Daniel E. Kelm. American, 1951–
Sand blasted borosilicate glass with copper foil, brass, acrylic, paper, iron wire, soldered brass hinges, thread, and wire edge binding. Housed in a stenciled pine crate. Produced with the assistance of Greta D. Sibley, Taz Sibley, Lynn Latimer, Erin Clay Nelson, Amy Borezo, and other mechanics at the Wide Awake Garage. Courtesy of Daniel E. Kelm. Video by Kevin Derose and Jeff Derose, One Match Films.

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Templum Elementorum

Templum Elementorum was created as part of an invitation from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries for the exhibition Science and the Artist’s Book (May 26-November 3, 1995). This project challenged contemporary book artists to create new works in response to a scientific text held by the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, a branch of the library’s Special Collections Division. When asked to select a book as inspiration, Kelm chose Vannoccio Biringuccio’s 1540 treatise De la pirotechnia (On working with fire).

A section of this text discusses a type of alchemical furnace called the Tower of Athenor. The advantage of this furnace was a central cylindrical fuel hopper, which allowed it to burn continuously with less management for the very long duration that some of the transformations required. Inspired by this motif, Kelm created four columnar glass vessels, keyed to the four elements and marked by their associated colors: red for Fire; yellow for Air; white for Water; and black for Earth. Each container holds a book which represents the “voice” of that element and includes alchemical symbols and words that relate to some relevant aspect of the project. These books also include examples of the related elemental metals: lead for Earth, copper for Water, tin for Air, and iron for Fire. He called the book Templum Elementorum, which means “sanctuary of the elements” in Latin.

While the prototype of Templum Elementorum was completed for the exhibition in 1995, the editioning process is still ongoing.

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