Kara Walker Fons Americanus

Kara Walker Fons Americanus

Sculptural Cork Fountain for 2020 Hyundai Turbine Hall Commission

Tate Modern, Turbine Hall

October 2019 - April 2020

Kara Walker’s 13.5-metre tall statue Fons Americanus is an epic working fountain, installed in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Walker explores the narratives of slavery and exploitation underpinning the British Empire, using the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace as her inspiration into subverting the concept of official public monuments. millimetre worked closely with the artist on the design, fabrication and installation of the statue, having won the pitch for the prestigious Hyundai Commission in January 2019.

Our team of 20 designers, makers and artists strategically designed the artwork to have as small an environmental impact as possible. The substrate of the sculptures are milled and carved using Portuguese cork, devised as an innovative alternative to harmful PU foam or styrene. When finished with, the carbon negative cork can be chipped and used as a soil improver. Other materials can also be reused or recycled.

The majority of the fountain structure is formed from untreated softwood and FSC spruce plywood. We used boatbuilding materials and methods to construct the pools, which were filled with 35 metric tonnes of water. On-site installation had to take place while the gallery was open. To enable this to take place we used a low toxicity/low VOC wood epoxy to create the coating for the pool cassettes. Steel was used sparingly to reinforce the figures, as well as the quatrefoil that houses the bespoke pumping and filter systems.

The final surface is formed from layers of cementitious jesmonite, worked wet and cut back when semi-dry to produce the desired texture. This in itself is an innovative use for a material usually used for casting. Kara worked with us in our workshops to develop and refine the mark-making techniques.

Our newly-acquired KUKA Quantec robot worked hard for the duration of the project, milling and shaping the topographical cork. We now have new techniques in production and large scale 7 axis machining capabilities.

Approx. 2000 sheets of high-density Portuguese steam-baked cork
Approx. 10 tonnes of ‘Portland Stone’ cementous jesmonite
Untreated softwood
FSC spruce plywood
Mild Steel reinforcements
‘Bio’ resin and low VOC wood Epoxy
35m3 of water and some Bromide salts
Pumping and filtering equipment
Kara Walker Studio
Ari Marcopoulos
Whitby Wood
CNC Robotics
Wup Doodle
Total Machining Solutions
The Fountain Company
Coussens Cranes
Photography: © GlassHopper*

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