Welcome

Ene and Scott, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in 1988, pre-Wowhaus

Welcome to Deepcraft.org.

I no longer maintain this site as a weblog, but keep it up as an archive of my design thinking, and as documentation of making things, particularly Wowhaus public projects between 2008-2014. To learn more about the origins of this experimental site, please click on the ‘deep’ logo, or simply scroll through the archives, or pull down the category menu to the left. I’ve been slowly collating my favorite posts for future publication. You can reach me at Scott at deepcraft.org, and I invite you to find me on Instagram @deepcraft and @scottconstablefineart.

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Public Projects: Concept Development Strategy

As finalists for the public art component of Oakland’s UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Ene and I were recently asked to explain how we develop concepts. In over twenty years of making public works, we’ve never been asked to articulate our process, so I created an outline:

WOWHAUS

Public Projects: Concept Development Outline

OUR ROLE: Creating site-responsive artworks that foster place-making, landscape interpretation, way-finding, visual identity, invention and intervention, celebration, commemoration.

Developing a concept for site-specific or site-responsive artworks typically takes about 2-5 weeks, featuring our unique process, in roughly chronological order:

AT THE OUTSET:

  • Define primary parameters, including site, budget, timeframes, audience, desired outcomes, etc.
  • Align our goals with those of key stakeholders.
  • Discover what to reveal, celebrate, or honor.FIELDWORK:
  • Site excursions and documentation, including areas surrounding sites and defining characteristics of surrounding community.
  • Social engagement: dialogue with the community, including neighbors, business owners, employees, clients, visitors and other key stakeholders; gather and composite oral histories.
  • Identify existing and potential community ‘use patterns’ for a particular site.
  • Observe environmental site conditions including wind, sun, rain, etc.RESEARCH:
  • Cultural: contemporary and historic patterns, trends and related demographics; vernacular traditions in the built environment and related ephemera.
  • Natural: patterns comprising prevailing weather, light, seasonality, local flora and fauna, present and past ecosystems and their natural history.
  • Future-forecasting into the near and distant future; aggregate economic and demographic trends for the site and its broader surroundings.FORM + CONTENT DEVELOPMENT/IDEATION:
  • Identify materials, structural systems, colors and processes appropriate to the requirements of the site and the story being conveyed.
  • Identify the prevailing narrative compelling the artwork.
  • Seek form/content congruity and mutual reinforcement.
  • Develop imagery or thematic “branding” strategies and concepts.PRODUCE MODELS AND PROTOTYPES, MATERIAL SAMPLES:

– Models and prototypes can be actual 3D scale models or computer generated illustrations and animations, but their multi-tiered function is to aid in visualization, presentation, engineering, and cost estimating for fabrication.

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Thoughts on Public Sculpture and the Big Picture

As an artist who works in the public realm, often in collaboration with my partner, it is continually challenging to keep track of the big picture. That is, it is difficult to see how what we are doing is making a difference amid so much political and environmental distress globally. Because our work is known for its community engagement, site-specificity and/or site-responsiveness, each project is tailor fit to constantly changing parameters. Each project is unique, requiring a unique response to a unique place within a unique community. Consequently, once we have been awarded a commission and designed a sculpture or similar ‘place-making’ intervention, we soon become embroiled in the business of construction management. Our public projects tend to take about a year and a half from conception to installation, and we typically manage between 3-5 projects concurrently, each in a different phase of development, so project management becomes quite complex and accounts for the bulk of our work life. Our success in landing new projects is a function of our ability to align our objectives with those of a funding entity, so the narrative we create to describe our work is always in flux, and always at the service of the requirements of Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Fortunately, we have applied for enough public art projects over the past two decades to discern consistent patterns in RFPs, and have grown more adept at broadening our narrative to fit most occasions. Also, we have successfully produced enough work to have earned a solid reputation, and the intrinsic value of our collective body of work is beginning to speak for itself. Still, I sometimes lose sight of what compels the work to begin with, short of earning us a living.

Every so often, when I find a lull between active projects, I attempt to step back, take perspective, and clarify for myself how our work relates to the Big Picture. A couple of years ago I had the insight that the consistency in our work is not in the final product but in the process, in our ‘work style’. We have developed a style of collaboration that enables us to invent within very tight parameters, following a set of skills we have honed over the decades through direct experience, through trial and error. It’s almost akin to how scientists can deploy the basic tenets of Scientific Method to any experiment, regardless of the specific parameters or desired outcome. Granted, the success and range of our public projects also require skill at design, fabrication, communications, as well as knowledge of materials, art history and cultural geography, but none of these things matter if the idea underlying any of our public sculptures fails to resonate. It’s the ideas that connect to the Big Picture, along with how the ideas are conveyed. In many cases, I just realized, how ideas are conveyed IS the idea underlying all of our projects. How ideas are conveyed is perhaps our most compelling and useful contribution to the Big Picture, to making a difference amidst turmoil and chaos. How ideas are conveyed is also the most elusive or non-obvious aspect of our built works, especially when we are in the midst of realizing them, which is pretty much all of the time. So, I’d like to break down the consistencies underlying How Ideas are Conveyed in our public artworks:

  • create social hub
  • reveal hidden histories as discovery
  • provide detail where it is lacking and unexpected
  • provide high quality craft in public places as a radical intervention
  • create community and friendships with all stakeholders
  • create conditions that allow communities a sense of authorship and ownership
  • make things that encourage multi-sensory interaction
  • make things that improve with age and use and that allow for repair
  • make things that mimic an encounter in nature
  • trust people to make connections and invent their own narratives
  • make things with children in mind
  • make things with sense memory in mind

I’ve realized that people often bring their own ideas to our public artworks, especially children, and that our original intention is less important. Our projects become like public placeholders, or receptacles for accumulated, collective memories and experiences. They function by simply encouraging and trusting people to do what they do best, which is to interact in public, to engage in the built and natural environment with all of their senses and receptors open. Our projects have origins in the types of experiences we (and people in general) seek when traveling, when open to new ideas and perspectives. Our projects are designed to bring out the best in people. This is how they consistently relate to the Big Picture.

IN A NUTSHELL:

In a world that is increasingly fractured and disruptive, Wowhaus projects are like islands of cohesion and inspiration. Wowhaus projects demonstrate that key elements of the built environment, however small, can be deeply integrated, can be orienting instead of disorienting, connecting us to place, to each other, and to layers of stories, both real and imagined.

 

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Procedural Style: Parametric Emergence, Part 1

Wowhaus grew out of our ongoing conversations, beginning when we met in 1988

Ene and I never thought of Wowhaus as a style. We always framed it more as a way of life. But over the years as we’ve realized such a broad range of projects in such wide-ranging media and locales, a kind of style is beginning to emerge. Continue Reading »

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Night Blues

NIGHT BLUES

My dad and I started going out for night blues when I was about twelve or thirteen. My mom packed us sandwiches and we’d stop at the liquor store for Slim Jims, ginger ale and beer. The boat left the dock from Atlantic City just after sunset. It was a party boat and our shipmates and crew were all men, mostly what my dad called ‘old salts’. There were older black gentlemen too, quietly leaning on the rails smoking Swisher Sweets, and rowdy young guys from South Philly getting loaded. I was the only kid.

You might get seasick if you stayed below while motoring out with the droning diesel fumes and a rising swell on the coal black sea. My dad called them rollers. We opted to stay out on deck and watched the crew prepare baitfish and chum to make a slick. With razor sharp fillet knives they sliced whole butterfish into chunks and tossed them into a motorized grinder, making a reddish oily pulp in a huge vat. I’m pretty sure my dad wanted to eat the chum himself. His mouth always watered around baitfish. He smoked a cigarette and sipped his can of beer while I watched schools of squid darting through the phosphors in the boat’s wake.

We’d watch the lights on shore slowly fade and disappear and the captain would cut the engine in the blackness. The fishermen prepared their lines in silence, baiting hooks with hunks of fresh bunker while the crew sprayed oily chum into a slick with long-handled ladles. All was silent save the ratcheting of reels and lapping of waves as the boat rocked and adjusted itself to the current, finding its drift. Sometimes you could see schools of bluefish flashing silver close to the surface, thumbs on reels waiting for the skipper’s signal to drop a line.

Then the baited hooks went down in a whir and the blues hit ferociously, almost immediately. We’d pull in one after the other, our arms like rubber by the end of a run. “Keep ‘er head up!”, my dad would shout. Bluefish in a feeding frenzy put up a tough fight and I prided myself on handling my own rod and landing my own fish. Soon the decks were covered with flopping blues, blood and fish scales. The night air turned cold and clear, our lungs filled with the salty sweetness of summertime Atlantic. I once hooked a very large bluefish that my dad entered into the boat’s pool. As we motored back to shore towards dawn the crew set up a scale on deck. My dad quietly slipped a six ounce lead sinker into my fish’s mouth and dropped it down the gullet. I didn’t agree with the idea but needed the money to buy a CB so went along. It didn’t matter, mine was still not the biggest fish on board.

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The Cosmic Rhyme of Fives

sea star

Alone among a mussel cluster

a sea star glows in stillness,

vermillion

like a smile

like sunshine while

the sea grass sways.

 

Today

I stand in cold tide pools

because that

is where my bare white

feet make sense, alone among

the cosmic rhyme

of fives.

 

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Within Within

 

Within Within

When I turn the radio on
I want to turn the radio on
again
I want to turn the radio on
within within
I want to turn the radio on
I want to find a frequency without
a frequency without
to tune to
too
I want to find
a frequency
without
a frequency
within

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