Spinnradl Video

Spinnradl Video, shot and edited by J Miles Wolf

Here is a short video showing our Spinnradl sculptures in action in Cincinnati. The video features two songs on two nearly identical sculptures, sited about a block apart from each other along Pendleton Street. The songs are played by turning a crank, which spins a large cylinder that triggers an analog music box. Turning the crank also powers a pulsing, radial Moire animation on either end of the sculpture’s housing. Each song lasts about thirty seconds when spun at the optimal speed, and repeats as long as the crank is continually turned.

The first song featured is a German folk dance called Spinnradl (spinning wheel), where dancers traditionally make star patterns in groups of three. The song would have been familiar to the German immigrants who built the Pendleton neighborhood and lived and worked there in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The second song is a ragtime composed in Cincinnati during the height of ragtime’s popularity. The song was composed to play on board steamboats that ferried passengers along a canal that once bordered the ‘Over-the Rhine’ neighborhood.

To learn more about the development of Spinnradl, please click here and scroll down.

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New Wowhaus Website

wowhaus website

I am very proud to announce that after 15 years we have designed a new website for Wowhaus. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is how well the site we built in 1999 has held up over the years, hence the delay and hesitation: ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?’ Right?

Because we had actualized so little work as the artist team of Wowhaus when we designed the original site in the late 90’s, we arranged things chronologically in anticipation of the career arc we anticipated, scrollable like a ‘blog, but long before ‘blogs even existed. This became cumbersome after over 15 years of collated projects. Also, the platforms we used to design and maintain the website became obsolete, and our systems manager moved to South Africa.

Our new site is more like a collage, featuring projects more visually up front, all part of the same conceptual thrust regardless of their origin, location or timeframe. Projects are arranged visually, with no particular hierarchy, and are more randomly accessible. Closer inspection reveals the divergent details. We will continue to add content as our current projects are installed and documented.

While refining the text and going through our image archives for the new site, I realized that we never really take pause to reflect on the work we’ve accomplished as a whole. Seeing the completed website for the first time gave me a rare perspective of an outsider looking in, and I found a fresh perspective on what we actually do.

It occurred to me that Wowhaus projects are an extension of our domestic life- a glimpse of what the world might look like if a family decides to rebuild it as an extension of home, claiming public space for the kinds of use patterns that might normally be associated with home, with raising a family, building a community; recasting the world as an extension of home, as both a critique and a proposal.

Click here to see the new Wowhaus website.

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Making Molds of Makkeweks

makkeweks molds1Garrett McLean makes molds of Makkeweks at Berkeley’s Artworks Foundry

I hadn’t realized how attached I had become to the Makkeweks until we took her apart and loaded her up on a flatbed for delivery to Berkeley. The studio seemed suddenly huge and empty, and the sculpture looked kind of sad and nervous on the back of the truck. Moving her was nerve wracking for me too. I had designed the sculpture to break down, and engineered an armature to retain the shape in transit,  but did not know how compressed cork would hold up under the stress of backroads bumps and highway vibration.

makkeweks molds2The underside of the head was the first part of the sculpture to receive molds.

The sculpture survived the journey to Artworks Foundry unharmed, and I immediately set to making final adjustments to the shape and texture. The foundry wasted no time making molds, carefully marking alignments, planning part lines, and cutting the cork pattern into manageable sections. After about a week working on site, we passed final approval with the City of Oakland, and left Makkeweks to be cast in bronze.

To read more about the development of Makkeweks for the City of Oakland, please click here and scroll down.

 

 

 

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Spinnradl: Final Assembly and Installation

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Verdin and Reuge work together to mount the music box.

In many ways, Spinnradl has been our most challenging and rewarding project to date. All of our projects as Wowhaus involve a degree of collaboration, but Spinnradl has been the most collaborative on several levels. All of our projects involve a degree of community engagement, artisanry and technical innovation, but Spinnradl sets a new bar on all fronts. We are very grateful to Artworks Cincinnati for inviting us to realize such a robust project and for supporting us so thoughtfully throughout the process over the past year and a half.

I spent the week before last working with the talented crew at the Verdin Company in Cincinnati, assembling and installing the sculptures. We hired Verdin to engineer and fabricate the sculpture’s housing and internal gearing. Verdin has been making clocks and bells in Cincinnati since 1842, and we designed the sculptures around their manufacturing capabilities, knowing that their presence in the Pendleton neighborhood would lead to obvious synergies. Verdin was also responsible for installation, and for coordination with other manufacturers who we had hired to fabricate other components. Indeed, one of the subtexts of the project has been working in collaboration with traditional, craft-based manufacturers, each over 100 years old.

Everything fit together perfectly.

Everything fit together perfectly.

I originally contacted Swiss-based Reuge, the world’s premier music box manufacturer, seeking consultation on building such a large music box. They loved the project and immediately offered to engineer and construct the music-making components at cost. Reuge collaborated with Verdin across the Atlantic, across languages and systems of measurement to produce the music boxes housed within the sculptures. The three engineers who designed and built the components traveled to Cincinnati to assist with assembly and installation. I acted as translator when necessary, dusting off my French as best I could. It helped that I had met two of the engineers when I traveled to Switzerland at the beginning phases of the project.

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Drawing on extensive community outreach and research into the history of the neighborhood, Ene designed the ceramic tiles mounted quilt-like to the sculpture’s exterior panels. Rookwood Pottery hand-carved the designs into relief on the tiles, creating custom glazes according to our color specifications. Rookwood has been making high quality Arts and Crafts inspired ceramics in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood since 1880, and it was very satisfying having them work collaboratively with Verdin for the first time.

I will be writing more about the stories behind the sculptures themselves soon. I should have a video clip and images from the dedication ceremony available to share as well. Meanwhile, click here to read an excellent article announcing the Spinnradl dedication, with info about the community engagement process, or click here and scroll down to read my previous posts. You can also see a slide show from the dedication ceremony by clicking here.

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Team Reuge traveled from Switzerland.

Team Reuge traveled from Switzerland.

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Spinnradl Update

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2 custom music boxes with 20″ D drums, made in Switzerland by Reuge (phote: Reuge)

Next week I travel to Cincinnati to supervise the assembly and installation of our Spinnradl sculptures, which were commissioned last year by Artworks Cincinnati.  It’s very exciting to see all of the pieces falling into place. I can hardly believe what we’ve all accomplished over the past year, and can’t wait to see the sculptures installed along Pendleton Street. The most challenging and rewarding part of the project has been working collaboratively in designing and fabricating the components with several highly skilled manufacturers, three of which are well over one hundred years old, and two of which are based in Cincinnati. Here is a glimpse of some of the components comprising the sculpture, with links to the companies who made them: (click here to read about the development of Spinnrald by wowhaus)

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(photo: Reuge)

The two music boxes, one for each of two sculptures, each play a different 30 second melody. Made and engineered by REUGE in collaboration with Nicolas Court, Jean-Michel Bolens, Cyril Glauser; Sainte-Croix  -  Switzerland, July 2014

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(photo: Verdin)

The two housings for the Spinnradl sculptures, including all interior gearing, were engineered and made by the Verdin Company in Cincinnati; Jack Klosterman, Tim Verdin, Tim Weitlauf and Larry Flores. Verdin will also install the sculptures.

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(photo: Verdin)

The tiles were custom made in Cincinnati by Rookwood Pottery, based upon Ene’s designs, which were inspired by dialogue with the community and research into the history of the neighborhood.

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kvored

(photo: KVO Industries) 

The 30″ D ceramic-enamel spinning dials for the radial Moire animations were made in California by KVO Industries, from patterns generated by Matthew Hausman.

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Makkeweks Progress Gallery

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Sculpting the eyes of the monster has been the biggest challenge, so I saved that task for last. The eyes carry the expression and are the only crisp-edged, anatomically-specific feature of the sculpture, so they are where a viewer’s eyes would naturally be drawn. The monster’s eyes need to reinforce the gesture of the body while also conveying what the creature is ‘thinking’. I knew I wanted the eyes to express a kind of serenity or wisdom but with an underlying menace, evoking the quiet confidence of predators in the wild. I also knew that the City was concerned not to display a scary creature, so gave it a kind of smile that could be interpretted many ways.

The other challenge about the eyes was to not make them too naturalistic. I want the sculpture to have an iconic, abstract, generalized kind of appeal, without being expressive or trying to resemble something real. The trick has been to provide enough specific detail to render something with presence and plausibility, something that invites close scrutiny and satisfies repeated viewings but not so much detail that it feels like a fake or a show of mastery. I want people to see it as a constructed thing but still have it communicate the feeling of an encounter with a being.

Today we received approval from the City of Oakland to proceed with delivery to the foundry, where we will connect all parts and complete all surface shaping and texturing. It’s been an intense month getting the scupture ready, and we’ve devised many experimental techniques working with cork. After shaping and faring the surface, we skim-coated the raw cork with exterior joint compound to even out the voids and make a pigskin-like surface. We then burnt a surface pattern with wood-burning irons, filled the burnt grooves with a plaster slurry, then sanded and stained the entire surface a neutral grey to ‘pop’ the surface. I’m very grateful to my crew of plasterer/texturers, including Ene, Aili, Leo Turpan (our June intern) and my old friend Matt. Here is a little gallery of images documenting the process: Continue Reading »

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Makkeweks, Ifukube, and the Return of the Ray

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I’ve flipped the creature and continue to rough out its topsides with my homemade saw

Carving is like controlled erosion. A shape emerges in response to the real and imagined forces that dictate how and where material is added and removed. My primary job as I sculpt the Makkeweks sea monster is to manage these forces, which, along with the sea monster itself, are largely my invention. My primary tools are various hand saws and abrasives, some of which I have designed and made specifically for carving and cutting compressed cork.

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Akira Ifukube, 1914-2006, composer of Godzilla soundtracks

Another essential tool is maintaining the appropriate state of mind to keep focus on the monster. I manage this two ways, one is cultural and the other natural. I have immersed myself in monster culture and listen to music composed by Akira Ifukube for the Godzilla movies between 1954-1975 while I carve. The son of a Shinto priest, Ifukube was originally trained in forestry and specialized in researching the elasticity of wood. His career in music followed exposure to radiation that left him physically incapable of the rigors of fieldwork. Somehow I can hear his experience with wood in his music. I feel a deep kinship with Ifukube, which I attribute to the love we must share for wood, music and monsters.

I also find inspiration in studying natural forms during our daily walks on the beach. It’s always thrilling to see pelicans dive, sea lions frolick in the surf, and the occasional breaching whale. I want the Makkeweks sculpture to convey the raw thrill of such encounters in the wild. The Makkeweks monster is a composite of native marine fauna, so I learn something new every day. I was recently extremely encouraged to hear of a bat ray sighting in Lake Merritt. I had anticipated this before the Lake was restored to a tidal estuary, and the possibility informed our conception of Makkeweks, whose name originates with an Ohlone sea monster myth.

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To learn more about the development of Wowhaus’ Makkeweks Project, click here.

 

 

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