ArtPrize artist builds kiln in downtown Grand Rapids


Photo by Todd Wozniak.

There are ArtPrize entries this year that defy gravity, that enchant and intrigue. There are pieces made out of paper bones and sculptures so fragile they would break if you laid a finger on them.

But there is only one entry that breathes fire.

Todd Wozniak is an artist building a kiln in the middle of Grand Rapids, a project he calls “Kiln U.” Located on Fulton and Lexington, this entry has already drawn a lot of attention, from being featured in The Rapidian to attracting crowds of street traffic.

“The scope of this project is so far reaching words can’t even touch it,” stated the artist.

The oven looks like a sleeping giant, constructed from pale grey stone and smoothed over with dirt and chalk. It’s not what you generally think of when you picture a kiln: its long and odd oval shape seem unusual, but Wozniak chose this type of anagama kiln for a reason. He wanted to show the firing process in a “weird, mystical way.”

It looks almost prehistoric, and Wozniak asks jokingly, “How could something so old look so d— cool; and it hasn’t died out like the dinosaurs?” But the main focus of the project isn’t looks.

“Kiln U” is a performance piece, from the construction, to the firing, to the conversations Wozniak has with every passerby. Chris Zoladz says that this will “show people what has to happen to pottery to make the finished project,” especially this week when the kiln will be fired to over 2,000 degrees and stuffed with around 500 pots.

To gain access to the convenient space, Todd had to gain permission from the fire and maintenance departments in the city, to be sure that his project wouldn’t cause a major power outage or fire.

Perhaps what makes it all worth it, however, is the community that has already formed around the whole project. The little lot where the kiln is located is usually crowded with people, and, of course, Wozniak’s dog, Leo (one of the perks of having an outdoor location).

The continuing theme of ArtPrize is how the real prize isn’t the money but rather the dialogue the art inspires. Though he considers it to be cliche, Wozniak agrees. Even now, he is continually “surprised by all the people who stop by” and the friendships he has made.

“Thanks to all for the support, the food, the music, good times and chance to share while putting this thing together,” he said in a recent Facebook status.

And if you don’t catch him this year, don’t worry, he’ll be around in 2013.

He’s thinking about heating a hot tub.