“The Giant Pacific Octopus is such an amazing creature,” says Kahn. “It can camouflage itself, get rid of predators by spraying them with black ink, regrow a limb and—most insane of all—decorate its front yard. Incorporating aquatic treasures, as well as the carcasses of their prey, they create scrappy underwater facades known as ‘midden heaps.’ For this show, I, too, collected crap from the sea that caught my attention: clusters of bags had been so entangled with each other that they now looked like kelp, a toilet seat became a textured shell, shards of broken bottles became so wobbly and deformed they looked like translucent calamari.”
Midden Heap was born out of Kahn’s scavenging missions to Dead Horse Bay in the Rockaways, a stretch of beach where trash mounds cover the shoreline in the place of sand. Through a combination of weaving, metal cladding, glassblowing, and bronze casting, Kahn juxtaposes rich materials with found objects, discarded possessions and garbage, resisting the urge to categorize or prioritize one material over the other.
At its core, Midden Heap is a self-referential exhibition, heavily influenced by Kahn’s freighted relationship to the contemporary design industry and his evolution as a creative force. While designers traditionally set out with predetermined goals to achieve specific results, in this defining exhibition, Kahn endeavors to free himself from a craft lineage as well as the constraints of strictly functional thought. Much like the ocean’s natural way of forming or reshaping everything it touches, Kahn’s practice is rooted in spontaneity while being subjected to cycles from outside forces. By allowing the illogical and the irreverent to take over his creative process, Kahn transforms a white-walled gallery space into a delightfully inventive alternate reality. “Each piece is part of a landscape I imagine as the earth gets swallowed by the sea,” he says. “No single object has any specific meaning. It’s all part of a feeling.”