Clay sticks around. It’s much older than us and connects us with histories we otherwise might forget- some of the earliest recorded history appears on clay tablets. Laurel Hill, recently re-named after the plantation that once stood on the site, has housed a landfill, trash incinerator, brick works, DC prison and now multi-use development project. “I highly suspect this place is cursed and haunted…” a YouTube commenter suggests.
Under a mountain filled 360ft deep with the household waste of the nation’s capital, red clay soil, compacted by the landfill’s designers, witnesses from below. Bricks made from the same red clay by prisoners at the Lorton Prison commemorate unmarked graves of inmates and hold up the walls of the newly renovated prison buildings.
The multiple histories of Laurel Hill, Virginia, converge in a series of ceramic crocks created in the style of 19th century Alexandria, VA potter B.C. Milburn. These vessels are made of red clay, indigenous to the area. Their forms reflect what might have been used in the kitchen of the plantation that once stood on the site. The vessels are incised with text from public YouTube videos, news stories and archival records. These markings point to the tangled past and present (geologic and cultural) of the place. The crocks become future fossils counteracting the willful forgetting of the site’s fraught history by developers. A glaze made from toxic trash incinerator ash coats each vessel. This leaves the text sealed, suspended, like strata, between historical formations.