Tag Archives: installation

Building the Black Church

The design of the last set piece of the Magic Box project was immensely important to the look and feel of the entire project.  This element and accompanying video is the culmination of our learning and focus on a project over two years in the making.  While the piece must work well with all those that came before, It must also reflect the inevitable learning that accompanies work of so much duration and focus.

As with the building for “The Empty Room”,  “The Black Church” was based on a building in our home town Pueblo, Colorado, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. While we considered many church designs for the project, we went with the cathedral because of its classical anatomy and ties to art history, which is an important element of the last video.

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We began by photographing the building.  The main challenge in “sampling” a building like this is discovering how much of the original to stay true to and how much to simplify and modify. To help make these determinations I did an extensive series of drawings, to both see the building fully and to determine the essential elements. In the initial planning stage, before the drawings, I imagined holding a large amount of the detail, feeling that was an essential part of the beauty of the building.

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The slow and deliberate process of drawing the church again and again over a period of weeks helped me to understand the soul of the building, the essential nature of the proportion and what that communicates to those on the sidewalk or inside the structure. By the end of the drawing process I was stripping away the detail and focused on the classical structure.

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From the drawing step, our building was designed, rather than the lengthy process of constructing plaster molds for each section, a heavy watercolor paper was used. This step cut at least 4 weeks from the build which allowed the full project to be completed within the semester.

For the build I broke the structure into four sections, the front section, or Facade and narthex, was built first. This allowed the rules for construction to be set on a relatively small and simple piece and to test the scale of the building against the existing works in the series and to ensure continuity of the installation. Rather than the Laguna’s whitestone that we built the empty room house with, we returned to Laguna’s soldate, a body that we have used for years with success. This decision completely solved the major mid slab cracking issues that had been such a problem with so much of the early construction. Another modification of the build  was to  let the slabs set up several days before assembly. This let the individual units do most of their drying and shrinking before they came together which reduced the amount of stress placed on each piece.

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The second section built was the naive, this section was modified from its proportion in the original building so that we could focus the filming in this section.  Because of the size modification, the roof became problematic, columns were set into the mid center of the hall to hold a sort of half ceiling. This would serve the dual purpose of holding a multi media roof that would be constructed post firing and hide the lighting system for the enclosed structure. The decision to go without decoration or windows on the building affirmed itself as the structure grew.  The exterior and the interior were beginning to be understood as separate realms.  the exterior was to exude imposing darkness and mystery in addition to be immediately recognizable as a holy or sacred place. The interior was to evoke a cave, a hidden space not easily accessible from the outside.

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The third piece was the transept. For the long roof section of this unit a sort of joist was constructed from the side wall panel pieces.

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The last piece was the choir. This was the both the smallest and most complex of the sections.

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Once all the sections were complete, they could be placed together to make decisions about the placement and shape of the passage that would span the whole interior.

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Once the interior was opened it was coated in whitestone slip, to tie it to the earlier buildings and to enhance the cave feeling for the interior shots for filming. During construction of each section a waster slab was placed beneath to limit drying and firing stress. The building was then covered and allowed to dry over several weeks.

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Once the units were dried and fired to cone 06 they were again assembled to assess the warping that took place through the long process of clay to ceramic. While we did have markedly better results with this building, each section did move throughout this time, a solution was then sought to fill the gaps between the sections that would allow light to penetrate into the building. Several solutions were considered for this but in the end we decided on vinyl  joint compound, this substance starts very soft and plastic like clay and would dry very hard to allow the building to be handled as it moves from show to show.  The first step for this was to shrink-wrap the first and third sections so that the compound would only go on  section two and four, minimizing both handling stress and cleanup. Each section was then masked for spray paint.

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The process of application and sanding back the material had to be done through several  times before we were satisfied with the fit. The visible sides were then textured to match the ceramic.

Painting was two coats of semi-gloss black spray paint with an additional two coats of a matte clear finish, this had to be tuned up several times through the finishing as the joint compound was very messy when it had to be manipulated. The interior was largely left alone, but some of the ground bisque clay used on the interior was mixed with acrylic to cover epoxy fill and to allow the heavy texture to be picked up by the camera during filming.

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Once the surface was finished, it was then time to install the lights. small battery-powered LED’s were used, hot glued into position in the roof sections using the joint compound to hide the cord running through the walls and down through the joints into a pedestal built to house them. Initially my intent was to light the interior with fire, but having ruled this impractical from a build and display standpoint,  we opted for half flashing lights.  Though labeled as the same light, we found the flashing lights had a very different temperature from the non blinkers so I applied an acrylic wash to warm up the cooler toned lights.

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Following the placement of the lights, the god tiles were epoxyed into place since their shape and the texture of the walls would not allow them to be simply placed and stay where they needed to be.

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Gabe supplied the finishing touches to the piece, first the multi media roof was constructed of similar materials as the additions to the ceramic. His intent for the addition was that it not draw attention to itself yet compliment the overall feeling of the exterior of the building.

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All these elements unite to form what we believe is an incredibly strong piece that will anchor the gallery presence of the entire installation. The last element added was subtle decoration to the exterior of the church. Gabe executed to scale, tags in black marker around the back and sides of the building. These additions tie the piece into the overall intent and work of the studio and also reward the careful viewer looking for the details that are present throughout the installation.church tag 2church tags 1

Detail and subtlety become the focus of this object, the only one in the group with no magic boxes and aside from lights no dependence on technology. This piece becomes a resting place in the work to contemplate the various layers of meaning in the Magic Box installation and video series.

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VIdeo Documentation

The next big project for the installations was to doccument them in video.  I have long wanted to get my work out to the world using video, and this project, because of its scale and complete non portability was a perfect place to start.  It also helped that there was a clear start and it finished within a super reasonable amount of time.  The down side of course was not having decided to make a video until the project was nearly complete.  Fortunately we take tons of pictures and video as a regular practice in our art making so there was more than enough material for the twelve minute piece Gabe and I put together.

As I said the video was decided on after the piece was finished so while there was more than enough documentation there were things that I just didn’t have. For some of that we staged shots, for the rest it was left out.  A process that wont be repeated since we now know that video production will be an integral part of our work form here out.

The film was make entirely with iPhones and my mac book.  The computer worked great but the limit with the phones is one that will have to be overcome, especially mine which has a very limited memory which required uploading all the pics and videos once a day to clear the memory to take more.  Despite all the difficulty we put together a great video.

Since the production of this video I’ve made one myself so that I might  learn the program and participate fully in the production of future projects.  This video documents the erosion of the images on the panels over the last couple weeks

Adventures in Stucco

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Finishing the Horse began with research, as usual.  What we wanted was a stucco recipe that had both clay and concrete.  I know this is a sound practice because I used to mix stucco for my professor Vicky Hansen and she used both, but I could neither remember that recipe or find one on line.  We wound up making our own from a recipe I found online that was intended for restoration of historical buildings.  While we wanted portland cement in the mix,we were looking for very little.  Enough to increase durability on a difficult surface but little enough to avoid the surface becoming brittle and hard to repair.  We used these two web pages primarily in our investigations.

http://www.essortment.com/make-own-stucco-11205.html

We based our recipe off this recipe from the about.com page:

“Materials for Soft Brick Mortar and for Soft Stucco

5 gallons hydrated lime

10 gallons sand

1 quart white, nonstaining portland cement (1 cup only for pointing)

Water to form a workable mix.

(Koch and Wilson, Architects, New Orleans, Louisiana, February, 1980

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To incorporate the clay we replaced half the aggregate (sand) with the unrefined brick clay we acquired for the project.

Refining the mixing process was difficult, eventually  we decided to mix half batches because we needed  the mix to be rather heavy so it would stick to the underside of the sculpture, also applying the stucco wire was super difficult on such a complex surface so there were spots that were nearly impossible to get the material to adhere.  We used straw to help fill in those spots which helped considerably.

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Once we had the mix right it was just a whole lot of work to get the piece finished.  We applied a second coat to the surface to fill gaps and smooth it a bit a couple days after the first.  It was on this second day of stuccoing that we hatched the plan for the video.

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Pony Power

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Some ponies are bigger than others and this one is a baby clydesdale.  Also, completely fantastic, so fantastic in fact that we decided it would be a horrible tragedy to cover it entirely with actual horsiness, so we have opted to cover the strauture with the adobe material and not fill it out with straw muscles.  Its is a great decision for art but the added work in applying the stucco wire is a big deal.  We got about half way through it today.  Im still hoping to finish this piece and install it tomorrow but I am also teaching a bit this week.  Fantastic for my life but difficult for all that must be done in the studio.  You can see here that it also got a thin coat of paint.  This was applied to slow the rot of the wood inside the clay.

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The Insurance agency also moved a bit in the last couple days.  I should have the structure finished inside and out tomorrow or Saturday.  Ill post pics then.

Collaboration is King

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Sometimes great art depends on great partnerships. Gabe Wolff pushed this project into the realm of greatness today with his design and build of the internal skeleton of the life size free standing horse we are building in the coral outside our studio.  In my mind I imagined some lashed together twig construction as I have very little wood working skill and was thinking that the clay would provide most of the structure of the piece.  Realizing I was out of my depth with the project I asked for help.  The best move all day for sure.  Gabe spent most of the morning designing and then piecing the structure together and all of the afternoon on the build.

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Here he is testing the designs ability to bear weight.  This is half of the structure.  The other half is mostly built and will be tied together tomorrow and then I will use my twig idea to build a rib cage and hips to hold the volume of the body, it will then be covered in chicken wire and then covered with the brick clay.

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The play set also got some play.  I am leaning toward an insurance agency play set.  It seems the most absurd choice.

Transition day

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Today was a busy day that had me focused on all three installations for the workshop.  I started this morning with fresh documentation of the horses on the iron panels.  We had some rain last evening and the south side of the coral changed significantly.  The first pic was taken when the clay was still wet from the rain and the full shot was from this morning after it had a chance to dry out.  I love the changes to the images.  The rain drops have given the piece a feeling of great age that I would love to preserve.  I have considered many possible techniques but may also just let the rain have its way.  i do want the images to be a part of the documentation for the next work and so do not want to loose them entirely, I will continue to look at the issue through the coming week.

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I did begin the next piece, by taking delivery of a couple hundred pounds of unrefined brick clay.  For the second installation of the workshop I will stay in my coral for a simulacra.  I am planning to use the environment that already exists and build a large free standing horse.  I pan to build an internal frame and cover that in wire and cobb the surface with a mix of the brick clay and straw.  The piece is a complete unknown as I have never done several of the proposed steps for the piece.  Likely this means it will evolve a great deal as I get into the work and find my limits, time being chief among them.  I hope to have this piece finished this week.

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Finally I moved my main work of the workshop off the drawing board and into clay sketch mode.  This piece is based off the  Snake Mountain toy that was part of the He-Man Masters of the Universe toys form the 1980’s and 90’s.  I have been obsessed with making play sets since May and am finally ready to give this a try.  I lack almost every critical element to this including the all important narrative rules for the world but I am willing to let them evolve as the piece does.  I have the scale, which is driven by my tiny kiln and I understand my plans for installation which will be 30 second commercials for you tube.  Stay tuned…this might be fun.

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an injury to my shoulder during the studio move delayed the start of the install until yesterday, but as usual with forced delay, it gave the project a couple days to mature in my mind and became richer for the extra time.  My initial plan for the work was to paint free hand directly on to the panel using the pics of the previous days as rough guides, but most important to my vision of the way I wanted the piece to look was that the panel itself provide the “dark” of the drawing.  After much deliberation and discussion I decided to go with a lesson from Gabe in stencil making and apply a single horse using a hand drawn and cut plastic stencil.

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The next step was to prep the clay and practice.  Fortunately I have been playing with making my own casting slip and so had some grolleg kaolin porcelain slip already slaked down.  I only had to thin it further and mix it silky for the “paint” consistency that I wanted.  Practice was inside the studio.  I wanted to understand hanging the stencil and how much clay would be enough without flooding under the plastic and ruining the image.

The plan continued to change as I worked.  After deciding to use the single horse stencil I still planned to paint accent on the panel to accompany the horses.  I found the texture of the brush stroke in clay on the iron so beautiful however that I scrapped that plan in favor of fully painting the fence except where the shadows of the horses held the original color.  Working out the details of the project took most of the day and I would up painting these into the night.  It rained on and off while I worked so there is some water marking on the clay.  I was concerned that It would really rain and I would not be able to document the work in the day as I had planned but no rain at the farm was for once a good thing.

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