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.

Martin Puryear

The first time I saw “Ladder for Booker T. Washington,” the iconic split-sapling country ladder crafted by Martin Puryear, it was at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The 36-foot sculpture floats in a double-height concrete gallery designed specifically for it.

The ladder’s gleaming side rails meander upward, narrow
ing to just over one-inch wide at the top. The stark beauty, impeccable craftsmanship, and arresting perspective are startling. Puryear deftly combines modern abstraction with traditional crafts and woodworking. Each piece always bears the deeply individualized markings of the handmade.

Compared to many woodworkers who rely on machines for their precision, Puryear’s way of working is backwards. He uses machines for doing the gross stock removal and then, when it comes to the final refinements and fitting of joints and making things work together, he uses sharp-edged tools that he pushes by hand.

Puryear earned a BA from Catholic University in Washinton DC, an MFA from Yale University in 1971, and studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm. He was greatly influenced by the indigenous crafts of Siera Leone where he served in the Peace Corps in the 1960’s.

“I’m interested in vernacular cultures, where people lived a li
ttle closer to the source of materials and the making of objects for use. Not to rely strictly on the history of art has always been an interesting process, to be looking into areas that we call craft and trades.” -Martin Puryear

In spite of his appreciation of the crafts and trades, Puryear considers what he does fine art. Ken Edwards, an artist colleague of mine whose own work evokes comparison to Puryear, attended the 2006 American Craft Council Conference in Houston where Puryear gave the keynote address. Puryear began his talk by saying, “I am somewhat puzzled why I was asked to be here. I am not of this group.”

Puryear’s art can not be easily categorized. Conservative critics have praised his work for being impeccably handmade. Progressive critics complained that it was excessive. Either way, the works of Martin Puryear speak eloquently for themselves. We viewers can not help but be curious about how they are made.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gerrit Rietveld, June.24.1888 - June.26.1964

An extraordinary dutch furniture maker and architect, was influenced by the De Stijl movement. The De Stijl movement favored a simplistic form and color in furniture; the form was reduced to vertical and horizontal lines and the colors were strictly primaries along with black and white.

Reitveld's Red and Blue Chair, as shown above was made in 1917 and after being influenced by the De Stijl movement, painted it with primaries along with black and white. This unique form and use of color became quintessential to Reitveld's work, until he broke off in 1928. He then succeeded his last style of architecture with a new one, it was called: Nieuwe Zakelijkheid. This new form of architecture entailed design which was a bit more angular, and free of decoration. Another example of his work influenced by the Nieuwe Zakelijkheid, was the Zig-Zag chair:
This chair was not only a unique piece of furniture it is a work of genius. I am very influenced by this chair, and would like to use Gerrit Rietveld's aesthetic to complete my designs in this woodworking class. Rietveld's philosophy was always simple and never too decorated or ornamented. What I enjoy most about his pieces are his divine taste in simple and sophisticated structure, and I would like to make my work resemble his work (with my own touch of course).

Ursula Von Rydingsvard!!!!!

What I’m most drawn to about this work is the way Rydingsvard uses mass to build the texture on the surface of her work. Although as I wrote that I realized it’s almost contradictory. Maybe it would be more appropriate to say I appreciate that there is no surface treatment to her work. The surface is rather the result of the process of construction, maybe even consequential???
I’m also really drawn to the poetic beauty of her work. She makes the conception of metaphor look easy!! Rydingsgard uses her process to achieve access to her memories. It is as though she has invented a way to connect with memories through the processes of construction, thus re-creating her experience and additionally orchestrating an experience for the viewer.

Can one still create a modern art-piece out of wood?

Rod, in response to your question, can one still make a modern art piece out of wood? I would say definitely yes!
For example ALISON ELIZABETH TAYLOR represented by a major new york gallery
and what about Martin Puryear, subject of many museum shows

Wharton Esherick

Many people call Wharton Esherick the father of the studio furniture movement. He was know for his saying, "if it's not fun, then it's not worth doing." He grew up in Philadelphia at the turn of the century and trained as a painter. It wasn't until he started making and carving frames for his two dimensional work that he made the transition to wood carving, in his late thirties. "Esherick eventually managed to support his family with his furniture workshop; he bartered oak and leather chairs for school tuitions and persuaded businesses to commission entire interiors."New York Times article by Eve Kahn
"much of his career was spent in relative isolation; a lone artisan pursuing his own vision of high-art craftsmanship during a period when hand craftsmanship was generally held in low regard by American culture. Ultimately, Esherick's work helped lead to the renaissance of the 1960s that re-established hand craftsmanship as the popular and highly-valued activity it is today."(Hoag Levins)
His house and studio are now the  Wharton Esherick museum and a national historic landmark.

I.M. Pei

I was researching about various architectures and designers and the one person that kept coming up in my mind was Leoh Ming Pei or better own as I.M. Pei. He was responsible for the Bank of China in Hong Kong, glass-and-steel pyramid for the Louvre museum in Paris, and the Miho Museum in Japan.

Most of his work are very geometrical, clean cut and precise. The reoccurring materials that he uses in his architectures are glass and steel. His structures maybe enclosed, but with the glass material it gives the illusion of openness and allows a large amount of light into the structure. Although I.M. Pei does not do furniture but if he did, if I.M. Pei would ever design furniture it would comprised of geometric shapes, some sort of glass element and steel bars for the frame…what amazes me about this architect is how he utilizes a fragile material like glass for his structures and his imagination and his creativity is impressive. I believe that Pei is a heavy influence in the design and architecture community. He has contributed alot of his creativity.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - March 27, 1886 – August 17, 1969

"Less is More" - Mies van der Rohe

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, commonly known as Mies, was a German-American architect who was known as one of the modern day architecture pioneers alongside with Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius.

Much like the designers in the classical, neoclassical, and gothic eras, Mies had created a style which suited his era, the modern day era, and used modern day materials to justify the style. Mies, sought for superior clarity and detail by using minimal framework in his designs, which he named "Skin and bones architecture".

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What purpose does woodworking still serve in modern art and craft?

What purpose does fine woodworking, whether you insist it "art" or "craft", still serve in the modern, after-Warhol, post-internet world?
From a strictly engineering/manufacturing point of view, objects of cut and assembled wood serve a niche function. For many applications -home building, cabinets, etc.- woo is inexpensive, durable, and light enough to be the best material. Sure there are more space age materials which could be used to make far more durable cabinets and better insulated walls, but wood (and the labor required to shape it) are often far cheaper. But this niche no longer covers products that are far easier to construct in newer materials. At one time toolboxes were universally made of hardwood, but today almost anyone can buy a cheep toolbox to fit their specific needs, built of plastic, aluminum, or steel and as a result being much lighter and stronger than any wood duplicate. Indeed, as materials technology continues to make lighter/stronger materials more cheaply, the engineering niche wherein wood is the best material will keep shrinking.
Related to this is also the psychology wooden objects bring to bear. Wood, in its texture and appearance, appeals to a great many people. For thousands of years, the heft, feel (and smell) of carved hardwoods have been associated with wealth. And interiors constructed of polished wood often have a calming effect on their inhabitants. Products made of wood appeal to people in a way that increases their value (even when using another material might be more logical).
And of course the act of working with wood or owning it, connects one to all those who have come before him who have done the same. Woodworking appeals in its ability to place each of us (lone individual forms of protoplasm) within a greater sense of history and culture.
But in a world where all art is going to be instantly given copious connections and references the moment it is shown (try placing an image of a sculpture on the internet that will not evoke dozens of comparisons and links to remotely related work), is it now ever necessary to use a material to relate to the past again? And in an era in which sarcasm or irony in a work seems an essential, is making an object out of honest, undisguised wood inappropriate. Today it seems far more apt to make something out of steel that carefully counterfeits wood-grain, or make wood that is smoothed and painted to resemble clean enamel.
Can one still create a modern art-piece out of wood?

Shaker stuff

Hi-- Jahnavi did a post about Shaker furniture, and I thought I'd add a link to my trip two years ago to a Shaker village in Massachusetts.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959

Frank Lloyd Wright was already well-know during his lifetime but it 1991 Wright was recognized as "the greatest American architect of all time" by the American Institute of Architects. During Wright's life he designed more than 1,000 projects in witch more then 500 were completed. Wright liked to use organic architecture witch is center around the idea that there should be a harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design. this can be seen in Wright's work Fallingwater. Fallingwater is listed among Smithsonian's Life List of 28 places "to visit before you die."

Although Frank Lloyd Wright was best known for his architecture Wright was also an accomplished interior designer. Wright would often design furniture for each one of his buildings. like his buildings Wright liked his furniture to be organic. By this i mean he felt that the furnishings should be integrated organically with the space it was designed for. Wright believed that "Every chair must be designed for the building it will be in,"
Below is a picture of one of his best known chair designs.

This chair was made for the Wingspread house, designed for Herbert Johnson. This particular chair is made of cherrywood. The seat is leather. As you can see the curvature of the building is replicated in the curves of the chair making them a perfect match. I find this idea of organic design interesting and will keep it in mind when I design my table.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Charles and Ray Eames

After checking out some of their chairs, I started reading about the husband and wife designer team, Charles and Ray Eames. I had seen chairs of theirs without knowing who designed them. Although the couple were active from the 30's through the 80's, the easiest way I can think of describing their chairs is retro or a 1960's mod design. Honestly, when I see chairs like theirs, the first things that come to mind are an apartment scene from the movie "A Clockwork Orange" and the furniture store Ikea. The movie was filmed in 1971 and was set in a late 1960's version of a futuristic London. This explains why I associated Eames' mod chairs with a movie they probably weren't even filmed in. Also, I was so sure I had seen their chairs at Ikea, that I googled it. Turns out there's a few articles about getting Eames knockoffs at Ikea. This one for instance: Knock It Off.

The influence of science and new technology were evident in their exhibition Mathematica: A World of Numbers...and Beyond at the California Museum of Science and Industry, their movie Powers of Ten, described on IMDB(Internet Movie Database) as a “scientific film essay”, their extensive work with IBM, and by the use of new building methods and materials in furniture. Ray's study of abstract art and the couple's interest in science also come across in the fascinating shapes of some of their chairs (especially those from the 50's and 60's). The chairs are very simple but have biomorphic shapes. Modern for their time, the chairs utilize molded plywood and plastics.

The Eames' believed they could improve the lives of people by making functional furniture/art that did not sacrifice expression and design. They even worked with the government to spread their art to the masses. Ultimately, the main attraction for me is this integration of function and design.

Because of all this research now I want these with a Ray Eames design pattern. :)

btw-please let me know if anything is inaccurate or doesn't make sense. thanks

Sam Maloof (1916 - 2009)

I did some research about Sam Maloof. The characteristics of his furniture look to be organic curves, classic elements and direct joins. Direct joining seems to be something he uses frequently and to great effect.

The main influences on his designs seem to be function and form, his designs evolved from classic furniture and his main goal is to create pieces that are pleasing to look at and use.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956)

From what I could find on Josef Hoffman, he seemed to be one of those Modernist architects and furniture makers who also worked in the realm of art as well. He was known for his architecture, as well as his heavy use of squares.

Hoffman did a lot of houses, and appears to be known for chairs. He also did domestic furniture, some of which are still in use today. For example, his design for an armchair, the Kubus Armchair is still reproduced today. That armchair is very modern, which straight lines, and follows his tradition of heavily using squares.

Interestingly, he seems to have started his career creating installation spaces for a group of artists to which he belonged to.

George Nakashima and Nature

George Nakashima was describes by Janet Purcell from the Area Guide as “He was a spiritual man who cared about the soul of a tree and believed that a woodworker owed a sacrificed tree a noble life as a useful, beautiful object. He believed that each plank cut from a tree had only one ideal use and it is the woodworker’s responsibility to find that use and shape the wood to realize its true potential.”

His woodworks reflect his strong spiritual believes as well as his work ethic of traditional Japanese - discipline and patience, striving for perfection in every stage of construction. His woodworking design was typically “his large-scale tables made of large wood slabs with smooth tops but unfinished natural edges, consisting of multiple slabs connected with butterfly joints." They are simple and aesthetically remarkable.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shaker Simplicity

Hi all--

This is my attempt at research blog entry #1. Hopefully this is more or less how it ought to be done.....

I have to admit to not having been familiar with most of the names on the list we had to start out with, so my first step was to go online and look at whole bunch of images to help me figure out who and/or what I was drawn to. Much of the work was too fancy and frilly, or too modern looking, or too sculptural to appeal to me. I like my furniture and woodwork in general to be sturdy, functional, and simple. So naturally I gravitated toward the Shaker furniture.

The lovely bare-bones designs of Shaker style furniture were based in religious belief. I came across phrases such as "God is in the details", "beauty rests in utility", and "simplicity is the embodiment of purity and unity"-- tenants of the Shaker religion attributed to Mother Ann Lee that can be clearly seen reflected in Shaker craft. This write-up here gave a nice overview, as did this one from furniture This piece from got a bit more technical and led me to an intriguing look at oil finishes but what I really want to do now is to go get a few actual paper books to read on the subject. My interest is piqued....

I tried to upload the picture down here but I've no idea how to use this blog site and it put them at the top and I really don't know why or how to move them. But these are from an antique dealer's site, supposed to be the genuine, old article (some of the new stuff in the same general style is a bit prettier...). Note the dovetail joints, which are apparently a hallmark of Shaker construction.

Right. That's all. Thanks for reading,