland, as part of a UO student and faculty art show.

“It’s thrilling to make work that you are curious about and discover that other people are also intrigued,” Swanson said. “Perhaps people will see things differently or come to appreciate barnacles as a result of the work we’ve done.”

"Intertidal Deployment Objects" (with the barnacles), along with "Bryophyte Edition 1" (with the mosses), is on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum, through Aug. 16, 2015. The work is being shown as part of the exhibit, "The New Frontier: Young Designer-Makers in the Pacific Northwest."