Feathered Edge, Museum of Contemporary Art, LA – Ball-Nogues Studio
Feathered Edge was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The project explores the convergence of digital technology and craft. It is one in a series of installations curated by Brooke Hodge and Alma Ruiz. Integrating complex digital computation, mechanization, and printing with traditional handcrafted production techniques, Feathered Edge explores our desire to alter a space with fluid architectural forms that require a minimal use of material while utilizing a new proprietary technique that yields the effect of three dimensional spatial constructs “printed” to resemble objects hovering in space.
Feathered Edge is comprised of 3604 individual lengths of twine, totaling 21 miles, that have been dyed, cut, and then suspended from mesh scrims installed on the walls and ceiling of the gallery. With the aid of the “Insta-llator 1 with the Variable-Information Atomizing Module,” a machine designed and manufactured by Ball-Nogues Studio especially for this installation, the strings were precisely saturated with solvent-based inks, created by a chemist for the project, using four digitally controlled airbrushes and then cut to varying lengths. Using specialized parametric software developed with a software programmer, we generated a map that was printed onto the scrim to establish the proper locations and lengths of the twine in the space. Each piece was attached to the mesh scrim, and then knotted by hand in a technique similar to that used to make latch-hook rugs. The weight of the string creates a complex system of overlapping catenary curves on which cyan, magenta, yellow, and black segments were “printed” to yield the effect of ghostly three dimensional objects. Sometimes the objects are visible, at other times they blur to resemble a fluid-like vapor that floats and hovers in the gallery space.
The software used to develop the parameters of the resulting ephemeral spatial condition can yield nearly infinite possible design configurations. While the environment is defined by the string formations and printed “objects,” it is also constructed from the negative space found within the array of catenaries, which allows sight to extend into and throughout the spatial structure. The space is activated by people, movement, and light, creating a continually changing experience.
Computers are great at quickly analyzing large amounts of information, then generating data used for fabrication, but they can’t yet produce fully realized works of architecture. At best they can produce highly accurate components and spatial mappings or systems, this is where hand craft comes in. We use our hands and our knowledge of material as a filter for the digital possibilities and to achieve the final “built” environment; in effect, we use the prowess of the computer to push the limits of the hand.
Feathered Edge is the third in a series of projects we refer to as “Suspensions.” Unseen Current (2008), exhibited at Extension Gallery for Architecture, Chicago, featured 2,500 suspended string catenaries, and Echoes Converge, exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2008 used string to create intricate patterns inspired by the baroque ceilings of the city’s buildings. These softly structural, open-air spaces encouraged social interaction, enveloping rather than obstructing viewers.