Thursday, August 30, 2012

Third SRAM Bike Part Sculpture

The third of my major SRAM bike parts projects is nearing completion. This piece is the most complicated of the three I have done. I finished building the main form in early August. After vacation I threw some supports to hold the main form upright. In September I plan to finish glazing and attach the bike parts.

SRAM bike parts
I started with a general idea for the form, though I started building before I first sketched my plan. Early on I knew that external bike part supports would be part of the design. Before starting this project I had been thinking about the reason for integrating bike parts. Of course I started incorporating bike parts because I am going to be in a show that requires that artists use bike parts. But the bike part project coincides with an existing interest in integrating mechanical parts. 

I started to think about why, logically, bike parts might be integrated into my work. My usual forms are organic, abstract interpretations of exotic plants, microscopic organisms and undersea fauna and flora. How might bike parts, or mechanical parts in general, come to be incorporated into these plants and animals?

early sketch showing mechanical support

Part of my answer stems from the logic of science fiction and Steampunk. I am thinking particularly of ways in which mechanical elements might conceivably be used to "improve" or repair organic forms. I developed a more refined picture of what organic / mechanical integration might look like this summer while reading "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer. The cyborg main character has mechanical body parts that replaced damaged limbs. These man-made parts integrate with her organic body. The descriptions in the book are vivid and helped me envision some ideas for my own work. Of course in the real world prostheses function this way, as man-made tools to support missing limbs of an organic being.

early stage in building, with bike parts positioned as supports
So in developing my plans for this project, I tried to think about how my psuedo-organic forms might need to be supported. An obvious place for support would be in increasing stability, both to hold the piece upright and to support attachments or top-heavy elements of the form (like a halo neck brace supports a broken neck). 

later sketch showing possible combination of thrown clay and bike part surface decoration patterns

clay wads to plan spacing for parts to be added later

thrown forms for decoration shown above (thrown forms at front left are meant to mimic bike part at front left)

I also thought about the functional, defensive or reproductive functions of a plant form and why a form might need different segments or separated functions. My sculptures are not imitations of existing organic forms; I tend to combine elements of flora and fauna. I also tend to keep my forms relatively simple. My forms generally don't have defined legs, arms or heads like higher order vertebrate animals. Their bodies or forms are more likely to suggest sea cucumbers, squids, mollusks, or the seed pods and bulbs of plants. 

I usually made my forms relatively simple and sometimes repetitive (i.e. the form of the sculpture has similar bulbous forms growing or protruding). My surfaces are generally quite repetitive. I like to think of my forms logically (in a surreal, science fiction logic sort of way) as I build and finish them. Interior surfaces are distinct from exterior surfaces, edges fade into one another or change because of a change in form. The way I planned my forms for this project was to think about how mechanical elements might logically replace or enhance support as well as decorative elements of the form.

If an eccentric scientist on a different planet were to replace the physical support and reproductive organs of a science fiction plant, would the replacements mimic the shape of the original or would the new material require a new shape to achieve the same function?

sketch showing decorations elongated with different bike part extenders
thrown forms with bike part extender

While I've been working on this project, I have also been reading Umberto Eco's "History of Beauty" and I just finished Denis Dutton's "The Art Instinct." My considerations of the relation of "function" to form keeps coming up as I read these books. My work does not mimic nature, though I look to natural forms while I work. My work does not have a mechanical or biological function, though I keep considering function and nature as I design the forms. My work might more accurately be decorative and imaginative, but this isn't what I think hardest about when I am making it. 

bottom section finished with spaces for added decoration and with sprigged gear decorations attached
sprig mold made from a bike part, results shown above and below
The third bike part sculpture, like any of my work, evolved as I built and sketched and re-sketched and altered the form. I was thinking of the row of four spaces on the bottom as a place extravagant display, like flowers or colorful tail feathers. I thought of the rounded sections above as plants blossoms with mechanical stamen to be added later or as vessels that might tempt bugs in then capture them like venus fly traps or pitcher plants.

I also had to consider and design external mechanical elements as the form became more top-heavy. As I worked it was supported by towels, but the intention from the start was to provided a bike-part as support. As I worked, the piece became more extravagant at top and therefore heavier and less stable. Additional supports then needed to be added to the design.

base done, top part still being formed, at this point I hadn't decided how to finish the top section

temporarily placed bike part additions on top section

top section nearing completion

interior of top section, protruding ball for post-firing attachment

finished form before firing (wet or leather-hard clay)

bisque fired sculpture in kiln. sculpture required stilt supports because my kiln is small

bike part support trial run before throwing additional support bases

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