September 26, 2011

Soundforge: In Process (Updates # 4 & #5)

This fall, HCCC will premier a work two years in the making. In the fall of 2009, while still in residence, metalsmith Gabriel Craig began collaborating with Houston-based music composer, Michael Remson. Their project, Soundforge, will be an interactive, multimedia installation that explores forging metal as both a means of fabrication and an act of percussion. Gabriel Craig has graciously agreed to give us regular updates from his studio on the fabrication of the project.

The feet were cut from 1/8 in. steel sheet in a pyramidal pattern, tact welded together,
seam welded on the inside, then welded cosmetically on the outside corners
before being ground. They were then welded to the armature at right.

Update #4


In my artistic process, there are several galvanizing moments in each project that energize me and allow me to proceed in what is an otherwise difficult and trying vocation. The first of these moments is always the conception of the project, that initial spark of an idea. “Hey, what if I …” In Soundforge, I am well past that now. The second moment usually occurs well into the fabrication of a work and is the realization that, yes, the initial idea can, and is currently, being realized. Call it a moment of actualization.

Welding the first foot onto the armature newel.

I had that actualizing moment recently, as I completed fabricating the feet of the armatures for Soundforge. After some fitting and situating, I welded them on and, behold, Soundforge can stand! Having no previous large-scale steel fabrication experience, this was trying. With silver, I could just force the thing into place; however, plate steel has a much stronger will. The fact that, structurally, the work functions is boon to confidence and more generally a milestone in the creation of the project. I can see it coming together, and I know, finally, that it will work.

It is these energizing moments Рwhere vision meets reality, where the hand approximates the imagination Рthat make being an artist worth the doldrums. Yes, I know that is a bit clich̩, but it is true. I had one of those moments, and I am sharing it. Soundforge stands!

A shot of the first free-standing armature just inside my studio,
adjacent to my lush mid-western garden.

Update #5

Since my last update, I have welded three-inch vertical supports onto the armature cross
braces. This has increased the overall sturdiness of the armatures and
also created a logical space for decoration.

The past few weeks have been among my favorite on the project. A lot of the tedious and trying fabrication is done, and now I am at the anvil all day – every day. I am making small forgings, listening to music and books on tape, losing myself for hours as I sweat in the near-hundred-degree heat of my shop. It’s not Texas-hot to be sure, but 90 degrees with 90-percent humidity, plus a forge running, is not exactly mild.

After forging 36 three-inch ornamental finials, I worked on
their layout within the 3 x 12 inch frames on the armature.

My interest and love of moving metal is at least in part why I got into this project, and I have been able to watch myself improve in strength, stamina and toughness everyday. Manual labor, in any form, can be a meditation, but aside from enjoying the work, I am intermittently aware of the battle between the work and my body. Hard labor has a decidedly penal connotation in my mind, but I think there can be no other way to describe forging such thick material, by hand, for such durations. Don’t mistake this for a complaint, because I do not loathe the work, but rather it has caused me to consider labor as more than simply a romantic extension of my idyllic principals.

I have also been meaning for a while to sneak in a shot on my studio assistant,John Eagan.
A recent graduate of the metals program at Wayne State University in Detroit, John has been a
huge help working with me two days a week since June. John has helped me with a lot of the heavy forging,
wielding a sledge, since I don’t have a power hammer. He is also meticulous, as any respectable
metalsmith should be. Here, he is drilling holes in a newel for the cable that will suspend the keys.

There is a cost to smithing – beyond the material and the tools, that is. Smithing is bought in scale burns, calluses and stinging hands in the morning. The cost of 36 finials is that of aching joints, tired feet and singed arm hairs. But for each hammer blow, I am more tenacious, sinewy and graceful in my work. Forging might cost more physically than most other forms of manual labor, but there is something compelling about the hammer, which makes it perhaps the most revered tool throughout human history. It draws people in. Most people think wielding a hammer is about power – the sledge in the carnival game where one tries to ring a bell. Yes, power is the hammer’s attraction; it is a tool that reflects our aspirations of strength. It is also, perhaps, the simplest of all hand tools. However, this is deceiving because anyone worth their salt with a hammer knows that strength does not matter if you miss your target. To watch someone experienced with a hammer is nearly always a moment of wonder. Everyone can understand the simplicity of the hammer--you swing it, and you move something. In the hands of an expert, we can see skill personified; we recognize an unpretentious tool performing extraordinary work. The hammer is the ultimate vernacular tool, and it is the efficient use of it, as an action or performance, which allows us to see skill manifest.

Here are a few of the ornaments welded onto the armature. It really does
give a visual weight to the work. Once the newel finials and keys are in place, the armatures
will have a much more substantial feel. Compositionally, I feel like I am doing a line drawing in iron.

When Michael Remson and I set out on this odyssey, I think that we wanted to capture forging as a performative action that both embodies and demonstrates skill. In itself, this is a complete thought. However, no matter the efficiency or inexperience of the person wielding the hammer, striking will always make a sound. Hammering is a multivalent action in this way. I think we are just a few short weeks away from demonstrating this and also seeing how far that idea can be pushed. On one level, hammering aspires to extreme skill, but on another level, it participates in a much different conversation. But that is for another post…  

--Gabriel Craig

September 1, 2011

Staff Favorites from "Crafting Live(s): 10 Years of Artists in Residence."

With the closing of Crafting Live(s): 10 Years of Artists-in-Residence rapidly approaching, we asked the staff of HCCC to share what their favorite pieces are and why. The exhibition contains works by 36 artists who have participated in the Artist-in-Residence Program here at HCCC during the past 10 years. If you’ve seen the show, please share your favorites in the comments below! If you haven’t, then hurry in, the show closes this Saturday, September 3!

Julie Farr, Executive Director, had a particularly difficult time picking just one favorite piece. Farr explains, “I think it’s because so many of these artists have become our colleagues and friends, and we’ve seen them in process and progressing during their residencies. When the exhibition first opened, I was excited to see how far everyone pushed themselves by making new, meaningful works. I love that both the residency experience and HCCC are a safe haven for exploration, growth and creativity in action.”

Communications Director, Mary Headrick, chose 6 Degrees by Cathy Cunningham-Little. “I think it’s an absolutely stunning installation. The suspended rain-drop-like forms, the amount of light and reflection they create, and the fact that the artist created them from silvered glass is fascinating.  These are complemented by the metal pieces below, which cast wide and interesting shadows."

Cathy Cunningham-Little, 6 Degrees
Etched, stainless-steel ladles and silvered
blown glass. Variable dimensions.

Curator, Anna Walker, chose the imaginary children by Bethany Rusen for two reasons. “One, I’m drawn to works that have a haunting presence and anthropomorphic gesture. But also, I grew to love this piece during installation. Constructed of a nylon fabric stuffed with polyfill, then dipped in clay slip, the forms are awkward, pliable and yet also brittle when handled. On the wall I have a similar reaction to the work as when I held it, and I enjoy that those two interactions complement each other.”

Education Director, Miriam Mendoza’s favorite is Friends by Ann Trask. This piece is made from used tea bags, reclaimed wood pieces, fimoclay, tea-stained muslin and wax. Miriam greatly appreciated the artist’s use of everyday objects, things many people would deem as trash, and re-contextualizing them into objects with meaning. These tea bags are not just trash, but a remnant of the experience of enjoying a cup of tea with a friend. The tea bags have become symbols of the artist’s many relationships and friendships. To Miriam, the piece conveys an important message of not taking for granted the objects and people present in our everyday lives. Miriam also finds the piece to be aesthetically pleasing.

Ann Trask, Friends. Used teabags, reclaimed
wood pieces, tea-stained muslin, wax. 73” x 50” x 4"

Jenny Lynn Weitz, Marketing and Web Assistant, chose Darryl Lauster’s Runners Up Presidential Plate Series. “I like the fact that Lauster is attempting to commemorate the losing candidates by depicting them on hand-cast porcelain transferware, and even though the stories behind each portrait involve a lot of important political, social and economic issues, I find the installation humorous and sad at the same time.”

Associate Director of Fundraising, Nyala Wright’s favorite is also Darryl Lauster’s Runner’s Up Presidential Plate Series. Nyala chose this as her favorite because the installation of plates is historically informative with an outstanding sense of humor.

Darry; Lauster, Runners-Up Presidential Plate Series. 28 individual
hand-cast porcelain transferware plates. 12” x 12” x 1" each

Two staff members also chose Jason Kishell’s Stilted Lemon Growth. Suzanne Sippel, Asher Gallery Retail Manager, wasn’t sure how to describe why, but said, “I like the monstrous lemon, and considering the dreadful things I put lemons through with my tea... well, this is their revenge!”

Curatorial Fellow, Susie Silbert, states, “With so many great pieces in the exhibit, it’s hard to choose just one favorite (well, for me just one favorite is always an issue). Today, I would choose Jason Kishell’s Stilted Lemon Growth. Its craftsmanship is amazing—Kishell’s commitment to his materials and ideas is evident in his close attention to detail in all aspects of the work’s execution, from the detailed veining of the roots on the lemon’s surface to the multi-axis lathe work on its many wooden legs. Stilted Lemon Growth looks like an emissary from a fully formed world inside Kishell’s imagination, leading me to wonder who the other inhabitants may be. The object has the playfulness of a fairytale, the high definition of a video game and enough surface information to keep me interested for quite some time.”

Jason Kishell, Stilted Lemon Growth.
Porcelain, polymer clay, wire,
Indian rosewood. 9” x 11” x 19”

Curatorial Assistant, Ashley Powell, chose Rough Neck by Edward McCartney. McCartney’s clever use of materials is what really struck her, the way he has re-contextualized motor oil through its usage in an object of adornment. Just as so many other valuable natural resources are used to make jewelry, oil has now been fashioned into charms or gems of “black gold,” reminding us of how much of a commodity it is to our contemporary society.