Client: City Art Rooms
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Completion date: 2008
Gill Gatfield Studio
I AM/MAI comprises three glass letters I-A-M that appear as abstract figures, each over 2.2m/7.5 ft high. Seeming fragile yet robust, the transparent and reflective texts are read individually and together from opposing ends of the room: ‘I AM’ and ‘MAI’. Viewed against a black wall, the indigenous MaÂÂori ‘MAI’ indicates an extension in time. Combined with the declaratory English ‘I AM’ with its roots in philosophy and spirituality, the texts provide the viewer with a rich sensory experience of both object and self. Defying technical constraints, I AM/MAI was accomplished through vision, invention and technically skilled teamwork.
Incorporating the geometry and architecture of the building, the clear glass texts create an unseen grid that provides a sense of order and calm. The composition offers endless visual variations. The free-standing forms are three-dimensional yet transparent, and legible yet indecipherable in profile. Designed to entice and embrace visitors to an inner city building where movement occurs predominantly along one axis, I AM/MAI captures light, image and movement from all angles. Working with low light and strong architectural features, the translucent glass and contrasting black and white walls afford a reflective and contemplative experience within inner city urban space.
I AM/MAI tested and stretched limits of glass production. Initially rejected by glass manufacturers as technically impossible, the artist-led project involved 6 months of research, development and prototypes. Combining factory technologies and hand finishing, and working with a highly skilled team of glass technicians, engineers and manufacturers, incremental refinements were made to design and process. Throughout, manufacturing risks remained high and multiple glass letters broke during processing. When the glass texts were finally resolved and toughened, technicians and engineers called the sculpture a miracle, sending news of the achievement to furnace manufacturers in Italy, the home of glass making.
Collaboration with sector experts continued beyond fabrication and installation. I AM/MAI is documented in a national television documentary, directed by award winning NZ director Phill England and produced by The Gravy for TVNZ. The documentary contains footage at City Art Rooms, Auckland and the artist in her factory studio. An art historical analysis of I AM/MAI by Professor Elizabeth Rankin of University of Auckland is published in Art New Zealand, No.128.