4 July 2017
Part 5, Stage 6 – Prototype/maquette making
The output from Stages 3-5 was sample 11 (below):
I had already decided the scale and the basic structure. To develop this idea into a prototype/maquette, I needed to consider the effect of the following:
- Expanding/contracting the design
- Pattern repeat
Expanding/contracting the design:
I had intended to do some sketchbook work to assess how these changes would look, but was defeated by difficulty of drawing. It was easier to move the paper straws into different positions on the polystyrene and photograph the result.
Increasing the spacing didn’t make much difference to the structure when it was viewed front on (see below):
The wider spacing did make a difference when viewed obliquely (see below top – control, bottom – wider spacing), however it doesn’t materially effect the beauty of the sculpture or shadows produced.
This is positive, because is shows that the sculpture could be easily be configured to occupy different sized spaces.
I made the decision not to introduce colour into the sculpture for three reasons:
- I did not want to detract from the purity of form by introducing the complexity of colour.
- From the experience I gained sampling, painted/coloured strips did not show such marked tonal variations, and because this was a key feature of my sample, it was something I wanted to preserve in my final prototype/maquette (see sketchbook page 60)
- To introduce colour would have changed the aesthetic of the piece. The sample draws influence from work of Kengo Kuma and Katsumi Hayakawa, in particular the Japanese sensitivity to light and shadow which these practitioners employ and the feeling of calmness which is embodied by the white natural surface.
Whilst Japanese practitioners are known for using natural materials (e.g. paper, wood, bamboo, indigo dye) Kengo Kuma often combines natural and synthetic (as already discussed in Part 5 stages 3-5 resolving the sample, sample 8). I wanted to investigate whether I could employ this idea in my final prototype, so I made a sample using the following natural and synthetic materials (sketchbook, page 62):
- 75 gsm printer paper
- Japanese tissue
- Thick textured organza
- Tyvek fabric
- 105gsm Tyvek paper
I wanted to understand how the transparency, rigidity, and texture of each material effected it’s performance within the sample. Below is a photograph of sample 12, with a key to the materials used shown below. I didn’t worry too much about the form of the sample – just letting the placement of the vertical straws and the twist evolve without much thought as I added each piece.
I was able to eliminate Tyvek fabric because it was so soft and floppy that it wouldn’t hold any shape (so wouldn’t have been suitable for forming a twist). The thick textured organza and voile frayed too much to cut holes in, so I left them as solid strips. I didn’t really like the solid shadows and I found that the solid fabrics (albeit that they were semi-transparent) detracted from the purity of form of the cut-out strips.
The Tyvek paper and printer paper were almost indistinguishable in the sample, having virtually identical physical, light reflective and shadow-casting properties. I noted in my sketchbook that the Tyvek paper revealed a very attractive fibrous texture when lit from behind (see below). However, disappointingly, I was unable to create a similar effect when it was included in my sample regardless of the lighting conditions I used.
The Japanese tissue and organza were similar in physical and mechanical properties – very see-through with the appearance of being “barely there”, quite floppy and wisp-like, they almost seemed to float.
I was torn as to whether I liked this sample. On one hand I found it looser, with the appearance of being more free and flowing than sample 11; a feature which was attractive. On the other hand I found that the different materials gave it a rather disorganised (even scruffy feel), which I did not like. So on balance, although the idea of using either the organza or the Japanese tissue in conjunction with the paper or Tyvek appealed to me, I opted for the uniformity of a single material, and the formality of sample 11. My favourite material was paper, for it’s light and shadow reflective properties, so I decided to stay with it for my final prototype/maquette.
Bearing in mind the intended scale of my sculpture, I would need to test the behaviour of the strip material (drape, rigidity and robustness) on a life-sized element of the sculpture in situ. I might find, for example, that the Tyvek paper I used for my maquette would not hold the shape of the twist when scaled up to full size, behaving more like voile.
The choice of material must also be made with an awareness of where sculpture will be sited. For example, Japanese tissue and paper are suitable for a piece placed indoors, whereas Tyvek and organza might be better choices if a waterproof/weatherproof option is needed. Durability must also be considered, as some the materials might tear in strong winds or degrade/rot after 6 months exposure to sunlight. These aspects would need to be investigated before committing to a final design.
In my sketchbook I gave some thought to the form of my finished sample (pages 59-60 and 64). Sample 11 already had repeat in the use of the cut-out strips made from identical material (paper), but I wanted to introduce an additional repeat in the form of the arrangement of the strips.
I considered joining three sample 11s in a wave-like shape, to add additional depth to my final piece. It was easy to join two sections to make them “staggered”, but it was not possible to join a third section (because of the vertical position of attachment of strips to the straws). I decided instead to make the third piece stand alone and to place it behind the other two.
Because I’d enjoyed the different effects created by looking at sample 11 at different angles, I decided to recreate this by placing the third block on a ‘plinth’ to slightly elevate it (see final prototype below)
Viewed under a multi-directional spotlight the prototype is full of subtle tonal variation with delicate lacy shadows cast onto the base structure. The photograph below shows different close-ups and different viewing angles:
This view reminds me of dusk or early morning (although it is artificially lit with multi-directional spotlights). There isn’t much light and the tonal variation is very strong, as are the shadows. It is as if the figure is very much within and part of the sculpture.
The strips remind me of flowing winds/cloud, but could also be interpreted a dense forest of tree trunks (the straws) with leaf canopy above (the strips). There is also reference weaving (the vertical straws analogous to the warp and the strips the weft). However, the influence of architecture (in particular urban skyscrapers) is very much apparent in the uniformity and repeating qualities of the structure.
I have asked myself whether the formality of my piece fits in with the Japanese aesthetic, and I have concluded that it does. Structure and order are strong features of Japanese garden design (for example), where every rock, stone and plant is carefully placed. Often there are repeating elements and a limited number of materials (e.g. raked stones, granite boulders and acer plants). It also fits with my experience of the work of Japanese creative practitioners such as Kengo Kuma, Shigeru Ban and Katsumi Hayakawa.
So far I haven’t mentioned the material I used for the base. Polystyrene was convenient because it allowed me to insert and reposition the paper straws to try out different configurations, but it also provides a white surface onto which the shadows project. The base (or floor) must therefore be considered an essential element of the sculpture, because not all surfaces would produce such lovely and well defined shadows. The white colour also provides very little contrast with the sculpture itself; important because it is only tonal variation which allows the viewer to decipher and interpret the position of the pieces and their orientation in 3 dimensional space. A material with similar properties would need to be found for my full-sized installation. In his sculpture Casalgrande ceramic cloud (2010)
, for example, Kengo Kuma has used white stones and water beneath his sculpture to achieve the desired light reflective and shadow properties (Kengo Kuma associates, 1990-2017).
Finally, if the installation is to be placed outdoors, then ambient light will be an important consideration influencing material choice. By means of example, an installation in Reykjavik will look very different if displayed in Sicily due to different weather, sky colour and light conditions. This is less critical for a white surface than one which is chromatic (where the amount of light and the appearance of colour varies dramatically depending upon light exposure). However, a shiny white material, for example might produce uncomfortably bright reflections in strong sunlight.
I have put some photographs in my sketchbook with some brief thoughts on placing my piece (page 63). The first consideration is whether it should be displayed indoors or outdoors.
The advantage of being indoors it that material degradation due to rain/frost/sunlight is less of an issue, so material choice is wider. Lighting can be completely controlled to maximise the impact of variations in tone and shadow. A large gallery with an upstairs viewing area (mezzanine floor), allows for the possibility of the sculpture to be walked around and viewed from both walking height and above. Another feature of an indoor installation which appeals is the fact that a changing backdrop could be projected behind the piece to show the different feelings which could be engendered by changing the surroundings. For example, compare the look and feel sample 11 placed against a backdrop of bamboo compared with the white background which I have previously photographed it against (see below)
The bamboo backdrop is shown above in fact a photograph pinned to the back of my viewing box. The multi-directional spotlights ensure that the shadows are still formed on the base of the sculpture. In contrast, the sample photographed in the garden next to the real bamboo plant has a very different feel:
The photograph was taken in conditions of cloud, and there are no shadows projected onto the sculpture base. The tonal variation of the white strips seems less pronounced, yet they look brighter and more light-reflective. The feeling is one of stronger contrast between the backdrop, and the sculpture and it somehow feels very alive.
These examples illustrate just how difficult it is to imagine what a sculpture might look like in situ, coupled with the fact that ambient light qualities will change with time of day and season. Other considerations may also come into play: i.e. when will the site be open for viewing, when are most viewers likely to pass by and see the sculpture, from what angle are they likely to approach? In my targeted research, I have given the example of Casalgrande ceramic cloud (2010)
, and discussed how Kengo Kuma has cleverly exploited an awareness of different light conditions to make his piece appear to change and reveal a different visual aesthetics throughout the day, depending on whether the light is shining onto the sculpture of illuminating it from behind.
Any placement of a sculpture in an urban environment must be made with an awareness how it will fit with buildings in the vicinity. For example: how do the shapes and negative spaces interact?, will a modern sculpture complement historic buildings or look out of place?, does the narrative fit?
One example for placement which I give in my sketchbook is the forecourt of an exhibition building or theatre. In this case the orientation of the building is also critical; a tall, North facing building will cast the sculpture in shade for most of the day, meaning that the subtleties of light reflecting from it’s surface and shadow will be lost.
Because I like the idea of viewing my sculpture from different orientations and angles, undulating parkland seemed like a good environment to consider. I am thinking especially of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
, which I visited in June 2016 (Eastaugh, 2016). I recalled, in particular the effective placement of Elisabeth Frink’s Riace figures
(Down by the Dougie, 2012). The viewer’s approach to the piece is controlled by a pathway, and at first they see just a tiny glimpse of the sculptures from the top of a hill. Viewed from afar in this way it is not immediately apparent whether the piece is a group of animals or people huddled in the trees. Approaching closer one can gradually start to discern the humanoid figures. Similarly, thinking about my own sculpture, approaching from the top of a hill and walking down a slope towards the sculpture would ensure that it was viewed from different angles, so that the beauty of the changing shape and negative spaces could be fully appreciated. This is a feature also employed by Kengo Kuma Associates in Casalgrande Ceramic Cloud (2010)
(Kengo Kuma Associates, 1990-2017a).
Considering outdoor spaces also made me think about the maquettes displayed in Rana Begum’s Space, Light Colour exhibition
at the Sainsbury’s Centre for the Visual Arts (sainsbury’s centre for the visual arts, n.d.). On pages 19 and 20 of my booklet containing exhibition notes, I have discussed “Maquette for no. 695”. I was especially interested that Begum decided to place her sculpture on a floating pontoon spanning a river, allowing it to be viewed from either bank and an overhead bridge. The water also provided a reflective surface for the coloured glass pieces. In an an interview about the sculpture
(No. 695 Abraaj: An interview with 2017 winning artist Rana Begum, 2017),
Begum discussed the challenges of finding a suitable outside space to show off the scale of the sculpture as well as mentioning the special light qualities in Dubai, where the piece is installed.
The prospect of artificially lighting my sculpture after dark is an exciting one which would allow me to harness the benefits of both indoor and outdoor placement. In the daytime, there would be the life and vitality of natural light on the surfaces and changing sky colour. At night, directional and selective spotlights could be used to emphasise particular areas of the sculpture and to produce spectacular shadows. This technique is exemplified in Kengo Kuma’s installation “Ceramic Yin Yang” (2010) (Kengo Kuma and Associates 1990-2017b). A video of the installation
(“CCC Wall” di Kengo Kuma L’opera e i suo doppio, n.d.) shows how Kuma used selective artificial illumination and projection to produce and amazing display which presents transitional surfaces in the form of “dancing pebbles” (the ceramic pieces) and billowing sheets of coloured light reminiscent of the Northern Lights (the organza curtains).
Another of the artists I researched (Zarah Hussain) also used the technique of projection, shining a changing digital image onto the surface of her solid sculpture in the installation “Numina” (2017) for the Barbican Centre. This might also be a technique which could be used in conjunction with my sculpture and offers exciting possibilities for collaboration.
Kengo Kuma and Associates (1990-2017b) Ceramic Yin Yang (2010) At: