Trip Preparation No 3: Form and Materials

While we’re away, I intend to make art with found materials (since I won’t be able to pack more than a few light-weight art supplies). Although I’ve taught for many years, I’ve never actually studied three dimensional art production; when I saw Karen Kazmer’s course on Form and Materials in 3D offered during July at Emily Carr University of Art, I decided that now was the time to rectify that oversight. I hoped that the course would give me some useful tips for artmaking on the move. The supplies list made me smile because most of the items on it were very easily found or acquired – masking tape, graphite stick, piece of string, milk carton and the like.

The first day’s exercises included a collaborative project entitled Stair Experience which required us, working in small groups of 3 or 4, to do several things at once:

1) to recollect an experience with stairs, either real or a dream

2) to relate that experience to the other members of the group while at the same time making rubbings of textured surfaces around the campus with graphite stick and paper

3) to compile and somehow translate these experiences and textures into a three-dimensional piece using only cardboard, paper, string and tape, as well as two words given to us by the instructor, ours being “vortex” and “liminal”.

This was a bit of a challenge for our group, in that the stair experiences were disparate and the ideas about how to render them even more so. However, after a few false starts, a decision to translate “vortex” into a spiral material form allowed us to move forward and combine our three very different visions into a single piece. We cut the 4 x 8 foot cardboard sheet into a spiral that was stretched out and held in place by three bamboo poles taped in a teepee formation on the ground; from one side of the piece to the other small cardboard staircases were attached, giving a result not unlike a three dimensional Snakes and Ladders game.

From one of the rubbings we made a gorilla face to reference a childhood fright; the other rubbings were curled into wave-like formations to mimic the ocean, a nod to my childhood dreams of mansions with spiral staircases leading down into a basement ocean. The shape of the finished construction represented the ideas of falling, flying, fright, and waves, while the word “liminal” was incorporated metaphorically, in that the content of the piece was situated on the boundary of dream and reality, falling down and flying up.

The afternoon’s session saw us creating body extensions in bailing or rebar wire that would allow us to somehow navigate through the environment created by our stair experiences, either through the actual material object we had created or through the environment of the stairs themselves. Given 50 ft of bailing wire, the first task was to straighten it out by running it back and forth over a chair leg.

Once straightened, it proved easier to manipulate using needle nose pliers and wirecutters. I had decided to do a kind of helicopter pod which I imagined might be useful in travelling through our cardboard vortex. Using only the wire, and making it three dimensional by weaving it back and forth, I was able to create a curved pod with four rotors on the end, a structure which was attached to my back with loops around my arms.

Extending from these loops I created conical breastplates also with small rotors on their ends.

Finally, to hold the structure in place, I attached a head-loop to the back pod. Others made tails,

wings,

head holders,

lungs,

flying shoes

and helmets.

These sculptures, when placed against a white wall, also proved to make beautiful wire line “drawings”.

Our second session involved completing the wire structures, critiquing our homework assignment of creating a sphere from only cardboard and tape, and then later making plaster cubes from a two litre milk carton.The spheres proved interesting; I like the idea of making artwork from simple, crude and easily-obtainable junk, although I was unhappy with what I produced, a griffin with a cardboard spherical head.

In addition to the cubes, we also created plaster hand sculptures, each cupped hand filled with plaster representing the amount of time taken for the material to dry – a solidification of temporality. I was surprised, never having worked with plaster before, just how hot it became as it dried.

The texture of the gloves I had been wearing came out very well in my palm sculpture; we named it “My Life as a Reptile”.

A take-home assignment asked the class, after having lived with the cubes for three days, to wrap them in some way. The wrapped cubes made their debut on day three; some of the pieces were very clever, others not so much. (I didn’t do one – not enough time). Kathryn placed her cube beneath a carosel of moving cards, each card inscribed with a short story about the character Cubisimus and his follies.

Alexa wrapped hers in plastic wrap, then surrounded it in a blown-up condom, a feat finally achieved after going through several boxes of condoms, each breaking in turn as it was stretched to cover the plaster cube’s hard corners.

Angel presented her cube wrapped in bamboo leaves,

while Gloria covered hers in expensive wrapping paper and raffia,

unwrapping each layer in turn to reveal at the present’s centre the cube on which a picture of a gosling had been affixed (an idea that started out in an interesting direction but became somewhat kitschy).

Joy’s piece was a comment on industrial over-fishing and the ruination of the oceans:

After having spent quite a bit of time on a critique of these pieces, we moved on to a third project. This was to create a three dimensional piece combining the organic and non-organic materials we had been asked to bring in with clay to create a hybrid or combine of some kind, by having the organic metamorphose into the inorganic and vice-versa.

I used a dragonfruit and the metal base of a lamp, combining these with clay to create a dragon-like creature with bristly spikes on its head and back and large round forefeet. Unfortunately, I had not been aware of the size limitations of the machine we were to use to create the mold for our sculptures and I had to reduce the size and scope of my vision, cutting off and remodelling the creature’s head – too bad because the dragon-fruit head spikes would have been awesome IMHO.

Once these hybrids were complete each of us was shown how to use the vacuum machine to suck melted styrene down over our sculptures to create a mold which would be usable for plaster once the original material was pried out of it.

This, too, was a learning experience in that once I saw the molds themselves I realised more clearly the sorts of materials that would create the most interesting textures and shapes (and these turned out to be not the ones that I’d chosen …). Ah well.

See all my pictures here.

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