2013-08-29 / News

Fracking inspires local artist to build teahouse

By Ken Shane

Jamestown artist Dick Lynn is working on a project that will blend the classic with high tech, while at the same time making a statement about the perils of natural gas fracking.

Lynn’s traditional teahouse will draw attention to the controversial practice, and the structure is being assembled so it can be moved from one location to another to spread the message.

Fracking is the process of fracturing rock using water mixed with sand and chemicals to extract natural gas. The method is controversial because some people believe the carcinogenic chemicals can leech into water and earth, bringing illness to people and animals who ingest them.

The natural-gas industry and supporting investment banks have denied the problem exists on a large scale.

Lynn’s background is in music and television, and for a stint he was employed by PBS. After leaving the station to start a consulting business, Lynn devoted half of each day to working with furniture designers. He had always admired the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, who in 1991 was named history’s greatest architect by the American Institute of Architects, and the Greene brothers, who were responsible for the American Craftsman style. Lynn realized their work was heavily influenced by 18th century Japanese design, so Lynn’s work also became inspired by work in the Far East.

“I got interested in furniture very early on, but I didn’t take that path initially,” Lynn said. “I think age gave me the courage to take the chance.”

Lynn moved to Jamestown in 2008. He quickly became the leader of the local opposition to stop the construction of a liquefied-natural gas terminal in Mount Hope Bay. Former Town Council member Bob Bowen came up with the idea to organize local opposition, and Lynn led the group. It consisted of municipal leaders in Narragansett

Bay communities that would be affected by the proposed terminal, along with U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and former Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

Two years ago, Hess Oil pulled the plug on its LNG project.

“I think we were the first in the country,” Lynn said, “and probably the first in the world to successfully stop that.”

While Hess cited financial reasons for axing the project, Lynn believes his team of naysayers was vital.

“I think we had a strong impact,” he said.

From 2004 to 2012, Lynn suffered from debilitating injuries of mysterious origin. The health issues left him flat on his back most of the time, even while he was fighting the Hess supporters. Doctors finally discovered that scar tissue had fused his colon and pancreas together, an injury stemming from a 2003 car accident. They also exposed an undiagnosed ruptured spleen. Lynn underwent extensive surgery to repair the problems.

After about three months of recovery, Lynn began to feel better. “I felt great,” he said. “Almost like nothing had ever happened.”

With his good health, Lynn decided he wanted to return to school and get a master’s degree so he could teach. He enrolled in the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and he is about to enter his last year. He started in the furniture program, but within a few months faculty members convinced him to try sculpture. These days he considers himself more of an installation artist than a traditional sculptor like Christo, while continuing to work on furniture as well.

Lynn has also started to incorporate high-tech concepts in his work. He has been studying 3-D technology and will teach a class on the subject in the spring.

Initially Lynn just wanted to build a simple teahouse, but his inner artist took over. He realized he had the ability to say something in his work. The environment is a strong interest for Lynn, and he decided to make a statement about the fracking issue in his project.

“I started to see what was happening, and I starting to talk to some of my friends back in Pittsburgh,” said Lynn, who lived in the Steel City while working for PBS. “They’re having a number of issues. While I understand natural gas may be a cleaner fuel than oil or gas once it’s extracted, my friends in the places it’s being extracted are going through some terrible problems.”

The impetus for the teahouse was Lynn’s frustration that naturalgas companies in many states are not required to reveal what chemicals they are using in the fracking process. To deal with the problem, the MacArthur Foundation awarded a grant to Dr. Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist from Louisiana, who used the funding to determine what chemicals were being used. Subra found pollutants like methane and toluene.

“It made me realize my friends back in Pennsylvania were fighting a tough fight,” Lynn said.

The origins of the traditional teahouse lie in seventh century China. It came out of Taoism and Buddhism, and it was thought of as a way to contemplate nature and reach enlightenment. The Japanese ceremony is an offshoot of the Chinese ceremony. People arriving in the teahouse would be presented with a scroll from the tea master. They were left to contemplate the scroll, eventually leaving the teahouse open-minded.

“I appreciate it on that level,” he said. “I also think it’s a good base to address my take on fracking, which is an artist’s take on an environmental conundrum.”

There are three elements in the traditional tea ceremony: a waiting area, a path and the teahouse itself. Lynn recreated these elements in his project. The waiting area consists of a steel wall with a cantilevered bench that faces the outside, or nature. The wall has a poem by Proposedthe first tea master, Rikiyu, etched into one panel. The other panel has

Overlaythe logo of the anti-fracking movement.

Working from a list of 1,250 people who have been harmed by fracking, Lynn is recording as many first-person accounts as he can. As a person walks from the waiting area to the teahouse, hightech sensors will recognize the movement and begin to play the recorded voices, a large cacophonous group that dwindles down just one voice by the time the


TheFeetteahouse itself is 9 square feet with a 9-foot-high roof. It meant to be disassembled so canentirelytravel and be reassembled Specialgalleries or other areas where fracking is occurring. Inside the teahouse, sensors will project video on the rice-paper shoji screens. Lynn has yet to determine the content of the video. The interior will also feature prints by Jamestown artist Peter Marcus.

Prefinished plywood along the of the walls will be engraved with the list of those harmed by fracking. Lynn stressed all the wood he is using comes from trees that are already down.

“I believe that the voices as you come up the path, the names that are engraved on the walls, the various shoji screens with the prints of local water scenes or projecting videos on issues relating to fracking, is the metaphorical scroll. I’m presenting it for people to contemplate. I’m not telling them what they have to feel. Hopefully it will be an experience where they’ll come out and think about it. That is what art is meant to do.”

Lynn hopes to have the project completed by Oct. 3. It will have taken about a year in research and planning, and six months of actual construction. The Aquidneck Island Land Trust has already asked about installing the piece. Bryant University’s U.S.-China Institute has also expressed an interest, as have galleries in New York City and activists in Pittsburgh. “It will be a complete experience I hope. That’s what I want my pieces to be. In this case it’s dealing with fracking, but it’s really dealing with honoring nature and the individuals right to clean air and water.”

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