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Multimedia: Student-artist creates a colossal colony of ceramic clams

March 11, 2010

  • News Image
    Andrew Merriam ’10
  • News Image

Thousands of ceramic clams are lining the hallways of Miller Center for Humanities for two weeks this month. The creation of self-proclaimed ceramics enthusiast Andrew Merriam ’10, the clam installation has been confronting passersby since Monday, March 10.

“My original intent was to create a confrontational seascape which would cause reflection on our current relationship with the environment,” Merriam said. “The clams themselves are a highly confrontational shape, and the huge number will hopefully elicit an uncomfortable and defensive response from the viewer.”

Merriam’s vision began early in fall semester, when he applied for a grant from the Student Academic Affairs Board. Merriam made the case that student art is rarely shown on the Lewis & Clark campus, with the exception of Fields Art Building. This lack of student art served as an inspiration for Merriam, and he hopes that his installation will push students from all disciplines to present their art around campus.

In this video, Merriam discusses his inspiration for undertaking this project and his process of preparing for the exhibit.

The installation involves three main components: clams, rocks, and kelp towers, all of which line the 200-level hallway of Miller. Using a combination of flashing slips and glazes through soda firing, Merriam solicited help from his peers to create the massive amount of sea life, adding to the character of each individual clam.

“The clams themselves are not particularly special or ornate, but they carry the installation by their sheer number,” Merriam said. “They’re very anthropomorphic, many with open mouths, and they all seem to be staring down the viewer despite the lack of eyes.”

The accompanying kelp towers help ground the installation, according to Merriam. They serve as a reminder that the clams were not placed there incidentally, but are intended to document a real environment, one that is largely dependent on our conscious life choices. The kelp towers tie together oceanic and terrestrial realms, hinting at the interdependence between our society and the environment.

“It seems that as a society we are becoming increasingly aware of exactly how much other life forms are dependent on us, and on our decisions about how we live our lives in shared spaces,” Merriam said. “Nonetheless, I believe the level of confrontation and aggression implicit in the presentation of the clam army will reframe this current discussion, taking it out of our control and putting it in theirs.”

Though he is a religious studies major and not a ceramics major, Merriam is wholly dedicated to his art. He is currently enrolled in Ceramics III for a second consecutive semester, and he has developed his technical skills and appreciation for ceramics as a work-study student in the studio. While in Ceramics II, Merriam began experimenting with the clam figure by pinching two bowl forms together and was surprised at the level of expression that could come from such a simple form.

“The fact that their whole body is basically what we interpret as a mouth bases our entire relationship with the figure on that interaction—and it seems very one-sided,” Merriam said. “Furthermore, they are empty mouths, and they aren’t offering you anything but instead demanding something from you. Thus, they’re a mass asking something of us, and I hope the viewer is torn about what exactly that something is.”

Even though Merriam had a clear interpretation in mind, he doesn’t want to limit it to the idea of an environmental confrontation. In fact, Merriam thinks about his installation in a new light everyday. His intent is to create a piece that opens up a variety of interpretations and challenges the viewer to think about art as a force that we don’t always have control over. These clams—which stare, gesture with their open mouths, objectify, and force you out of your daily routine—do just that.

**Art history major Tracy Peel ’10 wrote this story and contributed to the video above.