Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lighted Sculptures: What I Have Learned

Making sculptures that light up is hard. Last summer I made a house shaped ceramic tealight holder and clay is malleable and I had been working with the same kind of clay for a month and it still came out funny. As a sculpture I was happy with it, as a candle holder it is, well, functional but only with workarounds. The top gets really hot even though I made it tall. I made a slot in the bottom to put the candles in which is a bit of a challenge, and you have to light the candles with a spaghetti stick lit on the stove (or a skewer, but spaghetti is cheaper) poked through one of the windows. And for some reason I thought the little chimneys would actually vent heat. I don't think it's dangerous to use (around adults who I have warned about the heat retention) because the ceramic has been heated a lot hotter than that in the kilns so it won't break, and isn't flammable.

Ok so this quarter I got to do an independent study course, which in my department at least are self developed. These can be on any topic but the professor I approached to facilitate it was my Electronics for Intermedia prof who was really good at fabrication and helping us work around challenges with fabrication and materials (also programming, but that is so many hours for such a little result..., also, not where my talents lie I think). So I wasn't going to be like "I want to do a series of paintings of the sky". Not his area, and IMO a waste of his time, or skills, or something. So, "lighted sculptures". Sculptures that come to life when lit, have interesting shadows, idk. Just sculptures that use light. And in our only meeting so far he told me to be less literal, so I am trying to be quite experimental in materials.

And so far I have learned that non standard materials, repurposed materials, are a challenge. They are really tricky. I have done a bunch of art with odds and ends and scraps: fabric, vinyl, beads, puff paint, dirt, silverware. But that was like... I don't know... less ambitious than what I am trying now because often the materials were already intended for fabrication and I was just repurposing them (vinyl for signs ->vinyl for the fronts of greeting cards). So I guess I will talk about the different things I've tried and the unique challenges they have.

Aluminum Cans: It took a lot of hand strength to cut through the cans with a box cutter. If I did only a few cuts it would have been fine, but the turtle shell skeleton had a lot of little edges and holes. I used scissors part of the time which helped, but my hand was really tired from pressing with the box cutter by the time I was done. They do hold their shape when bent, even narrow parts, which was helpful. But it doesn't hold up at all under the weight of damp tissue. Had to brace it between cans to get even the small amount of depth it has.

Lichen: I feel like there is a cool way to use lichen and I will find it. The way it filters light is really cool. But lichen on a lamp doesn't look alive enough. It looks dried and dead. But it is dried and alive. It can even live in space. I think I need to find a texture to combine it with, like metal. Because combining it with sticks or black plastic didn't work. Or maybe I need a sleeker way to anchor it.

Sticks: Sticks are the worst! I don't know how people figured out wood was a building material. They don't stay and they snap a lot and... actually I guess that's all. They don't stay how you have them and they snap. But I spent 10 hours this weekend trying to overcome or manage those two qualities so I feel like they are a big deal. On the other hand they take paint really well. The texture of the stick still comes through and everything. What I figured out to do do make a branch shape was wire everything together (like a panflute arrangement) and then anchor it with nylons. Things that don't work (in order from closest to working to farthest from working): ribbon, hair elastics, thread, yarn, tension from other sticks.

Ok. So I'm learning a lot. And it's not coming too easily either. And I don't have an at all decent sculpture so far.

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