Artists drop seeds, not bombs at the latest Soap Factory exhibit

Artists drop seeds, not bombs at the latest Soap Factory exhibit

Artists Joseph Madrigal and Amber Ginsburg are bringing flower power back in a big way. With their new exhibit at the Soap Factory, the duo are creating a literal blast from the past with their recreation of a terra cotta dummy bomb factory. Just what is a terra cotta dummy bomb? Back in World War I, when planes were relatively new warfare technology, the military used dummy bombs to test the accuracy of their missile drops.

In a podcast for the Soap Factory, Ginsburg detailed the origins of the project all the way back to historical narrative from 1914. Terra cotta was  popular in the early 20th Century, and after the Great Chicago Fire, people realized it could be used as fire-proof architectural ornamentation among other things.
"The military went to a terra-cotta company in New Jersey and asked them to produce these forms that look very much like Greek amphora," she says. "They have a very sleek, beautiful, narrowing form that looked like it could have held wine or olive oil in another era. They asked them to produce these very inexpensively, very fast, and very cheap. These factories were transformed from creating fantastical architectural tile to creating these dummy test bombs."

Artists drop seeds, not bombs at the latest Soap Factory exhibit

Once the bombs were made, the military went to the Southwest and tested the them by filling them with baking flour and dropping them on the desert, leaving a large white mark that tracked pilot accuracy. Years later, this was all but forgotten when a construction project in New Jersey unearthed thousands of these terra-cotta bombs. Ginsburg heard about it, and realized she and Madrigal had a very interesting project on their hands.

"There was something in this story about the simplicity of the material," she says. "Basically flower pots and baking flower leaving a mark on the landscape that lead to this kind of awesome destruction that we associate with World War I. There's a potential for a possibility of alternative histories being imagined from this very specific history. This history had been completely forgotten."

Initially, they began their project in downtown Chicago in an old retail storefront. With 750 square feet of space, the two made around 350 terra cotta bombs inspired by the historic artifacts. However, the duo gave the bombs their own unique twist. Instead of using the traditional method of making the forms, they made slipcast forms which are lighter and easier to make than the original bombs. After enlisting the help of some volunteers, they coated the tips of the missiles with a seed base that produced white blossoms reminiscent of the flour marks from the old Southwestern test sites.

Artists drop seeds, not bombs at the latest Soap Factory exhibit

Madrigal stressed the artistic and creative value of the project, rather than just a historical replication of this process. "It's about the production," he says, "It's about the labor that's involved. It's about the input. It's about the material. But not necessarily making a historic replication. We're not historians, we're not archivists. We're interested in history, we're interested in the archive of the object, but we also want to have some new creative outcomes for these objects."

Now, with the Soap Factory's 5,000-square-foot space, Madrigal and Ginsburg will create two different casting spaces, one with the traditional brick-like process of terra cotta manufacturing and another with the streamlined slipcasting process. After making the dummies, the artists hope that community members will help with a similar flower-seed spreading that reappropriates the militaristic goals of this historic wartime device by giving it to nature and randomizing it. In parks around the metro area, animals will be able eat the flowers and seeds while dispersing the material randomly, which poetically undermines the original use for these precision bombs.

Both Madrigal and Ginsburg are Midwestern artists, hailing from Kalamazoo and Chicago respectively. They realized the richly historic foundations of Minneapolis would be a great backdrop for the project.

"It connects in a really lovely way to the history of Minneapolis because it has traditionally been the flour capital of the country -- at least for a period," Ginsburg says. "In these seeding projects, we're going to be creating these white blooming spots. But in this mixture, there's also going to be flour -- baking flour -- so as we're seeding and as we're shaking, there's going to be this sort of dust, sort of mimicking the idea of the 'poof' of when that bomb would have landed."


Soap Factory
514 Second St. SE, Minneapolis
Opening reception 7-11 p.m. Saturday, April 28
Exhibition runs through May 27
Check online at for artists' talks, bomb events, Northern Spark events, and the Talking Image Connection reading.

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The Soap Factory

514 2nd St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414


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