Headlands Center for the Arts has a new drinking fountain. This is a big deal.
Anyone who’s spent time rambling through the Marin Headlands knows sweeping vistas are legion, but drinking fountains are few and far between. Also: this is no ordinary double-spouted bubbler.
Made by Bay Area artist Nathan Lynch, Doubledrink is a functional sculpture covered in white industrial glaze -- as if a Kohler fixture turned oozy and bulbous. Doubledrink also makes the act of slurping water more awkward than it has ever possibly been.
Lynch positioned the spouts in such a way that simultaneous drinking means staring someone straight in the eyes while you make whatever strange expression you make at the drinking fountain. “It’s like a toast,” he says. An intimate, uncomfortable toast that puts you face-to-face with someone in their most vulnerable state.
Doubledrink, along with Dutch artist and designer Chris Kabel’s Wall Space and Los Angeles-based Ball-Nogues Studio’s Welcome Terrace East & West, is a brand new commission created specially for Headlands’ brand new outdoor gathering space, called The Commons.
Once a gravelly parking area between Buildings 944 and 945 (home to administrative offices, a project space, the mess hall and artist studios), the Commons is now gracefully landscaped into stairs, seating and jutting concrete vantage points, courtesy of local firm CMG Landscape Architecture.
Headlands celebrates the opening of The Commons on Sunday, Sept. 17, 12-5pm with a day of performances, installations, food trucks, family-friendly activities and even a pedal-in (a group bike ride from San Francisco, led by the Studio for Urban Projects).
The $1.8 million project was born out of both practical and artistic desires. “Given our home here in the national park, a big part of our commitment to the park is to take care of the campus,” says Headlands' executive director, sharon maidenberg. “We felt strongly that we should focus on a project that enhances the space for visitors and makes it more accessible.”
Nothing embodies this balance of preservation and creative improvement quite like the newly flush driveways in front of both main buildings. Inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which broken pottery is mended with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum, making the site of repair obvious, Welcome Terrace East & West fills the areas between the old fragments of concrete with brilliant multicolored stripes of terrazzo. The result is archeological and puzzle-like, with islands of gray concrete showing just how much solid ground was missing before Ball-Nogues Studio intervened.
Kabel’s Wall Space is similarly subtle: A system of slim rails on Building 945’s wooden siding supports metal mesh letters -- painted the same color as the wall -- that can be arranged, movie marquee-style, between the windows of the building’s three stories.
“It’s an empty slate that other people can use to express their thoughts,” Kabel says. “I was interested in being as minimal as possible.” Headlands invited San Francisco-based writer Claudia La Rocco to curate the first round of texts, which begins with a new poem by Wendy Rose.
“Remember invasion / Remember smallpox / Remember captivity,” it reads in part, drawing from Rose’s Hopi and Miwok ancestry to reference a pre-Fort Barry history on a remnant of Fort Barry itself.
“I wanted language that would challenge, but also leave room for various interpretations, so that these texts might become site-specific collaborations between single authors and an ever-changing flow of readers,” La Rocco says in her curatorial statement.
Back at the drinking fountain, that flow of visitors is met with a welcoming flow of water -- a contemporary interpretation of a timeless gathering site. Beyond the slapstick, semi-embarrassing quality of spilling water across one’s face, Lynch is earnest in his desire to foster connection through the act of sharing a water source. “My hope is that this gesture becomes a device for increasing our ability to see one another, whether we share a drink with new friends, lost loves or old enemies,” he says.
In all my discussions with the artists and administrators behind The Commons, conversation invariably turned to the here and now of 2017 in the United States of America. “This is a surreal year to be contemplating public space, particularly in this country,” La Rocco’s curatorial statement says.
The idea of “the commons” as a set of cultural and natural resources free and open to all members of society -- or as a place where people meet face to face and exchange ideas -- today seems distantly optimistic. And yet maidenberg says the project’s name came early and easily for the gathering space. Right now, maidenberg says, “It feels particularly meaningful to be able to demonstrate our values.”
The Commons opens at Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin on Saturday, Sept. 17, 12-5pm. For more information, click here.