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The Interactive Art of Taliesin West’s Desert

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Sep 26, 2017

Behind Taliesin West, amongst the student desert shelters and Sonoran Desert life, former student of the School of Architecture at Taliesin’s Immersion Program, Kathleen Werner, created a movable, interactive art installation called the “Etazin Circle.” We asked Werner a bit about how Taliesin West’s environment led to this mesmerizing, innovative art piece.

What inspired you to create Etazin?

Kathleen Werner: All School of Architecture at Taliesin students have an opportunity to design and build a student shelter out in the desert.  I would have loved to do that myself but with my limited time there I had to find another way to put my stamp on the historic property.

The Etazin chair was inspired one night while I was exploring the private gardens behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s living room.  I took a moment to sit in the Moon Gate’s circular opening that led to another yard area.  The cradle of the arc felt very comfortable, to be made even more comfortable, I thought, if it was quite a bit larger.  The idea blossomed from there, and once I went through a few conceptual drawings I honed in the design.  It is always important to share and get feedback, and after doing so with a few teachers I took the design to the dean of the School at the time, Victor Sidy.  He loved the design, as well, and helped me to get it approved as a permanent installation out among the desert shelters.  After hunting down a very talented fabricator, Etazin was made into reality and placed at Taliesin West.  It is now a favorite stop on the tour of the shelters with adults and kids, alike running up, spinning the rings and taking pictures inside of it.

What does Etazin mean?

KW: Honestly the name is a bit of a secret; only myself and one other person knows what it means and I must keep it that way.  You’ve got to love a good mystery.

Photo by Terry Munson.

How did you choose Etazin’s location in the mix of shelters and desert life?

KW: There are only a handful of old concrete slabs out in the desert and it was our intention to use an existing space as to not disturb the landscape if possible. The placement turned out to be a way station after being seen by the architect of the “Cube” shelter, and former teacher at Taliesin, Michael Johnson. He loved the design so much he insisted it be moved next to his shelter, and in fact the intention was to have it also play off of a nearby triangle-shaped shelter as well. Now it sits beautifully as a part of legacy triptic, Frank Lloyd Wright’s trianglular tent, Michael Johnson’s Cube and Kathleen Werner’s Circular Etazin Chair.  I was thrilled with its final placement and hope many people are able to visit it and enjoy it over the years.

What goes into creating such a durable, interactive structure?

KW: Etazin is comprised of natural steel and brass bushings.  To create such a large circle out of these hollow square steel bars we had to pack them with sand before putting them through a large machine that would bend it to the exact degree needed.  After the three consecutive rings are made, at the sizes of 8’, 7’, and 6’, we would drill a hole through the top and bottom for the bushings to give it the ability to turn 360 degrees.  This allows the lounger to face any direction they like, and it also creates beautiful architectural angles and visual interest in the piece. We weld on the footings as a final step so that the massive chair can be installed by bolting it into a stable surface.  All in all the pieces ends up measuring about 8’ wide by 8 ½’ tall with a weight of over 400lbs.

What do you hope the reaction will be for those who experience Etazin?

KW: The reaction I hope to get is a feeling of play and excitement; I am a big advocate of interactive art. I love pieces you can go up to and touch and turn and feel. I especially love pieces that you can become a part of! People absolutely love turning the rings, they glide beautifully and make interesting shapes. They also enjoy sitting inside of the center ring and having a friend turn them around in it. It is a very comfortable and functional piece of art and with a good book you can lounge there for hours.  Etazin is also quite substantial and the natural steel against the desert landscape is quite lovely.  I have also designed a Square version of the chair in similar dimensions, one of which is also on permanent installation at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. Guests really enjoy having their pictures taken in it and is a big hit for wedding photos. It is a unique way to become a part of the art to frame and capture a moment.

Why did you create Etazin as an interactive art piece, and how did you decide on the way the installation would move?

KW: It was important to me that the piece be interactive, from the initial Moon Gate concept going one step further and adding a kind of gyroscopic element. The simplicity of the rings only spinning horizontally makes Etazin much more usable for its intended purpose.  When you turn the rings it almost feels like you are opening and closing a portal. A few people cited the alien device from the movie “Contact” as a possible inspiration which made me laugh but could very well have been a subconscious influence.

How did Frank Lloyd Wright’s principles and work influence the creation of Etazin?

KW: Living at studying at Taliesin West is one of the most inspiring atmospheres a designer could ask for. You are surrounded by so much visionary beauty every day it is impossible not to be motivated to create.

His love for geometric pattern will be an influence on all of my future works I have no doubt.  My own love for the design style was what drew me there to begin with.  I like calling Taliesin the “Hogwarts for architects.”  With its intense,  close knit, and focused conditions you tend to pour out ideas like flood gates of creativity constantly bursting open. He created something very special there and it really is something you have to experience to know. It is by far one of the best environments any one could be a part of as a life experience. I highly suggest those that are interested or able to take advantage of the programs offered!

Visit Etazin’s website for more information on the art piece.