Location: Dallas, TX, United States
Completion date: 2020
Filtered sunlight through organic materials can mesmerize. Years ago, I first noticed at Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, also known as Sky City, a window made with a thick mica panel integrated into the adobe frame. It is the last mica window in Sky City. I later read the Spaniards saw Sky City, then with all its windows made of gleaming mica, who thought the windows were gold. To their disappointment they learned there was no gold. Still, the people of Sky City turned a simple mineral into both a utilitarian and beautifully artful aspect of construction.
Years later, while observing sunlight filtering through mica panels, I designed and fabricated a hanging mobile sculpture that captures ambient indoor lighting passing through skylights. The viewer becomes an interactive element with the sculpture by casting shadows when standing beneath it, thus becoming an integral part of the whole. My task was to design and engineer the artwork to enhance the filtered sunlight in a dynamic hanging sculpture.
The most recent sculptures in my portfolio have been most suitable for outdoor landscapes. In this case, I wanted to again focus on sculptures suitable for interior exhibits knowing I’d be working with a different set of challenges. In some way I returned to my early work with respect to creating kinetic sculpture made from wood. Again, “Lockstep” is advanced by several generations of my work, focusing on multiple natural elements, in this case with the primary materials of hard maple and mica.
“Lockstep” had to be ready for an exhibition in Dallas, Texas, in January 2020. Because of the gallery space’s structural limitations, one challenge was that the piece had to weigh less than 500 pounds. I also wanted to test my ideas of combining different organic materials of different weights, strengths and sizes which required precision in both design and measurement. The mix of materials, placed at varying angles, achieve the complex combination of light refraction. The result of the various materials becoming one creates an interactive sculpture that attracts, welcomes and delights viewers.
With only 4 ½ months for completion, I built a maquette to bring form to my vision then translated it to the full-scale sculpture. I then focused solely on design calculations and ordering materials. Given the varying weights of each material used – Vermont hard maple wood, mica panels and stainless steel - the process initially was largely trial and error. Even the weight of the lacquer on the wood had to be included in the weight distribution, similarly as paint on an airplane must be added to an airplane’s weight so it will safely fly. This was the greatest challenge of this process. The sculpture had to maintain its structural integrity to wed the concept with the object and the interior of the gallery. When the mica panels are in place, the hue of light changes. The angle at which the sunlight strikes the mica panels is different at every tier in the piece, so within the entirety there are many tonalities of light quality. The viewer’s interaction adds yet another component to this multi-layered object.
I incorporated a component that was new to me in this work. Dyneema rope, a polyethylene fiber, has a very small diameter but is over twice as strong as Kevlar and 15 times as strong as stainless steel, and was able to keep the piece looking as light as possible.
My work has evolved in the last 10 years, focusing on the utilization of light through different types of objects and materials that establishes an interaction with the viewer whether the sculpture is static or dynamic. “Lockstep” is the most recent iteration of my evolution working with natural light and other natural forces. I collaborated with mathematician Kevin Leary, a former Los Alamos scientist, in order to ensure I had the angles necessary to maximize the utilization of the gallery’s skylights in addition to maximizing the scope of the room and the weight limitations. Thus, each tier of “Lockstep” is stepped up 3 inches or down 3 inches, determined by the direction of the maple fins, creating a different tonality with the mica sheets. I also collaborated with a professional engineer, Brian Johnson of Renew Engineering, to achieve the balance I wanted for the sculpture hanging in place so as to enhance the visual aesthetics. After final assembly, it was broken down into three pieces and shipped 800 miles away to be re-assembled for the gallery opening and exhibit. This project is a testament to months of creative vision, testing, and problem solving, achieving an object that conveys the intended theory. It IS possible to make concepts and theories become reality!