Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reflection on Woodworking class

The semester finally ended and it is somewhat of a bittersweet ending for me I am glad that I am finally done, and yet sad to leave and not have access to the woodshop anymore. When I first started I had zero experience with anything wood related and was terrified to even go near a bansaw, but as the semester progressed I learned to be more comfortable with working with wood and I actually enjoyed working with wood. It also gave me a greater appreciation for woodmaking and furniture from experiencing first hand on how time consuming it is to make something that could be overlooked like a picture frame or a small end table. I have to honestly say that there is a very slim chance of me working with wood again, but not because i did not enjoyed it. Its just that since i am graduating having access to the woodshop will not be that easy anymore. But having taken this class helped open and broaden my horizon on what kind of materials I am capable of working with. Now I have the knowledge and knowhow to (if i wanted to) to work with wood and know how wood works and what kind are available to me. I went from knowing nothing to knowing how to making a table and a decent looking frame. I would definitely recommend this class to anyone artist or not.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I.M. Pei

The person that I have decided to research is not a furniture designer but rather an architect by the name of I.M. Pei., he went to M.I.T wanted to study engineer, but was convinced to study architecture. His role model and influence came from Frank Lloyd Wright. Some of his notable and recognizable works are The Louvre's glass pyramid and the spiral staircase, Bank of China (in Hong Kong) and the John F. Kennedy Library. I find I.M. Pei's work to be amazing and awe inspiring, his works are all very geometrical, clean cut and although it looks very minimal in the design aspects its elegant yet sturdy. Pei's style has been described as modernist with a cubist twist. Besides the obvious geometric shape usage in his designs I also noticed that he also likes to work with glass, He does not really explain why he uses the materials he uses, but it did mention that he likes to find balance in his works, which i think he does. Most if not all does not look too bare or too excessive.

As an artist dealing with environmental issues, one quickly realizes that what material you choose to make your art out of becomes a major issue. Almost everything we touch today comes from non-environmentally friendly sources. Perhaps, the best way to be an environmentally friendly artist is to just not make art? This was an interesting topic to think about in relation to this woodworking class.

I decided to look into George Nakashima, after remembering the slide show at the beginning of the semester showing his very natural looking furniture. I thought his work was interesting because of the way that he would leave much of his wood in its sort of original state, and how he would try to play up the natural beauty that was already present in the wood.

In doing some reading on him, it was interesting to read that he only ever worked with large furniture designers twice, each time being problematic for Kakashima. This was because the large designers would create short cuts and use artificial grains to make the furniture. Obviously this would not work for furniture designed specifically to draw upon the natural anomalies in the wood.

This relates to a conversation that myself and a couple other students in the class had in regards to furniture, such as Ikea, versus furniture made out of hardwood, like the tables we made. This circles back to the question of which is better for the environment. One maybe tempted to argue that Ikea furniture, being less wood intensive is better. It certainly is cheaper. However, as someone who as a poor college student bought Ikea furniture, I would argue that it is definitely not environmentally friendly. Ikea furniture is not designed to last. It is highly functional, which plays towards its appeal, but I’ve already broken a TV stand, and most of my furniture from Ikea will not make it past their life as college student furniture.

While going home for Thanksgiving break, I saw all the hardwood furniture my parents have. Much of it is a couple of generations old. Hardwood furniture will outlive us. This fact clearly shows that hardwood furniture, though perhaps not completely environmentally friendly, would have the lower environmental impact. If you’re hard wood coffee table is going to outlast you, how many are you possibly going to need to buy, right? This in comparison to Ikae furniture, which seems to need replacing fairly regularly. Of course, one has to consider price, and why a place like Ikae would do so well.

Ikae is based on functionality and inexpensive. (Though I sometimes wonder how inexpensive they really are.) The fact that they are inexpensive is very attractive to anyone with a limited budget. If you are trying to furnish an apartment on a limited budget, you are going to buy perhaps five pieces from Ikae instead of the one hardwood piece that same budget would.

Hardwood furniture seems to be what you buy when you get older. My parents either inherited pieces, or bought their own, when they finally could afford it. These pieces are all classics, and will outlast me assuming no unknown forces happen.

So the question could then become, how do you turn pieces like George Nakashima’s hardwood masterpieces, that use local woods and are clearly more environmentally friendly, into pieces that the masses can consume without going bankrupt? After working on the table for this class, it is clearly not an easy question to answer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The stand and stool I built for this final project is in the Mission style. Besides the rectilinear aesthetic appeal of Mission furniture I also love the sensibility of its design. Each piece is designed with a particular function in mind. For instance my project is based on the Telephone table and Stand. You'll notice that the shelf in my desk is almost awkwardly narrow (approximately 5"), but the intention of this mission designed stand is merely to store a phone book, in which case the shelf is appropriately scaled. Foot Stools, Ladies Writing Tables, Fern Stand, Serving Tables, Magazine Table, Library Table...the list goes on. I love this philosophy, maybe it's a bit ocd but I simply like for things to not just go somewhere but belong somewhere. While reading a bit into Missiom Style it wasn't surprising that there were underlying social principles. Gustav Stickley described his design as being based on honesty and simplicity with sound qualities that led to honest men and good citizens. Like certain japanese architecture philosophies I appreciate the thoughfulness behind the style, regardless of whether I think parallel lines make for good citizens!

The End Table With A Little Twist

Creating an End Table for a final project was probably one of the most exciting task I've had in my undergraduate career. Not that it's exciting to create a table, but the idea that I get to use it long after it is built and that I can have something to hold onto after I graduate.

For this piece, I decided to use Cherry Wood due to its higher acidic level over other woods. Having a high acidic level in the wood content is important to me because sometime in the near future I would like to give the table an ebonized finish, and without the higher acidic content it would not be possible.

As for the little twist, I decided to use the shop's laser printer to etch out a Horde symbol, which represents my favorite faction from a computer game known as World of Warcraft (a game I'm currently into). I thought that using the laser printer would make the table a little unique, since I am part of the Digital Media program.

African Mahogany

I thought that it would be nice to find out something about the wood that we're using for our frames this semester. So here's a very short biography on African Mahogany:

African Mahogany is also known as Khaya senegalensis. It is native to Africa and Madagascar.
It produces little yellow flowers and bears wood-like fruits in the summer.

The African Mahogany is resistant to termites and wood rot, so African Mahogany was very popular and used often to build cabinets, door frames, and boats. The African Mahogany was used in the the early 18th century by American colonist to make furniture because it was durable and easy to work with as well as beautiful.

I tried to find out where this wood is harvested, but I had no luck.

More information about the African Mahogany:

George Washington Jack

George Jack (1855-1932)
60 1/2 inches (153.7 cm); Length: 84 1/4 inches (214.7 cm.); Width: 29 1/2 inches (75.0 cm)Mahogany, ornamented with marquetry.

George Washington Jack is Scottish-American born in New York and grew up in Glasgow. Later, Jack moved to London and in 1880, Jack was hired by the Morris & Co. a furniture company that was established by Philip Webb a furniture maker and William Morris an artist and textile designer. His central role in designing for Morris & Co. started in 1890 when Phillip Webb retired.
The distinguishing characteristics of his works are that they are very slender, delicate, and graceful.
Most of his influence comes from Phillip Webb, but his designs were also influenced by the Queen Anne era, which was different from Webb’s designs.
Jack worked in wood but designed for a lot of different materials like stain-glass, mosaics, and cast-ons. He was very talented in wood carving and later became a professor at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. He is also the author of The Fine Art Society Story.
What I like about his occasional table is that it’s really cute, and slender. It looks delicate and beautiful, but it’s strong. I want to make my table top something like that, but it’s my first semester here and I don’t know if I’m capable of it.


Rodel, Kevin P., Binzen, Jonathan. Arts & Crafts Furniture: From Classic To Contemporary. Newtown, CT: The Taunton Press, Inc., 2003. 24. eBook.

"Occasional Table." The Victorian Web. Web. 30 Sept 2010. .

Occasional Table
Designer: George Washington Jack (1855-1932)
Manufacturer and retailer: Morris & Co.c. 1885
31 inches (78.5 cm) diameter; 27 inches (68.5 cm) high
Mahogany with central sunflower carved boss and 'pie-crust' top and six carved legs
Exhibited: London, The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, 1889

Juste-Aurèle Meissonier

Juste Aurèle Meissonier (1695–1750) was a French goldsmith, sculptor, painter, architect, and furniture designer. His style is mainly Rococo, but to the extreme. He loved to crowd every foot of his designs with floral motifs. He built on Oppenordt’s designs, and was also influenced by a Dutch silversmith, Adam van Vianen.Meissonier is a goldsmith, and he makes pieces like candlestick holders and chandeliers. I am not sure if he builds his own furniture designs. But his metal pieces looks just as complex as his furniture pieces.Meissonier designed King Louis XV’s bed chambers and cabinets in 1724. His designs are not massed produced, but were very popular. His approach to architecture was the same as furniture, however, since a building was large, he was able to fit in more motifs, and for a furniture piece, he wanted to fit in as many motifs and couldn’t so his furniture was very busy and wasn’t as successful as his buildings.

I really like his sofa designs, but his table design was too chunky. He is a fantastic goldsmith, and his sculptures are really gorgeous. I love the asymmetry, curves, and his use of gold in his furniture designs.

"Juste-Aurele Meissonier." Chicago, Illinois: Britannica Encyclopedia, 2010. Web.

Image Credits:
Sofa - Juste Aurele Meissonnier (1735)
Chair - Juste Aurele Meissonnier (1730)

Gilles-Marie Oppenordt

Gilles-Marie Oppenordt was a French designer (decorator) and architect for the king. He had a very distinct Rococo style. He is a Dutch born in Paris in 1639 from a line of ébéniste, commonly known as cabinetmakers. His influences included his father who worked for the Louvre Palace in Paris for King Henry IV. He also studied Baroque sculptural ornaments in Rome and idealized Bernini, an Italian artist and Italian architects, Borromini and Pirro Ligorio.
His furniture designs are very elaborate and he studied artists, he was an admirable draftsman. His designs are of the Rococo period, and there are a lot of leaves and curves in his designs. His designs are also asymmetrical.
Oppenordt was a designer and architect, and most likely did not build his designs. However Gabriel Huquier, and engraver and portrait artist engraved some of Oppenordt’s designs.
Oppenordt was a very important figure in the development of the Rococo style. The Rococo style was basically the Baroque style but styled more towards nature, with an emphasis on asymmetry and foliage, and a light hearted feel. He was a very well known designer and published two of his design books; the Grand Oppenord and the Petit Oppenord. He also wrote another book called the L'Art décoratif du 18 siècle (Paris, 1888).
He was very big on the Rococo style, so his interior designs of buildings were just the same; it was all very elaborate and crowed with flowers, leaves and curves.
Oppenordt was a great designer and I love his work. I love the Rococo style; I think it is the most elegant and feminine of all the styles. It is just so pretty. And I adore the cabriole legs on the furniture. I want to put cabriole legs on my projects, because I think they’re really cute.

Works Cited:

Hercules Clock by A.C. Boulle and Gilles-Marie Oppenord, c. 1712, loaned by Paris Musée des Arts et Metiers. Cheremetiev Cabinet, Hermitage Museum (Photo: Paul Paradis)

Paradis, Paul. "Paris Art Market Buzz: A Boullienne Fantasy." Beth Arnold: Letter from Paris. Beth Arnold , 25 Jan 2010. Web. 01 Sept 2010. .

Image Credits:
Ornamental Motifs - LineEdward Pearce Casey Fund from
Rococo Chairs - from

Always post the source info on your images

Hi All.
If you post pictures on the blog, you need to put the artist, title, date, and where you found the image-- not just random uncredited images. I recognize the tire buddha below as being by an Estonian artist I met in Finland, Villu Jaanisoo. When you use an image, you need to include all the credit information!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Zero1 symposium and other things

on the week of zero1 there was a huge amount going on. On Friday I attended the symposium that was held somewhere at city hall. In the beginning it was great having to see fellow digital media and the likes there in the same room, but as the symposium went on and began on trying to concentrate on what they have to say to the audience I quickly lost interest. Not because it was not interesting, but because the "artist" or engineers and scientist that were talking was talking in very scientific terms and was in what i thought to be really communicating to their own kind leaving us the other people out of the loop. All I got out of the symposium was something about the climate clock that had to do with recording for a hundred 100yrs....and above all that the speakers at the symposium i thought to be very dry and technical.

Besides the symposium I got to work with an artist Stephanie Rothenberg with her art show, Best Practices in Banana Time....where she stages a talk show in SecondLife and at the same time in real life time. My job was to be the camera person in secondlife. At the same time while preparing for Stephanie's show I was also participating with digital media's red cross project a few of CADRE's student which includes me decided to showcase the red cross backpack at the zero1 fair. Our job was to fix up the red cross backpack and getting it ready for Zero1 street fair. Even though the symposium was not what I would hoped it to be, but over all i had an amazing experience and I am very grateful to be apart of something special.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Walter Gropius

Walter Adolph Georg Gropius (May 18, 1883 – July 5, 1969) was a German Architect who was known as the founder of the Bauhaus School which specialized in fine arts and crafts. Gropius, along with other architects such as Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier were known as the pioneers of modern architecture design.

Walter Gropius's designs were inspired by a less successful movement known as The Werkbund. The Werkbund technique is when one attempts to integrate art, economics, and engineering into a piece of art work, whether it be a structure or a piece of furniture. One of the best example's of Gropius's industrial designs is the F 51 armchair (the red chair) which integrates both the aesthetic material and the engineering (wood components) together.

Richard Deacon

Richard Deacon was born in Bangor, Wales in 1949 and lives and works in London. Deacon is a ground breaking contemporary sculptor who is well known for his dynamic, organic, anatomical, abstract sculptures scaling from small to massive.

He uses manufacturing and building techniques rather than traditional sculpturing methods. Therefore, he is able to use woods, steel and ceramics to produce slick curled, spiraled, shaped objects. Over the past decade, he has developed a vocabulary of shapes and this notion.

I am really gravitated toward his large-scale sculptures. Besides his exceptional craftsmanship, his works are consistently dynamic, forceful, aesthetically beautiful, and the best of all, they are playful -- resembling rubix cubes (puzzles) or maze. Deacon quotes: “The curve has a life of its own, it is not describing or depicting a shape.”

Spatial relationships between sculpture and its surroundings are also equally important to the artist.

Here is one of his works:

Restless, 2005

Steamed ash and stainless steel

158 x 374 x 257 cm

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Robert Rauschenberg October 22, 1925 – May 12, 2008

Rauschenberg was an American artist who came to prominence in the 1950s transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. Rauschenberg is well-known for his "Combines" of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations. Rauschenberg was both a painter and a sculptor and the Combines are a combination of both, but he also worked with photography, printmaking, papermaking, and performance. Rauschenberg would picke up trash and found objects that interested him on the streets of New York City and brought these back to his studio where they could become integrated into his work. He claimed he "wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn't a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing." This sentiment can be seen in his various works. One of my favorite works from him would have to be monogram. In this piece Rauschenberg found a taxidermied goat, put it in a tire and placed it on a painted canvas. At my high school we had "Raushenberg Day" when Raushenberg would come and talk to us and do projects with the students. I was lucky enough to work with him on several projects that are on display at the school.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Where should tire scraps go?

Billion of rubber tires are produced yearly and through wear and tear become replaced. Many of these tires are burned and some end up in landfills. Tire’s are now recycled in various ways but may be somewhat tricky to recycle because they are composed of different elements. Elements contained in tires may be harmful to the environment when piled up in landfills they may be a fire hazard. The tires in the landfills take up space that can be used for other purposes. So, recycling tires in the form of furniture art seems like a great way to begin cleaning up the landfills. Much of the contemporary and modern art uses recycled items already. Worn out tires can and have been creatively reused as furniture and art pieces. The ottoman and chair below at first glance may appear as leather yet they are made out of recycled tires. They are perfect examples of recycled tires that functions work fabulous in most modern homes. Tire scraps should ultimately be removed from landfills and converted into functional pieces of furniture and pieces of art such as the interesting looking Buddha below.   

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Blog Entry #3

Hey all,

Finally getting my last post up at the very last minute. I did the research weeks ago but as I seriously dislike blogging I just couldn’t bring myself to type it all up and then I lost my notes and had to start all over. Alas. Anyhow…tonight’s topic is pyrography. While it’s something I’ve been doing since I was eleven (although I generally refer to it as woodburning) I’d never really given any thought to it’s origins, history, or contemporary place in the art world—it was something fun to do that smelled good and looked nice when I was done. But Steve mentioned that the frame I had burned looked like Victorian pyrography and it’s been at the back of head to take a look and see what that was all about and this is as good of an excuse as any so here we go.

Right. First off is a definition for those new to the concept. It’s exactly what one would guess—writing with fire. Or drawing with heat. It can be done all sorts of surfaces: wood, leather, and some papers are my favorites. These days a nice, civilized, plugs-into-the-wall heating device is used like a pen to burn the desired design onto something.

Now into the history of it all. This article was the most informative and really quite interesting (although a lot of the links on the last page that I really wanted to follow seem to be outdated now). I especially liked that it included an example of a piece from before 700 A.D.. It would seem that people have been burning designs into things for rather a long time ( I kept coming across references to early Egyptian and African work, but nobody seemed to want to give me any details and actual examples....). I found a neat bit about Chinese pyrography dating back to the Han Dynasty (which I vaguely remember from an Asian Art History course as being a very long time ago indeed) here. But in terms of more recent Western art it stated out as something called pokerwork (which amuses me to no end)--so called because it was done by sticking the poker into the fire until it glowed and then using it to draw until it cooled down and had to be reheated to continue. A nice wee bit regarding that can be found here (this one was more detailed--speculating about the early use of heated needles for detail work, etc., but the site was kind of a pain to access--you have to take survey first...) The Victorian Era saw the invention of a benzine-fueled tool that made the process easier and the ladies magazines that popularized it. Factories sprung up to mass produce the stuff (w/ heated plates) and lots of neat things like this came into being.

Here are a couple of magazine/blog links I found on the topic (in terms of modern usage). They have forums and patterns and pretty pictures:

This guy put up a nice walk-you-through-the-basics site--I agree with most everything he had to say and as I don't have any step-by-step documentation we'll go with his....

Lastly, for anybody who wants to play too, here’s where I got my much-loved woodburner (although a soldering iron is a nice, cheap place to start….):


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Zero1 Symposium and Art Festival: Or my unsophisticated point of view

Really late!

Friday's symposium that we attended as a class was a mixed bag.

My least favorite talk of the whole day was the Climate Clock group presentations. Maybe it was just me, but it was a bit uninteresting and a lot of it just went over my head. They didn't explain themselves thoroughly and used a ton of jargon as if they were only amongst other architects, engineers, scientist. In my opinion that wasn't even the worst part! The worst part was their lack of passion. You would think they would being selling you this wonderful idea that they invested a whole lot of their time and creative abilities masterminding, but all I got was a group of monotone presenters that seemed as bored as some of the audience.
The symposium really started to get me interested and excited for the rest of Zero1 during the presentations of “Particle Falls” and “Floating World”. To actually hear the artist talk about their work and explain the concepts behind the instillations was great.
Jade Chang's talk was by far the highlight of the symposium. After hearing some people discuss their projects, it was awesome to have someone to urge us to get out there and create something of our own. I loved the idea of making playful art that is thought provoking and inspiring. The examples given were fun and ingenious.

I unfortunately( or fortunately according to Shannon's description) had to skip out on the last speaker in order to get home , do some homework, and get ready for Absolute Zero. If you missed that event I'll have to describe how incredibly amazing it was.

The interactive art made me feel like a small child. I was giddy from the amount and variety of things to do and see. One of the best times I've had at a festival and most everything was free. An unexpected delight was the street food court comprised of cooks from all over the bay. Vegan ceviche and al pastor tostadas?! Vegan or not, everything was delicious.

Here's some of Absolute Zero

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Zero 1 Symposium - Friday Ghostly Reflections...

Overall, I enjoyed the opportunity to attend the Symposium and get insight into the various works that embodied the overall theme of Zero1 this year, "Build Your Own World". I will admit that the first half of the day left me entirely disheartened, but more from the bureaucratic standpoint than the artistic. Artistically I was inspired and in absolute awe. The concept of building a piece of art that translates scientific data into a substantial and approachable data concept AND would convey those concepts clearly for 100 years is a daunting and admirable task. I really searched my mind and my creativity both during the symposium and after to wrap my brain about how *I* would have done that.

It should come as no surprise to anybody reading this that I study stuff. All kinds of stuff. One of the things that I am really facinated about is how old things go on to become old. I used to live in a 1909 Craftsman House and always wondered if the builders really thought about what it would be like as it aged. I suspect they didn't really put much thought into how it would survive and focused more on how it should be. In regards to the basement foundation, modern convience additions, long term material availablity and some other issues, I wish they had put a little more thought into what the future might entail but I think they did okay. One of my favorite buildings in San Jose is the Old Church of Christ Science on the north side of St. James Park. Beautiful Neo-Classical architecture example from the 1890's, massive collums and a central dome. City engineer says at this point all that is holding it up is the termites holding hands.

The builders of that, like the builders of my old house, probably didn't think about what 100 years in the future would look like. I suspect that they would be quite surprised to find their Neo-Classical church covered up in plywood and surrounded by a cyclone fence. When I asked, if wholly by the slim chance, Diridon should end up not being a destination in 100 years, instead of getting the artists/scientist's take, I got the bureaucrat. Having spent a decade of my life being a much more intimidating bureaucrat than she, I was less than impressed with her party line adherence that Diridon would always be a destination. While I don't actually doubt her, I don't care, and wanted to know what the artists thought about how the work would last and stand on its own. Bureaucrats are easy to access, artists are less so. In the end, we all don't know what the future will entail and my question was lost amongst the shuffle of my property taxes towards the cause. I support the arts daily and I'm noticing that my city is rarely operating in my best interest. I will support the project if not it's keepers...though my tax dollars go to support them as well. Curious that. Might be worth a letter to the Mercury News after all.

Jade Chang was awesome and witty. In pulling my notes out for this write up I found her blog information and will make a point of following that. Out of all the talks, I found hers to be the most rational and adhere best to the theme of Zero 1. To recap, she covered random acts of public improvements through art. Some were nefarious, like the modification of a freeway sign for greater clarity by a muralist with an adgenda. Some were just for fun, like the piano stair project. I too find myself wondering how I can make the world a better place through a random act of artistic kindness...sounds just too delicious of a concept to entertain through my sometimes larcenous but well intentioned heart. Keeping my eyes open but I must admit, the beauty would be to DO something and never tell a soul that you had made some or many people's lives a little better. Keeping my eye on Ms. Chang in the future. Good stuff....thanks to Shannon for letting us experience Zero 1!

Global Warming Symposium

The Global Warming Symposium was not necessary what I was expecting. I expected to hear about new technologies as well as new ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Rather the symposium was a regurgitation of what I already knew about global warming.  The three teams that introduced their 100 year old projects consisted of different fields such as engineers, artists, and others. The collaboration of those various fields into each particular project seemed odd to me. I figured that one idea initiated the project but as the different team mates brought their own ideas the initial idea might have been lost. I'm not to say that the pieces that they intend to produce may not serve their purpose rather I'm concern if all the money is put into good use. Most people should have a vague understanding of the issues affected the world at large and the children not so much. I guess making these structures be initial ways of introducing the local youth about issues at hand might work. My understand of their particular projects was simply that they are using art, and the collaboration of different fields, to last a hundred year period an during that time attract different audience representations on issues affecting the now and then concerning depleting resources and issues that will continue to affect the world.

Friday, October 1, 2010

01 Post........finally.

There is a reason I don't keep a personal blog--I sort of hate writing in them and can never remember to update them when I'm anywhere near a computer and can do anything about it. Apparently that applies to school-related blogs as well....but I've got me, my zero-one notes, and an internet-connected laptop all together in one place now, so here it is:

Jahnavi's Zero-One Thoughts:

First, like many of my classmates, I was disappointed by the presentation qualities. I had not attended the event before and from the way people had been talking about it I had expected something a bit more polished. I know these people are all artists not public speakers, but it's very hard to pay attention to a talk when the speaker, however knowledgable, is wandering all over the place and it seemed like a lot of the speakers went up in front of the mike unprepared.

Perhaps because of that my favorite group presentation for the Diridon Station climate clock was that given by Usman Hawk's team--the group that was not actually present and had therefore had to prerecord their talk. I felt like I came away with a clear sense of what they wanted to build and why. They wanted to create a self-building, self-maintaining park that drew that worked with the project goal of measurement, computation, and communication. They would have three main robotic devices/attractions: 1) named Huey (and yes, the goofy working names made me smile), also known as the accretion mounds, builds tower out of junk pulled from the air, making larger, thicker ones on bad years. 2) Dewey/sampled box in which 10,000 cloned daffodils (to avoid any genetic variation in results) are planted in batches of 100 every year on site and harvested and saved as a sample of the air that year. 3) Louie/data packer crawls (very slowly) around the park pulling up dirt and packing it into soil sample cubes (with a neat daily data point stamped into the side for kicks) as another measure of the areas health. I like the idea of localized visual feedback devices as art--it's like getting a report at the end of the year. The public could look at the proposed pieces and see how well they (and everyone around them) have done for the year in terms of atmospheric pollution. I think it has potential to work in terms of changing people's actions a bit: I personally do not like to see visible reminders of my failures and I think that seeing a giant mound/tower of crap that was pulled out of the air on a bad year would make me try harder to avoid contributing to it as much the next year. I was also charmed by the concept--I like the machines built from super simple parts and processes that should side-step becoming obsolete and that largely draw their power from nifty things like the sun, temperature change, being wound like a clock, and so on.

I had no idea what the second group (Wired Wilderness) was presenting by the time they got to end of the their presentation, aside from the fact that whatever it was would involve a series of artists. They were one of the more wandering groups--my notes are full of key words and catch phrases for them, but I didn't feel like I came away with anything at all.

The last group presented their Organograph. I felt like they explained themselves well enough, but for some reason it just didn't capture my imagination like the first idea did--it sort of sounded like a fancier version of the Children's Discovery Museum with a focus on climate. The only bit that really charmed me was the part about wanting to tap into the visceral connection to time humans get from the ticking of a clock and the way it seems to link heartbeats and the passage of time and that was only a minor aside.

The panel was very hard for me to get interested in. I did like Joel Slayton's introduction about paradigm shifts and wanting a project that dealt with computing and sustainability as such, but then it just got very dull and the nature of the answers again made the presenters seem less than perfectly prepared.

The artist presentations after lunch were much more fun. "Particle Falls" is a pretty neat idea, and again I like the localized visual feedback idea--people don't like to see that they're messing up, it's a good sort of reminder to change. I also quite enjoyed Robin Lasser and Marguerite Perret's presentation on "Floating World"--the piece is lovely and I liked the idea of an encampment for displaced voices on all levels. I also really liked the descriptions of the public's interaction with the piece--very cool. I had to leave after Robin's presentation to go throw my grandmother's birthday party, and apparently I missed one of the better talks as a result.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

An artist's responsiblity to entertain

The biggest problem I had with the Zero 1 Festival, was the often lumbering and awkward presentation that kept cropping up. Even professor Wright, a woman who willingly went to Finland in winter -thus a proven tolerance for slowly paced days- complained about dullness of many of the speakers.
Of course, artists aren't necessarily entertainers, and there's a reason artistic/instructional presentations aren't called performances. Artists have numerous (sometimes contradictory) responsibilities expect of them, some of which have legal force behind them, such as plagiarism and copyright infringements. Demanding artists create entertainment along with material that moves or improves the human state isn't realistic. Indeed, since a great many things that we need desperately aren't likely to be entertaining at all (undergoing surgery comes to mind), insisting art be "fun" while it is trying to perform far loftier goals would be petulantly foolish.
However, I think it safe to say that art, well, should be fun dammit. Learning new concepts is vastly easier when its entertaining. This is true when its presented through impersonal book form, and even more so when an engaging teacher becomes involved. In order to work art has to connect with the viewer, to get inside them somehow and cause change. Boring art (despite what, as a pun, that would imply) doesn't do that very well. In my experience in fact, boring art creates its own barriers limiting its absorption by the audience. Things that bore and disappoint can create hostility directed back at them.
In a situation in which artistic presentations are also calls for funding or action by the public, disinterest could not be more lethal. Yet some of the speakers created painfully monotone reports and slide-shows that would likely disappoint corportate middle-managers. I'm sorry, but the first segment of Friday, proposing an ingenious bio-mechanical clock/park based upon the cult-classic film Silent Running, was one of the most boring lectures I've ever attended. (And once took an astronomy class as a city college.)
When the issues are this important, and the entertaining distractions around your audience as numerous as they are today, presenters can afford to assume their audience is educated and patient, they can not afford to drone.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


The Global Warning Symposium that was put on during the Zero1 biannual was very timely for my purposes considering my work falls in the sphere of eco art and environmental art. I was able to go to most of the symposium. I missed the afternoon of Thursday, though I was told that I did not miss much. In my opinion the highlights were the two morning speakers on Thursday, and the keynote speaker on Friday. Though there seemed to be some complaining about Thursday being too intellectual, it was a symposium, which by their very nature are going to be somewhat academic.

The first speaker on Thursday morning, Dr. Kathleen Moore, is a philosophy professor at the University of Oregon. I found her presentation particularly interesting because she discussed the moral obligation of why we should strive to protect the planet, and how we as artists can help in the translation process of the hard science to the general public. This presentation particularly resonated with me because I often get sort of "why should we care" questions. For example, when I was doing research for a project about endangered species, I often would get the question "isn't extinction a natural process?" The answer I always give is yes extinction is a natural normal process, however we are a species are speeding up the process, which then brings up the moral (key word here) question of are we OK with being the cause? This goes well with Dr. Moore's argument that we have a moral obligation.

I will briefly discuss a point that I thought was interesting that the second speaker touched upon. Gail Wright did a fairly straight forward lecture of various different types of approaches to environmental and eco art by different artists. She got a variety of questions towards the end of presentation, many of which circled why it was necessary for artists to be doing many of their projects, and why they were working with scientists to put together many of their projects. One thing that Gail said that stuck with me was when she said that artists seem to be getting grants (which are sometimes government money) to be doing what the government should actually be doing.

Thursday started with the presentations and a panel from the Climate Clock artists. The Climate Clock project is an interesting project in so far as they are trying to address climate change by creating something that will last at least one hundred years. I had heard one of the groups talk about their presentation before, the Wired Wilderness project. They are taking a very different approach from the other two projects, which in some ways are more traditional in their approach to what will eventually be public art. The Wire Wilderness project is more of a platform for multiple art projects or events, one each year by a different artist for the next hundred years, dealing with data from a UC research center. All of the ideas were intellectually interesting, though I am not sure any of them really stood out for me. It was interesting because they get many questions about how they were dealing with the data, and how their projects were "iconic" (one of the things the project was meant to be). Like politicians, the artists would often dodge the question and in my opinion stay to their "talking points." I would be inclined to attribute that to the fact that all of these artist groups have been working on their projects for almost two years and are probably very close to their ideas.

After the presentations were over, a discussion of whether the money (an estimated 15-20 million dollars) would be better spent directly on schools, etc, to affect more direct behavior change. I have not come to a satisfactory conclusion for that question myself. I on the one hand come from a science background, and have worked in government. There is so much red tape and money chasing that it is a miracle that anything ever gets done. Therefore, being an artist does allow for freedom to play and be a cultural changer that being in government does not always provide. On the other hand, as an artist one has to be realistic about how many people outside the art community are aware of what is going on inside the art world. Unless it is public or commercial art, many people do not have access to much of the art that gets created. Another issue is that public art often gets so watered down that does it really get any worthwhile message across to the public? And as an artist dealing with complex scientific concepts, how much can you water them down before they are no longer valid? I think any artist who is dealing with climate change as their platform are going to run into all of these issues and more.

Maybe the solution is for the government to just be run by artists. Can't be any more dysfunctional than it already is.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Zero1, attendence and participation

I was only able to attend the morning of the second day of the symposium so I was only able to hear about the climate clock and the plans of each group in attendance. I got the most out of the Amorphic Robots Works idea and plans for creating a climate clock called the Organograph. They had a unique idea and while they seemed to drift around in their explanation they had charts and diagrams to help them along or at least keep the audiences attention. I did wonder as to how their Organograph would function over 100 years as it seems it would have limited space to plant a garden over that time or even keep a garden going for that long unless it reuses space and alos produces the necessary materials to keep up a garden. One idea that did come up was the use of mechanical data collection and storage. I thought something along the lines of Babbage's Analytical engine would have been brought up or discussed in this groups ideas of data collection and use.

Green Me idea of having a resident artist every year for 100 years was interesting as well although exact implementation of this was something I missed. Their plan does seem the easiest to get started although the works produced over the years would have to have someplace to be stored/displayed properly unless all the artists were restricted to a specific space. Each artist having to fit their idea into a predetermined form would make each creation uniform and unique at the same time.

Two things that stood out to me that appliy to each group: I really didn't hear much about the use of recycled materials or if people would actually do more than just view the works that will be produced. I thought some form of community interaction with the climate clock program would be interesting.

In the evening I was a part of a group of fellow students who set up a booth for the street festivities. We displayed and talked about a project we worked on in our 106 class last semester for the Red Cross Wearable art contest. The designs we created were design finalists and we got to attend the Red Cross hero's Gala for 2010. The two outfits were a red cross backpack and a solar panel skirt with camera vest and LCD display bag. I really enjoyed talking to people about the outfits and the ideas behind them. A lot of people stopped to talk and ask questions over the course of the evening. I also attended the Greenprix the next had helped some of my professors with their green vehicle the Slo-Dog. It was a vehicle that used people peddling to power its tow vehicle and a hot dog cooker. There were a lot of cool vehicles there and unfortunately I did not get a chance to walk around much to learn more about the other vehicles.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jade Chang fun = do good

My favorite part of the Global Warning symposium was the talk given by Jade Chang. All though she was not directly associated with any projects shown earlier in the day i believe her speech centralized the main argument put forth by the different speakers through out the day. At the core of Chang's talk was the idea that having something that is good for us also be fun or entertaining would make us want to do the right thing. Chang showed a video in witch a group of people made piano stairs in a subway next to an escalator. The purpose of doing these piano stairs was to prove that we are more willing to do something that is good for us, in this case walking up the stairs instead of using the escalator, if it is fun. I think that by making this Climate Clock it would have a similar effect as the piano stairs in terms of shining light on a problem in an entertaining way. I think it would make it easier for an everyday person to understand the effects of global worming if they had a way to visualize the problem and i think that the Climate Clock is a unique way of doing this. I found my self becoming more interested in the effects of global warming just by seeing the different designs. With the project completed for everyone to see i think that people will better understand the problem and be more inclined to do something to help the cause.

Zero1 in Cupertino!

I had the opportunity to volunteer for Zero1 at the Euphrat Museum of Art in Cupertino last Saturday. Their preview to the current exhibition Learn to Play featured artists and curators giving the public an opportunity to understand the art and politics in learning to play games of all media, hi-tech and low-tech. It was a pleasure to talk with SJSU Faculty James Morgan about this exhibition. My two children, 12 and 4, were able to participate in the exhibition preview (something for everyone) and there was a sock puppet event that was a blast to mix hands on craft with digital media. I am a low-tech artist and was quite intimidated by the hi-tech art, but needless to say, that's just me. My son on the other hand was very inspired by the work that these artists produced. Check out this museum, as it always has something fun going on.

Also, talking with Diana Argabrite, Director of Arts and Schools Program at the Euphrat, there are 1st Thursday night events that are free to attend with open mic and poetry. I live across the street from De Anza College and will be attending this October with my kids. It would be nice to have more SJSU familiar faces there to support/enjoy the arts of our local community.

Friday, September 24, 2010

2010 ZERO1 Symposium highlight

This year’s symposium focused on the issues concerning environment, policy-making, urban planning, sustainable design, and related practices by artists and scientists. It brought a number of great speakers over a 2-day event. I’ve attended the most of it except the panel discussion on the first day due to class - which was a shame as a list of panelists looked interesting! (Did anyone attend this? If yes, how was it?)

Day 1 was run by LEONARD. As I was already familiar with their style (I go to their speaker series at SETI in Mt. View periodically), it was predominated by a perspective from scientists and technologists. Regardless, overall I thought LEONARD and CADRE complimented each other very well over the course of a 2-day event.

All speakers presented his or her expertise on the issues with passion, which was informative and very inspiring (although the problem and idea was nothing new.) But it certainly made me feel good to be part of this - the experience of being there and made me feel even more strong about the issues as an artist and a human being.

Day 2 was hosted by the CADRE Laboratory for New Media in the School of Art and Design at SJSU. I was particularly intrigued by the panel discussion by the Climate Clock teams, which was medicated by Joel Slayton and the focus was around their design strategies. They were posed hard questions (by Joel) and I was curious about their responses as well as enjoyed watching how each team interacted as a group and between teams (but ultimately as a competitor), etc.

Prior to the panel discussion, there was also a great introduction about the Climate Clock initiative by the Public Art Director for the City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs, Barbara Goldstein which helped me to understand better from a different angle (a big picture), followed by the presentations by each group which was still work in progress so it was a little bit hard to visualize clearly (but seeing them up on stage was helpful).

One of the Climate Clock teams, Amorphic Robot Works (Chico MacMurtrie, Geo Homsy, Bill Washabaugh, and Gideon Shapiro) also showcased a gigantic sculpture “Inflatable Architectural Growth during the festival on the First Street for Absolute ZERO (and held days of workshop at South Hall). I had a chance to talk to Chico and met his team members during Absolute ZERO and I was totally impressed by their robotic artwork as well as their teamwork. Looking forward to working with them when they will begin their residencies at SJSU and Montalvo Art Center in January.

I think what I appreciated most about the zero1 event was the platform it provided right at our doorstep to consider and experience a lot of new genre work that typically I have limited access to. It was great to read a chapter for a class about site specific work and then walk down the street and hear the artist talk about how she considers her piece as site specific. I'm referring to Robin Lasser of course. It was great to see post cards floating and hear the buzz for what people were excited for. So in general I think in terms of community and local arts and the city of San Jose it's great! But having that been said, in going back in reading my notes from the symposium I notice that a couple of things had me a bit caught. More specifically the candidate presentations for the Climate Clock. One thing I was struck by was that the term "behavior change" kept getting thrown around and yet not one of the panelists ever actually said what that change would be. I found it slightly bombastic to introduce a multi-million dollar project that is meant to insight behavior change without giving the viewer any actual means to act. So I started thinking about possible "behavior changes" that could be the result of any or all of these pieces and all I could come up with were the things that have already been made available/known to us. For example driving less, being thoughtful of our appliances, and of course the old Reduce Re-Use Re-cycle. So I was thinking that most of us already know that. And those that learn it as a result of a school field trip to Diridon Station, well thats great, but lets be real they simply just don't make up the majority of the problem. So then I wondered what is the majority of the problem and it seemed obvious to me that its the exact thing that these artists/scientists are intentionally avoiding to talk about...its the industry. Now I'm not going to pretend that I'm versed in how to fix the climate condition. But I'm admitting that I didn't learn anything new in that panel and I'm pretty sure people who are already commuting on public trans (its at a train station) and class trips won't either. Further I wonder...and I understand that this is an art conference with a panel of artists/scientists not politicians or activists necessarily, but doesn't there have to be a point where we just say enough making art that talks about shit and start talking about shit...outside the choir? Don't we already know that it's time for policy change? I know that's not the point of the project, nor the conference I gather. But I couldn't get past it. That is of course until Jade Chang got up. She was great because in a sense she did the opposite of the previous panel. She talked about art that not only demands the viewers participation to exist but additionally asks the viewer to go out of their way in order to participate. And I'll admit...her slide presentation of images and video clips was more inspiring than the art project previously mentioned. So to that extent I think the climate clock could be a double failure...failing to provoke actual action, and failing to succeed as an art piece. I don't mean to sound harsh I just know how the panel made me feel (frustrated) and subsequently how Jade Chang made me feel (inspired). I wonder how others felt about it? Am I being a jerk? Because I can be. I just think its a lot of money to spend on a project that at the end of the day might not incite behavior change that would effect climate change any more then an earth day poster. I just would have loved one person to tell me something new that I could do rather then remind me how bad it is...thats all.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Buster Simpson

They saved the best for last at the Global Warn(m)ing symposium, which is too bad because I think he would have been more appreciated earlier in the day before people were completely worn out from two days of lectures. Buster has one of the most simple and down to earth approaches to practical art making/problem solving that I have ever seen. I liked his attitude that sometimes you just have to do it and ask for forgiveness later. His talk made me really understand agitprop for the first time. In the 1980's when acid rain was a serious problem for our lakes and streams he learned that the forest service was adding calcium carbonate to rivers in New York. He made large limestone(calcium carbonate) wafers and put them in the river as sculpture that was both calling attention to the acid rain problem and helping neutralize the acid. He has since worked on many water reclamation projects, mostly on the west coast.
I was most inspired by his work placing porcelain plates in waterways near sewage outfalls. He fired the plates after they sat in the water for a while giving them interesting colors and patterns.
After all the beginnings and what-if's it was nice to end with an artist actually making a difference.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Contemporary Collaborative Environmental Art

Attending the Global Warning Symposium during SJ01, I was struck by the unguarded honesty of a question posed by one of the teams competing for the Climate Clock contract: “Where is art necessary?” That simple query got me thinking about the current art status quo.

Decades ago, a respectable fine artist would never be so crass as to have a message. The coercion and psychological manipulation of people to change their behavior or buy certain products was the territory of commercial artists – those who sold their talent to the advertising trade. Propagandists. Mad Men. This was art that had a single overriding communications objective. And it did not hang in museums.

Not anymore. Today we expect art to have content, purpose, a reason to exist. Activism and servitude to a cause are once again acceptable inspirations for art making – similar to periods in history when artists served the Church or State. Artists worldwide are talking, singing, writing, and painting about humanity’s drift towards disaster.

The environment is a big theme across the arts these days. Having an environmental conscience is fast becoming de riguer for visual artists, especially if their livelihoods include public grants.

The result has been the development of guild-like communities of co-creators, a focus on multimedia, interdisciplinary explorations, and the use of the spectator as a critical component of the art itself. Furthermore, eco art is not restricted to the hallowed walls of museums and galleries. In fact, it is often displayed out in the community, where it is more accessible to the public.

One positive thing to come of this greening of the arts is the increased dialog between artists and scientists. The scientific community believes the arts have a major role to play in saving the planet. Artists can translate scientific jargon so that it’s easier to post on Twitter or Shutterfly.

Artists can not save the world, but perhaps they can remind us that it is possible to make a difference.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Alan Peters - Lest we forget...

The last issue of Popular Woodworking magazine to pass my way had an interesting perspective from the editor. To paraphrase the editor’s concerns; the average age of woodworkers is increasing at a fairly astonishing rate and the number of young woodworkers is declining. I’ve heard this many times before and the editor’s opinion is nothing new. I’ve noticed it myself as I, a woodworker in my early 40’s, have found myself one of the “younger” woodworkers at The Woodworking Show year after year (xref I believe that the true issue is more about saturation and available financial capitol than about age. I had the personal opportunity to enter into woodworking over a space of time while I was employed in an unrelated profession, so came into the art under the dubious title of “hobbyist”. When the market could no longer provide me with a consistent income, I relied on my hobby to supplement my income. By then, I had most of the tools that granted me speed and quality of production. I was also able to take the opportunity to focus on the nuances of how I wanted to approach the art in reference to power tools vs. hand tools, Japanese method vs. European method, etc.

To bring this around to the ultimate objective of the focus on a specific designer, it is this age that we are living in right now, and the subsequent five to ten decades that I’d like you to consider as woodworkers. Woodworking is about shaping this curious material (wood) in unique and interesting ways with sharp objects (most often metal blades). While a simplification that is the core of what we explore when we consider ourselves woodworkers, not long ago the subject of machine vs. hand transformed the art. If you’ve studied the Craftsman era or Arts and Crafts period in your history class, you should know that this issue was at the heart of the ideals. In the age of machine production, and in the age of machine information, the way which we shape wood is as diverse as the number of ways that we find out about how to shape it. We have begun to reach a new era in woodworking. The information that comes to us is no longer passed from parent to child or from master to apprentice, but from many directions and influences. What was once the “one true way” has given to a blur of methods and approaches that in my opinion have become as daunting as and figuratively louder than the noise that any power tool can make.

In October 2009, one of the last furniture designers in England that could trace his apprenticeship and subsequent mastery to the Arts and Crafts movement passed away at the age of 76. Here in the United States, there wasn’t much notice, even among master craftsmen. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1990 for his contributions to English furniture building techniques and designs, and is considered one of the founding fathers of the British Craft Revival of the 1970’s. A quote from the London Sunday times at the time of his passing speaks deeply to his philosophy: “The simple forms in Japanese vernacular architecture and furniture reinforced his background in the Arts and Crafts movement and nudged him more firmly towards an exploration of the beauty of the material. He began to enjoy and explore the unpredictable and beautiful figure of wood as an important part of the design but continued to make more humble pieces appropriate to production in numbers. One of his simplest pieces, a comfortable chapel chair, was made from pit-prop-grade ash for economy. It was never his motive to make objects of art, simply to produce beautiful pieces of furniture, on which he was happy to stamp his name.”

As furniture designers have come and gone over the last 50 years or so, Peters’ work stands out in that it speaks to the tradtion of Arts and Crafts visual honesty in construction methodology, but also gives a nod to the modern esthetic. Like his, turn of the century, influences in the Craftsman movement, he paid particular attention to the esthetic quality of Japanese joinery, line and form. That attention influenced his later work and to my eye gives both a cleaner and uncluttered line and a visual beauty. Over the course of his career, he traveled to Japan on many occasions to work with traditional Japanese carpenters, study furniture, temples and joinery techniques. The Arts and Crafts, like the Art Deco movement that followed it, combined many different styles and there is often some “Oriental” (as it was often mentioned at the turn of the century) detail or nuance that was added to a more traditional European piece to give it greater character or clarity. In the example above, AlanPeter’s design for a music stool from the late 1970’s, the seat of the stool itself functions to place the musician slightly forward in balance allowing for clearance of a woodwind instrument but also is reminiscent in line of Japanese ceiling beam architecture in the 1860’s.

In the November 2009 article of Popular Woodworking, Peter’s is remembered by his friend Rob Cosman, who also was the American editor of Alan Peter’s master woodworking video series. Peter’s apprenticeship to Arts and Crafts furniture designer Edward Barnsley, not just shaped his career but formed a thoughtful methodolgy and apprach to problem solving that allowed him to use the right tool for the subject at hand. Says Cosman, “He probably did the best job of combining hand tools, power tools, design and business,” Cosman also said, adding that Peters worked “with a precision and speed that nobody else could.” The video series is available at and some samples of his techniques are available in the public domain both there and on Youtube.

One of the many charters that we as students have is to discern the way a process is done, repeat the process such that we understand the peculiar nuances of it, and then modify that process for repeatablity and the eventual possibility that we may someday impart that process to others. As I am sure you have already begun to experience, in both the wood shop and in life, there are many different ways to approach a problem, large amounts of useful and questionable advice, that all things can end up being prey to uncertainty, and that when called upon to teach, the students are only partly engaged if at all. Whenever someone passes away, regardless of if you knew them or not, even the potential knowledge that they had is no longer in reach. Each subtle nuance and technique that the person had is no longer available. Because we can’t exactly catalog the human experience, we accept that the information is just gone with that individual. We have come into an age where the human experience is confrmed by the massive amount of digital reference available to us pretty much on demand. What we are losing is the human connection. The Internet will be there for us whenever we wish. People, are only with us for the shadow of a moment and when they are gone, the knowledge they had, useful and not is gone as well.

While I was in England, I missed an opportunity to study with Alan Peters at an afternoon seminar in Chichester by a few hours due to a miscommunication and bad transit decision. At the time I thought that I would have ample opportunity to return back to England again and catch one of his seminars again. I had a large list of questions in my notebook, one on Donbouri sharpening techniques, one on Japanese handplane choices, another on how to spot a good quality Japenese chisel set. While I can certainly have these questions answered, they will never be answered by him. We learn something when people pass on. Don’t wait to ask. Do not hesitate to ask, even if you feel foolish. Accept that the person that is there to instruct you has likely forgotten more about woodworking than you might ever know and that you might ask a question that will remind them about something that they have forgotten, important or not. This is a human experience, be connected to it for as long as you are able.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Alvar Aalto

tea trolley 900

Design Alvar Aalto, 1937.
Bent birch plywood, tile, rattan.
Made in Finland by Artek.

"Objects are made to be completed by the human mind." -Alvar Aalto

Aalto invented a process for bending thick layers of birch into gracefully curved loops to create strong, light frames for a number of products, including his famous tea trolleys. For easy movement, these charming and highly functional pieces have large white wheels with black rubber tread that won’t mar floors. The handle and edge banding are solid birch. The Tea trolleys serve as highly functional and distinctive additions to a dining room or hospitality area. Introduced at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, they are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Alvar Aalto was a highly talented architect and an eager spokesman for the international modernist movement. Aalto's designs were innovative and radical and became known for his experimental approach to bending wood, which greatly influenced American designers Charles & Ray Eames and Finnish-born Eero Saarinen. His style became known as humanist modernism. Alvar Aalto's dialogue with nature, architecture, design and the human being has become a living legacy.

Tea Trolley 900 features a birch frame in either natural lacquer or lacquered white with black or white ceramic tiles and rattan basket.

35.4" w | 25.6" d | 23.6" h

Otto Wagner

Structural architecture has always been of my interest; in particular, 19th Century European architecture. One of the most important architects of the 19th and 20th centuries was Otto Wagner (1841-1918). Wagner’s work represented the historicism period of the mid 19th century to the start of the modernism of the 20th century. Most interesting was the way in which he replaced traditional building designs for modern yet simpler building structures. He encouraged modern architecture for that new era and along those lines he defined modern forms. “Modern forms must correspond to new materials, contemporary needs, if they are to be found suitable for mankind today. (Wagner)” Some of his modern form projects included museums, parliament buildings and urban plans, which employed new materials such as glass, steel, and aluminum. One of his most important projects involved the design of the Imperial Entrance Hall of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. He introduced his design as a combination of three-dimensional gilded model presentation and an intricate presentation in watercolors and drawings. Even though his design was never approved he continued to refine his concept through his drawings that echoed his evolving modernism. Overall, Wagner’s ideas have lead me to think out of the box and draw inspiration from 19th century building structures, as well as those more modern and functional building structures.

Warren Platner

Warren Platner uses very simply designs and lines in his creations. His furniture is simple and can be liked by many because they go with any style and any taste. There are some details that he incorporates to give it just a little extra show, but overall he keeps his looks clean and never over the top.
He likes to combine wood works with metals, thick wires, and very this glass to make a bold presence. His style is very big, which allows one to use one of his products for many different things, but in all it makes the piece stand out with its size as well as its simplicity, but also the bolder accents.

Richard Deacon

Richard Deacon is known for using "construction and building fabrication techniques" in his art. Overall, he seems just as concerned with the materials he uses as he is with the meaning of his work. Born in Wales, in 1949, Deacon was a well-known, promising young sculptor in the 1970's and is now one of the most famous British sculptors of his generation.

Deacon uses a wide variety of materials, from wood to polycarbonate and leather to ceramics, but for the sake of this class, I will consider one of his wood sculptures.

Quick, 2009. Chêne et acier. 180 × 622 × 231 cm. Strasbourg, Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain. Photo : Ken Adlard

Steel joints brace this piece entitled "Quick," allowing the wood to move in ways that might not happen naturally. "Organic …. and engineered," this piece makes an indirect connection between manufactured objects and biological forms because it's a little bit of both at several levels (movement, materials, techniques, etc.). More specifically, Deacon explores how material and construction techniques interact to delve into dualities of meaning at a subjective level. He says a lot about the modern world through the relationships at play in his work.

You can see his techniques and materials very clearly so that his process becomes part of the meaning of his pieces:
His sculptures never seek to hide technical operations behind them, including assemblage, riveting, torsion, stretching, folding or strapping…
His process starts with drawing but it always moves into industry fabrication. In the piece above, the wood was "steam(ed), then clamped and strapped onto metal and assembled using a system of metal fixtures."

Deacon's sculptures relates to furniture-making in that they interact with the space around them and they usually interact with a lot of tension:
...beholders clearly sense themselves in the force field between the sculpture and the surrounding space, and walking around the object search for views inside or through the object and the inner spaces enclosed by the sculpture as immaterial shapes, and for an immanent principle of order.
More dualities that are cited about Deacon’s sculptures include "the struggle between chaos and order [and the struggle] between formlessness and rigorous structure."

I think it's amazing how much can be said once techniques are mastered and then all mashed up with a variety of materials. It is inspiring to learn about someone who constantly explores his options in order to get exactly what he wants.