Steel Ice & Stone is a multi-media interactive installation.
Nine suspended LED panels and sensor-triggered sound create an environment for memory recall.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Analog and Digital

A lambda printer, in very small scale. Widths can
reach 120 inches (305 cm). Also not obvious is that
part of the machine is in total darkness.
SIS was photographed on 4x5 color film for a reason: even before the piece was fully resolved, the color rendition was critical. I had not imagined the final pieces at 48 x 60 inches (122 x 162 cm), but I knew any grain would be unacceptable.

Even in its primordial stage, SIS was to be a sensorial experience. I hadn't even thought of the images forming an environment to walk through, but I knew you had to feel cold and isolated. Any tip-off of the pieces' creation, production or manufacture would render it pedestrian.

I tried making an internegative and a large print from an enlarger at a
commercial lab. Total failure. The print that came from that experience sucked. (That's the nicest way to put it). That size print requires a copy camera room (just about obsolete) and, more critically, a series of test strips to asses exposure, contrast and color. Additionally, the paper's reciprocity factor has to be added in. Compensating all the factors, exposure could take about 50 minutes, challenging the the lab's limitations. The print was about $ 230.00. The lab apologized but said no refunds, they'd take care of me with the reprint. I would have had more fun putting the cash through a shredder.

Enter the Lambda, by Durst. It exposes photo paper via programmed laser rather than spraying ink (toner) on a surface (such as paper, canvas plastic or metal). The images had to be scanned; no easy feat since the drum needs hours to produce the files to make digital c-prints that size, even if the resolution is a mere 400 dpi. Many shops turned me down since they didn't want their scanner operating for such long periods (4-5 hours). I found this totally annoying since it's not like I wasn't paying for the scanning time--they just didn't want their machine working for such a long clip.

Scans in, then came the computer work. My color smarts kicked in as did my production savvy and I was able to get some good prototypes (see an earlier post in which I sliced up the digital image, composited one file and sent it to the lab in Michigan. They printed the file on the duratrans film, mounted it on acrylic and I could asses how the color was going to be once it was installed in the LED panel ). A Cheetah rip allowed the prints to be made quickly, easily, dependably.

Sad that the panels don't photograph well; transmitted light never does. But the critical test was passed: The viewers were transfixed. They had never seen anything like it, and that's all that matters.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Shortly after SIS came down from the Gowanus Ballroom, I went to Washington DC on a brief vacation. I had the opportunity to move there before it was such a hip place but turned it down. When I went a few weeks ago I recalled why: DC isn't about art; it's about politics (duh, Anita). It's a stark contrast to NYC and you feel it when step off the train.

Its design vibe is ubiquitous, however, and it's evident no where more than its museums. At the Air & Space, one of the many flying machines designed by Leonardo was rendered life-size and suspended from the ceiling in the main corridor. Silent as if gliding over the Tuscan countryside, seeing it hover overhead was sublime.

Equally beautiful was the Wright Brothers' flying machine; a large, dimly-lit room is dedicated to a full-scale model of it and its development. This brings me to a TED talk a friend sent me on the onset of getting SIS off the ground. Simon Sinek delivers--from his perch of solid self-confidence--the core of what drives an idea into realization, regardless of the obstacles.

He brings up the Wright Brothers and their main competitor, Samuel Pierpont Langely, an aviation pioneer funded heavily by both private and government sources. The difference between the two comes from an honest introspective belief that fuels the Wright Brothers' consistence and persistence. The sincerity of the Belief inspires those surrounding you to believe in and support you in your endeavors.

Start at 6:45, although the entire speech is riveting.

As I explore other  exhibition possibilities, reflecting on the past unleashes the courage. Deep breaths with closed eyes re-awaken the reason for making this work; the experience of its creation being part of the journey.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

All the Rage

As the opening of Gowanus Ballroom show neared, I was reminded that every exhibition has its caveats. An artist friend long ago bemoaned his gallery for barely helping him out when his art furniture was exhibited there. True, they had paid for its transportation, but not much else.

Let's think about this: what is part of the gallery's responsibility and what is the artist's job?

It's in the artist's best interest to see to the details so the work gets exhibited they way it was intended. Yet, the mission and policies of the gallery have to be respected. The artist begrudging forks over 50% of the sale price, but the gallery pays the outrageous rent on the gallery--since they're often in tony parts of town, employ those stunning, trendy-clad receptionists (male or female), make the phone calls to the prospective buyers and--most importantly--hobnob in the environments where those buyers lurk--scouting for them like cool but searing sharks.

The artist has to take care of the inventory--create it, crate it and hoof it to the white cube--
and call the maître d' to ask them to trade their opening night with another waiter....

Not in my case, since I'm working with public exhibition spaces where the altruistic nature of those involved makes them eager to be helpful. That was the case at ArtWorks, and it was also at the Ballroom.
The metal smiths, knowledgeable of what was needed, welded the eye hooks to the pipe which they supplied. And, they let my riggers use their equipment to cut the metal and operate the forklift to hoist them to the ceiling--really nice guys. It can't be overlooked that the place doubles as something other than an art space. The Ballroom's charm, its rough, underground energy comes from that fact. My pristine panels and sound in those surroundings fit just right--even if it went against the grain of what some consider art and an art space.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Open to Possibilities

The rigger casing the joint.
Apprehensions about working with students are not without foundation--their wild ambition and impulse can present set-backs, even when they arrive to a project with some experience and the best of intentions.

Not the case this time. I contacted my college's Entertainment Technology Department which offers courses in theatre engineering--everything from special effects design to performance rigs. Got a name and called him. Not a man of many words, my neck got a little kink when he said his cell phone wasn't working at the moment. OK, meet you at the Ballroom, I said.

He took a look and went to work. Brought an assistant who operated the forklift as if it were on toe shoes, skirting around sculptures in the process of fabrication. Another buddy came by and the three put up and took down the installation, getting faster and defter every time.

Australian artist Ken Unsworth creates a number of suspended works using rounded stones; some are high above, others hover close to the ground. His outdoor rendition appealing to me for the shadows it casts underneath it. Though it does get difficult to suspend objects without seeing the cables, it becomes an aesthetic decision for Unsworth's as the cables are carefully arranged.

Calder's work at the
National Gallery.
Though a stretch, Alexander Calder's mobiles can be considered suspended works. The fact that the components are dependent on one another for their location/orientation and are intended to move and create new combinations puts them above a suspended piece; I'm curious if his studies in mechanical engineering had any influence on his work (he said that he studied engineering for no other reason other than he liked a person who did). Stories like this are so much fun.

Another thought: Calder's work gets much energy from its motion, yes, but also significant are the shadows the pieces cast--and move--along the walls, adding a fleeting time component to his timeless work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Craning the Neck

With a honed eye on anything and everything related to a facet of my installation, I smiled with delight at Jan Staller's White Series currently at Alan Klotz Gallery. I've followed Staller's work over the years, it remains sharp and surreal, a deliberate treatment of color which sings equally from 8-hour night exposures--like the one of the old West Side Highway on/off ramps--as the ones of construction items suspended from cranes outside his Charles Street place, as reported on the Gallery's website.
The white background of an overcast day reduces the size of the items; they take on a toy-like quality, but that reduction allows the eye to concentrate on the careful composition of the image. The NYT ran 15 images on their website (; here are two I particularly like.

The ceiling at Gowanus Ballroom is in varying heights; upon entry, where SIS will hang, is around 20 feet; it opens to another section double in height which further breaks into a mezzanine which will contain more art and a low-ceilinged shop, off-limits to viewers. SIS could never hang in anywhere other than where it is; the ceilings would be too hard to negotiate.

Like everything else that has never been done before, it has to begin with a sketch.

The shop master drew what he was thinking for the riggers to follow; and it started to take shape. Saturday was a dry run; it took a long time. As a site-specific work, the installation must be designed anew every time it shows. Being open to possibilities,  deep breaths and smiling, and hoping that it works. In the end, it always does.
Friday in the afternoon, the entire installation goes up again, this time, looped through the metal pipe on the ceiling, according to the diagram. It's leveled off, and the electronics installed. I want to bring it there with just the volume needing adjustment. Then, it's show time!

Four of the nine hanging, still with their bubble wrap. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Moving Forward While Standing Still

Focusing on the matter at hand remains a challenge when looking for the next exhibition. After all, a work such as SIS was not meant to be stored under my bed; it's not easy finding an exhibition space that will give me 1000 square feet with power and suspending capabilities. Adding the difficulty that this work would ever be sold (to whom?), I often hear, "Thank you, but it doesn't fit our program". I've applied to a number of exhibition prospects in the US and abroad, and I think something's gonna give; the reaction when people see it is that they're rapt, and that's what's driving it.

Similar was when I walked into a gallery some months ago and saw Joel Shapiro's work at the Pace on 25th Street. Frozen in space were a series of rectangles--boxes and beams; nice to see that the gallery also exhibited a prototype--just as balanced, just as beautiful.

Another Thursday evening a few weeks later, I went to Moving Image, a huge exhibition employing light in various forms to create art pieces. Some were transmitted through monitors hanging from the ceiling of the cavernous warehouse, others were projected onto screens from projectors rigged to the iron beams of the Chelsea Tunnel.

Some of the content was innovative, and some predictable. However the sheer size of the place--and some of the works in it--were astounding and absorbing. There were some smaller rooms off the main space but the long gallery was the experience to behold.

In full contrast, a small group show in an apartment on Roosevelt Island featured "Game Over", an installation by Iris Xing. Upon looking at her bio, she's a student at my alma mater, the Photography and Related Media MFA program at SVA.

In a darkened bedroom of the apartment,  the viewer is invited to project images suspended from the ceiling using the light on their smart phone. The images are of the closing slide of phone games--Game over--of which the artist is critical, commenting that lives nowadays are thrown away on the stupidity of electronic entertainment rather than using travel time more efficiently--even if used for reflection (enter Walker Evans' subway portrait series). Spent tapping away on a phone, buried in a crossword or in a mere trance, time lingered in transit is suspended animation. Moving while not; transformed into another being when deposited in another location, awakened in new surroundings.

BTW: What I didn't shoot myself I liberally borrowed fro the Internet and the MoMA Library.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gowanus Ballroom, Brooklyn

With the installation's opening just a few weeks away, details need to be taken care of in the midst of other preoccupations.

I ordered a new panel from China to replace the one that was giving me issues in Trenton. For some reason the light went dead 6 inches (20 cm) from the top. Luckily the diffusing grid behind it spread the light somewhat in December, but I have to replace it for Brooklyn.

Looking at the mass of wires, cables and extension chords on the panels was sobering: I have no memory of what was done just a few months ago. And, the engineer in Trenton said he can't work this show. Being in the epicenter of the white-hot art scene does makes it easier to chase down new riggers here in Brooklyn--some leads are from colleagues where I teach. 

Hanging the works on the ceiling of the Gowaus will be pretty similar to ArtWorks: Chain and pipe are fixed to the wooden ceiling and from there, the pieces are hooked on. I hope to resolve the initial hanging this week. From there, I'll hang a dry run and mark the spots on the pipe so it can go up (hopefully) quickly the day off the show, June 13.

The Gowanus Ballroom is a working metal shop and the front entrance where SIS will hang is the access to it. I'm suffering some pain about the installation having to come up and down twice while the rest of the artist's work resides happily and undisturbed on the balcony of the Ballroom (where the exhibition continues) but getting to the ceiling of the balcony is very challenging (easily 40 feet--14 meters) so I'm happy where I am. Besides: it's the lead-off of the show.

Getting the word out is the parallel project, as is a quick remix of the sound and installing the new sound units. 

When I visited a little Kickstarter party a few weeks ago at their new splashy offices in what was once rough and industrial Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I chatted up my installation and gave out invitations. Is this the fun part? Yeah, it is. But so is the rest of the journey.

Special thanks to Graphiqs Groove for the soundtrack on the vid.