Fons Americanus at the Tate Modern

The Project

There’s an inspirational exhibit on show at the Tate Modern at the moment, a 13.5-metre tall fountain made with the help of Jesmonite.

The piece is called Fons Americanus, is the Hyundai Commision for 2019, was conceived by renowned American artist Kara Walker, and will be on display in the Tate’s Turbine Hall until April. It’s a truly amazing exhibit so if you are in London, it’s well worth going along for a look.

The epic working fountain, standing 13.5 metres tall, was produced by-award winning East Sussex-based millimetre who worked closely with Kara on bringing the project to life.

The idea

Kara’s design explores the narratives of slavery and exploitation underpinning the British Empire, using the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace as her inspiration for subverting the concept of official public monuments.

Creating a masterpiece

millimetre worked closely with the artist on the design, fabrication and installation of the statue. Director Ivan Clarke tells us how:

“Our team of 20 designers, makers and artists strategically designed the artwork to have as small an environmental impact as possible. The substrate of the sculptures are milled and carved using Portuguese cork, devised as an innovative alternative to harmful PU foam or styrene.

“When finished with, the carbon negative cork can be chipped and used as a soil improver. Other materials can also be reused or recycled.

“The majority of the fountain structure is formed from untreated softwood and FSC spruce plywood. We used boat building materials and methods to construct the pools, which were filled with 35 metric tonnes of water.”

Ivan said on-site installation had to take place while the gallery was open which called for some detailed forward planning, adding:

“To enable this to take place we used a low toxicity/low VOC wood epoxy to create the coating for the pool cassettes. Steel was used sparingly to reinforce the figures, as well as the quatrefoil that houses the bespoke pumping and filter systems.

“The final surface is formed from layers of cementitious Jesmonite, worked wet and cut back when semi-dry to produce the desired texture. This in itself is an innovative use for a material that is usually used for casting. Kara worked with us in our workshops to develop and refine the mark-making techniques.

“Our newly-acquired KUKA Quantec robot worked hard for the duration of the project, milling and shaping the topographical cork. We now have new techniques in production and large scale 7 axis machining capabilities.”


  • Approximately 2,000 sheets of high-density Portuguese steam-baked cork
  • About 10 tonnes of ‘Portland Stone’ cementitious Jesmonite
  • Untreated softwood
  • FSC spruce plywood
  • Mild Steel reinforcements
  • ‘Bio’ resin and low VOC wood Epoxy