A Foray into Sculpture: “The Air Loom”

Part 1 – The Idea, The Build, The Hiccup

It takes a lot of nerve for a guy who does 2-D art to suddenly try making a sculpture. I’m not sure I could just start by telling myself “How about making a sculpture Dave?” Instead I came at this project through my love of fiber arts (being a batik artist) and thinking about what would happen if…

I did a collaboration project with a  neighbor of mine as part of a local event focused on bringing artists in the area together to create something they never would have made on their own. The two of us came up with a sculpture we called “The Stream that Floats the Rock.” He made a hollow paper-mache “pod” using plant fiber insulation material (“eco-friendly insulation”) and I batiked a long silk ribbon with a continuous abstract pattern that changed and repeated elements. The ribbon was then weaved inside the pod (which had crevices that served as peep holes) and the whole contraption was lit with tiny led lights and hung from the ceiling.

“The Stream the Floats the Rock” (detail) Mixed Media by David Lucht and Michael Terra

Making it was an interesting experience, working out a method of building it in concert with another head-strong artist. But we never once threw objects at each other or let loose strings of expletives and there was no permanent damage. We are great friends still. So we succeeded at that anyway. The sculpture was interesting but less successful.

This is a view through one of the peep holes:

In the process, I overestimated the amount of batiked ribbon I would need and went home with 30 or 40 feet of the stuff which I stashed away for about a year and a half. The collaboration project got me thinking about some other thing I could make that sort of resembled it but was more like a lamp made completely out of the ribbon. I kept thinking about how I could make it out of this colored silk ribbon. How would it hold its shape?

I remembered hearing about this fabric stiffener stuff another fiber artist was experimenting with a few years ago… started with a “P”… Paverpol, that’s it (thank you Google.) I ordered some and spent several of my regular daydreaming sessions trying to work out the logistics of how I could build this thing. I wanted to make an armature that could be disassembled after the fabric was stretched across it, so that the cloth would retain the evidence of the structure but not actually need it any longer.

After running through several ideas in my head, I came up with this:

I used 3/8″ dowel rods and drilled holes into two blocks of wood to make caps for the top and bottom. The center was spread out using a disk of wood, creating the desired shape. I eventually learned that the shape I was after was called elipsoidal (I knew it was called something…). The disk in the center created a problem because I wanted the silk ribbon to weave through the middle so I came up with a ring and cable contraption to hold the dowel rods out while I removed the wood disk. This is it:

One other thing I noticed after I got this ring in place was that the dowel rods tended to pop out of the holes in the caps; there was pressure along the longitudinal axis which pushed up and down and made the whole thing ‘pop open.” So, I made a tension cable connecting the top and bottom caps attached with a quick release latch.

Now I was finally ready to “weave.” Well my first attempt was less than successful. I painted the colored ribbon with the Paverpol, let it dry, ironed it flat (that was a whole process I didn’t factor in!). The stiffened fabric worked great. I rolled it up and weaved it around and through. When I was done I excitedly removed the dowel rods by loosening the cable wire in the ring and sliding them through pre-drilled holes in the top cap (and also through another hole in a rotating block I screwed on top that kept them in place until removal time.) Worked like a charm but… the form was a disaster! It all kind of crumbled in on itself and stretched out from it own weight when hung. Not enough internal structure. And the weave pattern was too chaotic (no pictures… trust me, you don’t want to know.)

After a period of mourning I tossed the whole shebang in a utility sink full of warm water to see if I could soak off the Paverol and start again. Time to regroup.