Doing it naturally

Bay Area Now: Donald Fortescue And Lawrence Labianca take to the tides
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Sounding

Donald Fortescue and Lawrence LaBianca's "Bay Area Now 5" work — jokingly referred to earlier this month as the "Top Secret Oyster Project" — is not just about the creation of a well-crafted object. The piece also deals with the current state of San Francisco Bay's wildlife, tides, and geography. So the two artists decided to let the physical environment affect the work — literally.

After putting in plentiful research, studying ocean survey charts, and talking with local environmental authorities on the work's impact of their piece, the pair hired a diver to install the steel-table form they built — a muscled-up version of traditional cabriole or animal-legged furniture, as Fortescue describes it — on the floor of Tomales Bay, where it was designed to sit for several months. During the installation, however, their diver told them that the conditions weren't the best for the hoped-for weathering and oyster- and barnacle-encrusting process, so the table was relocated to Pillar Point. In the meantime, they gathered hydrophone recordings in Bodega Bay to augment the work.

Fortescue, an Adelaide, Australia, expatriate who now heads the California College of the Arts' furniture department, and LaBianca, who teaches interior architecture at CCA, share more than a keen interest in the physicality of the Bay Area: the two master craftsmen have a history of creating fine-art sculpture. "For me, it's all just one spectrum — sometimes located more in one area than the other," says Fortescue from Sebastopol. Although this will be the pair's first manifestation of an object together, it's not the first time they've worked together. The met in Chicago six years ago when they each had work in a retrospective show of recipients of Virginia A. Groot Foundation grants. About two years ago, they collaborated on a proposal to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for an installation based on Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Even though that project didn't get the green light, they learned a great deal about collaboration, an approach that seems suited to the Bay Area art scene. "Unlike New York, with artists jockeying to get into the best galleries, you see a lot less ruthless, cutthroat behavior here," Fortescue says. "This is a much more friendly environment, much more helpful.

"I wouldn't be surprised if what we are making is the most crafted object" in "BAN 5," Fortescue continues. "We use making as a way to explore new ways of making — crafting as an excuse for crafting." Oh, and it's a great excuse to spend even more time amid the Bay Area's natural settings.

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