Bain Project Q&A

Raw Art

May, 08, 2009, by Ladye Jane

Advertise on NR

This weekend welcomes the most innovative art initiative to ever hit Raleigh, The Bain Project. A lot of you have heard of it (we MAY have mentioned before on this site here, here, and here), and are familiar with what the group of artists are putting together. For those that are not, the project is a group of artists from different disciplines working on a collaborative site-specific art installation that will take place in an abandoned water treatment plant, the E.B. Bain Waterworks. Well… what exactly does that mean? I spoke with Daniel Kelly, the project’s creator and organizer, and asked him to help explain a little bit more about his thoughts behind the process of the project.

Q: What inspired you to put this project together?

A: A friend stumbled upon the building while walking his dog and later introduced me to it. Subsequently, Tracy Spencer, my co-organizer, was able to get me a key to the space, and I spent a lot of time in the space painting, videotaping and just soaking it in. I found the space to be charged with inspiration and I figured that I probably wasn’t alone in thinking this. Tracy had organized a number of roaming art shows in random vacant spaces around downtown Raleigh and we thought that this site posed some unique opportunities for something similar yet different. So over a number of months, through many discussions and outside consultations, we hatched the Bain Project. The idea was to invite a select group of artists to spend an extended period of time getting to know the space, discussing it and finally producing work responding to the space. The result of this extended collaborative/germination period is what visitors will experience these two weekends.

Q: You guys had a “call for artists” in order to choose those involved. How did you go about selecting the artist participants?

A: We knew that we wanted a pretty diverse group in order to be able to pick up on the many different facets of this structure (i.e. historical, architectural, social, physical, etc.), so we spread our net wide.  In the end we chose just that: video artists, a costume artist, printmakers, painters, sculptors and installation artists…though I hesitate to limit artists to one particular type.

Q: What is it specifically about the building that draws you and the other artists to it?

A: There are a number of factors present in the fabric of Bain that many in the group have acknowledged. A major one is the tension between the grandiosity of the architecture and its current decay and entropy. On a more human scale is the palpable presence of the lives of those that worked in the space (as well as those that have since found refuge under it’s roof)—because of the hasty way which the building was closed down, there are still these really interesting and unusual vestiges (pumps, motors, control panels) and artifacts. Also very unique to this space is the passage of time that one experiences through the largely undisturbed decay (layers of dust and paint chips) and eerie stillness of the structure. Many have fallen in love with the abstract qualities of the architecture: colors, types of spaces, the sinuous lines of the pipes and machines, the textures of peeling paint, decaying tile….to name but a few.

Q: This is more than just a 2D art display. What art forms will the visitor get to experience?

A: There’s a pretty broad spectrum. Some artists have used media with which visitors will be familiar (video, sound, lighting), but I would say though that the primary means through which the artists express their ideas is the building itself and it’s indigenous materials. This is one of the things that really sets this exhibit (if I can call it that) apart from typical shows that the local population has seen. One of the requirements set out from the start was that the work HAD to be about the space; this wasn’t an opportunity for artists to simply showcase their work in a ‘cool’ space. An additional goal that developed through the process of the 9 month collaboration was the attempt to utilize, as much as possible, the indigenous materials in the space. I should also mention the Music Project—a concurrent project that set out to get local musicians into the space to take advantage of its amazing acoustic qualities. There is an uncanny thread that runs through the compilation of music and various other sound compositions, interviews and performance work…a tribute to the power and influence of the building.

Q: How interactive will a visit be for the guest?

A: In short, more so than a typical gallery visit. There are a couple of the interactive pieces (the work of Stacey Kirby in particular) through which the visitors will be able consider some aspects of the water cycle that they may often gloss over, as well as have their conception of being a visitor to an art event redefined. But to me the whole space is interactive—given the sheer size and space of the building (30,000 sq ft) and the amount of ‘stuff’ that is there, I think that every visitor will find that they make their own discoveries—likely even seeing something that we missed in our 9 months of collaboration in the space.

Q: Is there anything you want visitors to take away from this?

A: I think that we’d like for Raleigh’s citizens to be able to enjoy a forgotten architectural gem in the same way we’ve been able to for the past 9 months—a structure that authenticates this city and says a lot about our past. But more than this we hope that the collaborative artwork about this unique venue can push the boundaries of how art is experienced in this area. 

Q: What lasting effects do you think this project will have on the community?

A: It’s hard to say. One hope would be that creative persons would see that art doesn’t have to always happen in galleries. I would even suggest that it can sometimes be richer when it is taken outside of that context into unorthodox places…places where the venue can become the medium. More specifically I’d really like to see this blend of art, music, architecture (and the community that it has spawned) happen again. The Triangle has a high concentration of talented artists and musicians and I think that non-commercial venues that define the character of this region should be sought out for collaboration more often.

In addition to what is being done in the space visually, music also plays a big role in the project… both music created by musicians and the building itself. Several bands (including The Rosebuds, Mount Weather, and the Tender Fruit) have been taking advantage of the amazing acoustics in the space and have been doing a series of recordings. The artists involved have also been recording the sounds/music the building itself makes. These sounds and recordings have been compiled onto a CD, which will be available at the show.

The Bain Project kicks off this Saturday, May 9th,  with a Traditional Japanese Tea Gathering at 12:30. The building and installations will be open from 1:00-5:00 (with performance times at 2:00 and 4:00 each day) May 9-10, and 16-17.

Artists participating include Christian Karkow, Marty Baird, Sarah Powers, Daniel Kelly, Stacey Kirby, Luke Buchanan, Lee Moore, Tim Kiernan, Jen Coon, Lia Newman, Dana Raymond, and David Nicolay. Visit the Bain Project website for more details, and a map to the building.

All photographs of the artists working in the space by Natasha Johnson


Read More

Arts, Other posts by Ladye Jane.


Tim KiernanChristian KarkowSarah PowersMarty BairdLuke BuchananDavid NicolayThe Bain ProjectLee MooreTracy SpencerDana Raymond


  • arthurb3
    05/08 10:52 AM

    Asbestos and lead paint!!

  • Typical New Raleigh Commenter
    05/08 01:30 PM

    It’s an eyesore! Tear it down! Good riddance! Quit whining about this place! Et cetera.

  • Jenny
    05/08 02:06 PM

    This is going to be so cool. Anyone know details about what the “performances” are at 2 and 4?

  • Jim
    05/08 02:51 PM

    I’m confused by your comment, arthurb3.

  • Micah
    05/08 03:19 PM

    ummm, I think he might be touching on the fact that the building is likely filled with lead paint, and could also contain some asbestos?  The lead paint it FAR more likely in that building though, and that is only dangerous if you eat it.  I’m surprised the city didn’t make them get some kind of inspection and remediation like a lot of municipalities do.  The high costs of clearing a building of these problems usually prevent buildings from being reused in interesting ways like this though.  Often they are destroyed, or stripped to a shell.  It is sad when that happens.

  • David
    05/08 04:29 PM

    @Jenny you can preview the Music performance here:

    But I think its actually a full on performance beyond the music.

  • Rachel
    05/10 11:00 PM


    The performances involve some of the artists climbing inside some of the water tanks and making noises.  I think Dana Raymond is the one who is sort of orchestrating them, but I’m not entirely sure.

  • Neasha
    05/11 10:49 AM

    I actually work in the environmental health education field, and I was so very surprised to see the photos on the Bain Project’s website. In response to comments made earlier about the lead-based paint, there’s this misconception that you can only be harmed by it if you are eating it.  That is not true.  Many children and adults are exposed to lead through inhaling the dust that could have been caused when the paint was disturbed in any way - such as sweeping it.  I was most disturbed to see so much of the lead dust and chips on the floor.  Many people don’t know the danger of simply tracking dust from one room to the next. Children under six and women of child-bearing age are most susceptible to lead poisoning - and kids can actually suffer from significant neurological problems, causing learning/behavior issues like ADHD - and also hearing loss, slow growth of bones/muscles, speech problems. I haven’t attended the exhibit, but based on those pictures, I hope people understand what a risk this is for kids and women of child-bearing age.

  • Sallie
    05/11 11:46 AM

    No one is rolling around in the paint chips - and it’s ridiculous to think that being there for such a short period of time could pose a health risk - plus it’s just plain irresponsible to perpetuate that kind of thinking. Lead poisoning occurs over an extended period of time, and yes, that includes dust inhalation, but certainly not in this type of environment - you go there, you see it, you leave. No one lives there. No one works there. It’s an art installation - no one is going to be sweeping anything, and no toddlers are going to be gnawing on windowsills. Considering the nature of the site, it’s not an appropriate place to bring young, inquisitive, wiggly children in the first place - it is a water treatment facility for goodness sake.

  • Raleigh Boy
    05/11 04:44 PM

    Sallie—you go girl! I was there, and if I got lead poisoning from it, it was worth it.

    Neasha—blah, blah, blah

  • IFGD
    05/11 07:27 PM



  • TiberC
    05/11 10:47 PM

    How about sprinklers…where are those?  I know they’re not necessary, but the law says they are.  But the lead paint, wow.  I don’t want to be around that.  This sounds like one of those projects people talk about and talk about but never really do anything with it.

  • Chad
    05/12 11:56 AM

    Thoughtful interview. I love the emphasis on collaboration—both among artists and with the space itself. There’s a lively Q&A with two of the artists—Jen Coon and Stacey Kirby—on the NCMA’s blog, as well.

  • Drew
    05/12 05:15 PM

    Overall, I thought the show was stunning, and very well imagined. There were a couple of the rooms that seemed a bit trite (mainly the bathtub room and the water fountain room), but I feel that everything else in the space pushed the interpretation of the building’s past and present identities.

    Loved it, and will definitely be back next weekend with friends.

  • smitty
    05/12 10:56 PM

    Lead paint harmless.  Wait, what was I talking about?

  • Skillet
    05/17 06:29 PM

    Overheard at The Bain today - “They should’ve done this in Durham”.

  • legal forms
    06/17 05:58 AM

    All right, you’ve inspired me to try this.

Share Your Thoughts

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.