Wings in the Style of Mel Bochner

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I’m sorry I haven’t posted in forever, I’ve been stupid busy and stressed over this project among others. It’s also something I’ve been extremely excited to turn into writing because I’ve spent a lot of idle time thinking about how much I hate this project and the aspects of my personality which brought it to light, if that makes sense. Well, of course, hate is a strong word, but this project was executed so inefficiently that I cannot help but bemoan all the poor decisions I made which led to a massive amount of frustration and work which could’ve been avoided.

For a detailed account of all the work and the process that went into these, refer to this album.

Wings in the style of an artist of our choosing

That was the assignment. Fairly straightforward. I picked Mel Bochner, a very cool conceptual artist who, among other work, created pieces of arbitrary measurements on painted canvas or in gallery installations. I wanted to make simple wing objects criss-crossed in this measurement style, and for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to make these out of wood.

Material Decision making

My material language at this point is basically cardboard and wood. We got a brief demo in my sculpture project class last semester about working with foam and wire mesh, but I’ve basically only worked three dimensions in paper (insubstantial for this project) ceramics (not even close to useful or available for this project) cardboard (eh, little too flimsy for my taste) and wood (ooh, that works…)

It never even entered my mind to make this in anything besides cardboard or wood and that was my undoing. I mentioned to my studio professor that I wanted to work in wood and he suggested chalkboard paint and that was that. There as no further discussion about materials or the line style, all decisions from that point forward were informed by that final vision for this project.

It was an incredibly poor decision which led to far, far more work than would’ve been necessary.

The point at which I realized this mistake was during a conversation with Will:

“yeah, if I had to do this project again I probably wouldn’t have worked in wood..”

“Wait, you didn’t have to work in wood?”

“No”

“Why didn’t you work in foam? Why didn’t you work in cardboard? Why didn’t you work in literally anything besides wood?”

I wanted something substantial, something that was solid and geometric. Wood seemed like a good choice, but foam had never even been considered. This would’ve been the far superior choice for ease of working with, but again, it had never been considered and I’ve never worked with it, thus I found it difficult to make expectations about how to work in this medium. Wood is simple to me because I’m no expert with it, but I at least have an idea of methods to manipulate it, the limits and capabilities of it, and thus I can solve theoretical problems with it since I have a theoretical understanding of how it works. Thus, it made sense to start with what I wanted to make and then pick the medium and then develop the structure of the piece.

I think that from this project, I’ve learned sort of a backwards, or perhaps top-down is a better way of saying it, approach to problem solving: start with the problem and then cascade out a variety of materials and methods with which it can be solved, and weigh the pros and cons of working with each one. This will allow an economical, efficient, and refined finished product rather than something which is burdened with the difficulties of a certain medium where another medium may have been a better choice. What I lacked in this project was asking myself the questions of “what about working with wood will make this difficult? Can I accomplish a similar effect with a different medium?”

Stubbornness

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I think that this project brought out both some of my better and worse qualities. First of all, it was a lot of work, but I got it done more or less satisfactorily. However, it also is an example of a time when I dove in without knowing the full extent of the work that would be necessary to complete the project. Furthermore, I had unrealistic expectations about the ease of this project and my ability to be precise with very “estimated” tools and working practices.

Because the wood shop was only open for very limited hours in light of the amount of work I was trying to do, I had to do a large amount of the work for this project with hand tools. Without going into technical details (again, there’s a whole album of pictures with commentary above if you’re interested) I essentially thought I could create a fairly refined product by cutting most of the project with a hand saw. This was not the case, and the majority of this project’s time (~8 hours in the wood shop shaping the wood and then 10-20 hours spackling and sanding repeatedly) was dealing with the incredibly uneven sides which resulted from the inaccuracy of hand-cutting. In fact, when I brought the wings when they were freshly glued into the wood shop asking the shop tech how to progress, he basically said “Ahhh, you uh, you might just want to bite the bullet and figure out how to work the uneven sides into your concept, because these are going to be incredibly hard to get back to true.”

Bothered by the possibility of having to change course midway, I decided to just get to work. I think the most frustrating aspect about this whole project was the idea that I had an idea, and I picked  a poor way to accomplish the idea, and it took more work than I could’ve imagined, and it only turned out in the same ballpark as the original idea, but I probably could’ve anticipated that if I had more experience in 3D, if I thought about it more, or if I had simply talked to someone about the idea I was having and what materials would be good to work in. Instead I charged directly into the project, made more work for myself than was necessary, and didn’t even get exactly what I wanted.

Work, work, work

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I think the most frustrating piece of criticism I’ve ever received was from a friend who looked at this and said “it doesn’t look like you put as much time into it as you did”. This speaks to a lack of craftsmanship, a lack of efficient thought, and a lack of familiarity with the medium in which I was working. Gaining the first, I could’ve made more refinement and worked cleaner in the time I had. Gaining the second, I would’ve made different decisions about the materiality of this project. Gaining the third, I again would’ve chosen to work in a different medium, knowing that the level of refinement I wanted would be difficult in the medium of wood, paint, and chalk.

I’m willing to do a lot of work for a project, sure. I’m willing to put a lot of time and sometimes a lot of money into my work. The frustrating thing is when I do this and it doesn’t pay off. But, this project is behind me, I’ve learned a lot, and it was nice to simply finish it. They may not be perfect, but it is a nice substantial thing that I was able to conceive and do, even if it could’ve been done better.

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