Ball-Nogues Studio Installations: Unseen Current

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Installations by Ball-Nogues Studio

Catenaries as a unit : Works in Chicago + Venice

Jan 18, 2009

Ball-Nogues Studio Installations

Unseen Current and Echoes Converge
Two installations by Ball-Nogues Studio

How do we make something that sculpturally modulate space and changes the circulation flow of an existing architectural environment while using almost no material? What does it mean to fill space with volume that is on the threshold of absence?

Unseen Current

Unseen Current Unseen Current Unseen Current

Unseen Current was like a billow of fog flowing through Extension Gallery in Chicago. Two thousand six hundred strings (or catenaries) hanging under self-weight yielded this diaphanous site-specific installation. Totaling ten miles in length, the strings spanned between the walls of the gallery, each one in precise relation to its neighbors. Reading more like a three dimensional drawing of a wave-form rather than a solid: the project subverted the conventional notion of architectural “poche” by implying solidity through a dense assemblage of catenaries. When viewed from the front of the gallery, the three dimensional matrix suggested an object; upon navigating through its enigmatic form, the effect was of falling snow viewed through the windshield of a speeding car. Inspired by hues in the smoggy skies of Los Angeles; the installation gradated from a rich orange to cerulean using only two colors of string.

Architect Philip Johnson’s ethereal hanging-chain window treatments at the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York were also an inspiration for the project. We borrowed what was essentially a two dimensional decorative motif for Johnson then reinterpreted them in our three dimensional response to the gallery.

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A challenge during the development of the project was to design a methodology that tightly integrated concept, computation, and fabrication. We worked with Pylon Technical to develop custom software that enabled us to explore the form, manage the thousands of strings, and expedite fabrication. Formal exploration and revisions were fluid and effortless: rather than drawing and measuring the length of each string, we sketched the qualities of the installation in general terms; the software then automatically generated the thousands of catenaries, computed their lengths, and prepared labels to locate each string once cut. The design choices and logistics were “front loaded” to save time by reducing on-site management and fabrication complexity while allowing a team of six people to assemble Unseen Current in just seven days.

Photography: Michelle Litvin

Echoes Converge

Echoes Converge Echoes Converge Echoes Converge Echoes Converge

Curators Aaron Betsky and Emiliano Gandolfini invited us to create a site-specific installation for a triangular passage space at the 11th Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2008. Expanding on the research of Unseen Current, this project – Echoes Converge, again used thousands of catenaries as non-standard components. More sculpturally articulated than Unseen Current, the project married characteristics from two distinct ceiling traditions: the contemporary suspended ceiling (a system that is inexpensive, modular, and easy to install) and the Renaissance coffered ceiling (an area of exploration into both mathematical tiling systems and opulent visual effects).

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Expanding on lessens from the Unseen Current installation; we aimed to resist the limiting presuppositions and economic flimflam embedded in commercial software and existing architectural fabrication techniques by developing a new tool: an automatic computer controlled cutting apparatus. Using software developed for Unseen Current, we explored the form of the installation, and then sent construction data to a digitally controlled mechanical apparatus — the Insta-Lator — that automated the mind-numbing process of cutting thousands of unique lengths of string. As a combined design and production system, the software and Insta-Lator enabled the installation to function as architecture but also as a made-to-order product, rapidly deployable by the designer or owner.

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Photography: Eric Holm

Unseen Current / Echoes Converge images / information from Ball-Nogues Studio 180109

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