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7/19/21

Module 3 or "Mod3"



It's that time again. Time to introduce a new sculpture and ramble a bit about the things I was thinking when I was making the thing. 

I'm calling this work the Module 3 or "Mod3" and it has a mechanic that I think is quite unique, if a little hard to explain. 


This is the third and final installment in my module series, which began as a simple exploration using a magnetic assembly system in place of mechanical fasteners.


This fastening system had a geometric component so I thought it would be interesting to lean into some influences from the math art community as well.


For the first work in the series (NC-3), a simple modular sculpture based around an octahedron form was all I hoped to achieve.

For the second work in the series (TKS) I found myself trying to use some of the inherent magnetism in the assembly to add motion and even more modularity. This work was based around a tetrahedron.


For this third piece, I chose the hexahedron or cube. This shape presented a unique opportunity for magnetic motion.


I came up with an arrangement of magnets that allows a hub on each of the modules to slide linear along its axle when rotated 90 degrees. This motion is achieved by bringing the polarity of internal magnets into alignment in such a way that they alternately repel and attract one another.


The motion is not unlike an electric solenoid, but uses only rare earth magnets.



I had originally planned for something simpler but evolution has a way of adding complexity, so who am I to argue.



I try to touch on the wide range of influences that lead to this piece in the video above. The main one being how Joining each of the three sculptures together helped guide the rest of the process.


below are the magnetic arrangements for joining each of the three sculptures in the module series.




This map shows how each of the modules interacts for basic assembly. As you can see, each configuration required a vastly different approach to spreading out the polarity to get even attraction across all elements.  

In of itself, it is a fascinating puzzle, but that each map also influenced the mechanical and visual outcome of its respective sculpture makes it much more so.


This video is an in depth tear-down of how the mechanic works. It will no doubt do a better job demonstrating the mechanism than anything I could write.

I also show and reference "Polymagnets" which proved to be a fascinating influence on this project as well. There is a video at the link that better explains that technology.


The work you see in these pictures is just the first prototype, it works and looks great. but I do have a bit of work to refine the process for making more of these works. 

Most notable is smoothing out the process for installing all 72 magnets. The press fits and irregular sizing of the magnets themselves had me fiddling with them for far too long. I will no doubt be able to get it ironed out with a few reamers and some 3D printed fixture-ing. 

All part of the fun.


Closing thoughts:

There are lots of things about making sculpture that are difficult to explain. One of them is how different modes of thinking come into play during different stages of creating a work.

When designing purely visual work, the constraints of reconciling one's ideas with a real world medium are challenging enough. Add to that the complexity of introducing mechanical motion or functionality and it is easy to find yourself struggling against competing interests. The demands of "function" do not always play nicely with "form" no matter how the saying goes. 

All of this is simply to say this new kinetic sculpture work was QUITE a challenge. This design brought together many different, and at times competing influences. I have a folder with seventy drawings that are a testament to the many changes this work underwent on its way from digital concept to a real world mechanical object.

I'm not complaining. It is all fun to me. However some sculptures design themselves while others I have to REALLY work for. This design was definitely the latter.

After much toil,  the prototype is done and I am feeling triumphant. I learned a lot and had some interesting breakthroughs 

I will say that the difficult nature of this project has given me a chance to reflect on why I have continued to pursue these small mechanical works and why they resonate so well in the first place.

I have come to see these kinetic works in the context of participatory art. 

Whether it is a performance, an immersive installation or something else, people often want their art (visual or otherwise) to be more than just something to look at.

These small works represent a basic form of participatory art in that they are simply “art that you can hold”. Not a high concept mind you, but most early sculptural forms were in fact decorative tools or adorned utilitarian objects. There is instinct and history in making objects that satisfy this easily overlooked and surprisingly powerful way of experiencing art...... with your fingers!


Notes for collectors: 

So as is customary, I will offer these up as a limited edition. 

But before I get into that, I also wanted to mention this work has a sort of "built in" bonus sculptures.


It turns out that the individual modules for this piece are quite pleasing on their own. They are great fun to hold and operate, The little modules are also fascinating pieces aesthetically. 

I made a small 3D printed stand to help facilitate this little quirk and I feel compelled to consider it a work in its own right. So there will be an option to buy just a single module for those who want to do so.

Seeing as the Mod3 is pretty complex, and that inevitably means it will be pricier than the other two works in the series. It seemed like a good way forward.

 I will of course include a single stand with the larger version as well.



This work will be available in stainless steel ONLY. The list of reasons why is long so I am going to chalk it up to creative license. I feel this work is best represented in this format.

I appreciate the understanding. 


The sign up sale will go live on Thursday July 22nd. (11AM EST) with all of the usual important info included at the sign up link. 

I will post the link on this blog, my email newsletter, and my Instagram account. 

Seeing as it is summer time and many people are traveling or otherwise out of communication, I am going to be more flexible than usual with this sign up. Instead of a hard date for closing the sign up, I am going to leave myself some wiggle room to make sure everyone has had time to receive my communications and can transmit their interest in the work.

And of course, as always, questions and comments are welcome.



 

4/15/21

The TKS Modular Sculpture.



Introducing the TKS, The second in a series of magnetically modular mini sculptures. Everyone knows I love iterating around an idea and my last small magnetic work was ripe to expand upon. 

The first of the series was the NC3. When working on that piece I wrote about the novelty (and perils) of using magnets. I said that I am cautious when using materials that are inherently novel because novelty itself can become the dominant medium, one with a short shelf-life. 

While I am always careful about how I employ mechanics to ensure I am pursuing sculptural ends, it is easy to become dogmatic to ones detriment, and it occurs to me that in order to truly understand something (like novelty) it helps to lean into it on occasion. 

So with that said let's dive into what's behind this new piece. 


In addition to magnets, I have added some ball-bearings to the configuration, because if I am going to explore mechanical novelty, well, it ought to have layers. 

This results in a magnetically modular piece that not only spins, but also has a remarkable tactile feeling when rolled around in the hand. This piece is as much a joy to hold as it is to look at. 

There is more to why I find this work so interesting, so lets keep going.


Another topic that arose while working on the NC-3, the work that preceded this, is that it was based on well-defined geometric principles. The NC-3 was built around a platonic solid called a octahedron. This new work is built on another platonic solid, the tetrahedron. 

While practicing machine work requires good working knowledge of various geometric principals, I have never really considered what I do to be “math art”. If you dig around a bit, you will find that math art is quite its own thing (see my sculptor pal George Hart). Math art is not really something I can lay any real claim to (for lack of true mastery) but my work often overlaps with it at the edges and this is a case where I wanted to push into that sphere, if just a little. And so I quite intentionally adopted the tetrahedral format as my starting point rather than just being a convenient coincidence. 


The frame work for the entire piece was built around something called the "dihedral angle" which is the angle between the faces of a given shape. The dihedral angle of a tetrahedron is 70.529° and it is an important angle because it is used to ensure all of the magnets sit face to face when assembled.

The rest of the visual form was derived from using that angle as a constraint. 

In addition to basic geometry, this work had a number of more technical engineering challenges that proved a great opportunity to apply some fascinating physics principles.


For starters, unlike a octahedron, mating the parts of a tetrahedron with magnets does not present a straightforward solution in terms of arranging the polarity across them. Getting four individual pieces to attract the other three meant that I couldn’t simply apply a single polarity (north, or south) to each part evenly. Instead I ended up with a polarity map like the one you see above.

The result is that while the NC-3 was fully rearrangeable, this work really only assembles one or two ways.


Getting the magnetic assembly solved was just the beginning however. Making the rest of the mechanics play nicely meant finding a sweet spot between the mass of the parts and the magnetic forces employed to hold them together.

My first prototype for this sculpture had two main issues. The mass of the stainless steel spinning elements was a bit on the heavy side, and the magnetic pull holding them together was a bit on the weak side. This meant that the centrifugal force of spinning the sculpture was prone to sending those stainless elements flying off.


To make the parts lighter without wildly altering the piece, I applied what is known as the square cube law, which states that an object's volume increases (or decreases) at a greater rate than its surface area when being scaled. 


A simple example is that a 1" cube has a surface area of six square inches and a volume of one cubic inch. If you double its size to a 2" cube, the surface area increases to twenty-four square inches (a factor of 4 or 22).  However the volume of that same cube increases to eight cubic inches, (a factor of 8 or 23)

Practically applied, by decreasing the overall size of the parts by a mere 3%, I was able to make the entire work a full 10% lighter (I also fiddled with some internal dimensions to squeeze that extra 1%).


To increase the magnetic attraction between the parts, I had to move the magnets closer to their target. How much closer would make a difference? It turns out a very small amount, and the inverse square law is how to explain this. 

The force of attraction between two magnetic poles is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. In this instance I was solving for magnet to steel, but the principal is the same.

After crunching the numbers, I calculated that I could increase the magnetic force by a factor of 2.6 simply by moving the magnets a mere .016” closer to the parts I wanted to stick. 

This small design change was trickier than it seems, but it made an enormous difference. Now the parts all attach quite securely.


This is all pretty basic stuff to an engineer, but I still find it immensely satisfying to be able to ground elements of my work in some real nuts-and-bolts logic. In the video above I discuss all of this a bit more casually.  A video is worth a million words however, so hopefully it helps smooth out all the "umms" and "ahhhs"that come out of my mouth.

Another fun thing is that since these pieces contain magnets they sort of talk to each other when moved in proximity. 


I am pleased with how many interests of mine I was able to wrap into this little work. I hope it helps demonstrate how pursuing machine-work as a visual medium constantly brings one into contact with other spheres of knowledge. 

I have never had to look far to find a catalyst for a visual concept and this piece embodies this idea nicely. Who knows, maybe this will end up being a three piece set. 

Simulated color pallet for the edition

So as is customary, I am going to offer these up as an edition. 

I am adding pink and yellow to my anodizing line so there will be lots to choose from in terms of colors. 

 I will post a sign-up starting Friday April 16th at 10 AM EST. I will include details of the sale as well as the price at that time.

As always, comments and questions are welcome.

3/30/21

Sculptural Knife Bowl

 


Introducing the next installment in my “Sharp Arts” series, The "Sculptural Knife Bowl". It is a piece that combines elements of knife making and wood turning (and yes a big chunk of iron-nickel meteorite) into an object that is far more sculptural than it is functional.



If you are unfamiliar with my earlier project, The Sculptural Knife Vase, I highly recommend you visit it as the premise for this sculpture remains similar and I have written a tightly packed thesis for the whole project on that page.


But even if you don’t go back, I will adventure to flesh this out some here as well, there is always more to say, if in a slightly different way.



The premise for my sharp artworks series, simply put, is that machine-work is a medium that straddles a lot of worlds within the industrial and decorative arts. To properly understand machine-work as a sculptural medium, one needs to foster an appreciation for the way it intersects the fields of glass art, woodturning, ceramics and the other metal trades. Most of the industrial trades that have since been turned to various arts mediums have distinct craft forms that help define them.



These craft-forms are of interest to me because while machining is a craft that shares a similar industrial past, there are few signature forms one can point to that uniquely representative it as a medium.


The machinist landscape seems to lack ubiquitous forms that fall neatly into the paradigm of craft and craft-form.


Because of this absence of unique craft-forms within the world of machined metal, I have spent considerable time exploring what a “machined craft-form” might be. Should machining eventually find better standing as a sculptural medium, what forms might come to define it?



knife making and wood-turning have been front of mind for me a lot lately. I follow quite a few craftspeople within these fields who demonstrate manual dexterity and skill, as well as a thoughtfulness with materials that I find inspiring.


My appreciation for these makers has led me to believe that telling my story means telling their stories. To do this properly, I reasoned direct appropriation would not suffice. If I were to simply turn a bowl, then it wouldn’t be a commentary on woodturning, it would simply be an instance of that vocation. Likewise, making a traditional knife wouldn’t be recognizable as anything other than an exercise in knife making as well.



I felt the best way to do a proper appreciation that creates an opportunity for dialogue was to combine various craft forms in a way that played off each other in an interesting way and highlighted the unique possibilities my medium brings to them.

It has led to this kind of mash-up, where elements from multiple disciplines are combined to make objects that are wholly impractical, intentionally more sculptural than functional, but represent the commonalities between various modes of object making.

This is my second attempt with this line of thinking and the result is the Sculptural Knife Bowl.


Why Woodturning? 


Woodturning is a craft that most resembles aspects of my own process. Aside from the fact that woodturning is most often performed with hand guided tools instead of constrained by manual or automated machine motion, turning wood and turning metal have much in common.



When I meet woodturners there is instant kinship. They get my work instantly and the conversations quickly proceed to highly technical and interesting topics. 


One of the most common craft forms within woodturning is bowl making, and so it seemed a natural fit for this project. Sometimes it is as simple as that.



Why knife making?


I have already written extensively about this over on the Sculptural Knife Vase post so I will just pull some quotes from there. 


Knife making is a discipline that perfectly captures the dichotomy between historical and contemporary industrial processes. It is a field that mixes historic and modern methods and is that rare craft that maintains working “first hand knowledge” of nearly every technological step of its long history.


While its historical traditions are alive and well, the world of knife making has also been completely transformed by the adoption of modern machine tools and new technology.



Knife making’s influence on the creative culture of machine-work is undeniable. It has a long decorative arts tradition that has only grown with the adoption of digital fabrication technology. As a metal sculptor who is involved in the ways the process can inform the aesthetic elements of a craft, knife making is beyond fascinating to me.


I found it difficult to approach the craft directly through my work. My process typically involves stripping away the utility from various design or craft concepts to better reveal what is aesthetically interesting about them. However it occurred to me that it isn’t necessary to fully strip the utility from a knife to appreciate its inherent aesthetic qualities; one can simply put those qualities into a unique context.



The knife bowl?


Creating a distinct and impractical Bowl might seem an odd way to explore woodturning and knife making together, but as with the Sculptural Knife Vase (above), using blades as sculptural elements creates an interesting contrast that elevates what would otherwise be utilitarian forms into something to be appreciated aesthetically. It is the best way I know of to get people to stop and consider what the decorative arts have given to the creative arts and vice versa.



I am committed to periodically visiting this tangent in my work as time permits. When I sketched out a plan for this series, I made three designs, two of which I have now made.


Time will tell whether or not I get around to the third and final piece in this saga, but no doubt these experiences will find expression elsewhere in my work. 



Process notes:


I have folded in many of the technical elements I learned over the last few years. I spent the better part of last year making sculptures with components that were turned from various exotic hardwoods. My approach to the blades was also heavily informed by my previous work.


The body of the bowl is turned in Desert Ironwood, which is actually a common knife making material, but not one you often find in a wood turning studio. Likewise, I couldn't resist the urge to include a large piece of machined iron nickel meteorite (a very exotic knife making material with historical roots) as the focal point for the bottom of the bowl.

(See here for more details on the use of meteorite in knife making)


I documented some, but not all, of my work on this one. I was juggling a few projects and so I was spotty with the camera for a bit. Above is what I was able to capture. I hope it is at least partially illuminating (if incomplete).


As always, questions and comments are welcome.




1/11/21

NC-3: A Magnetically Assembled Machined Metal Sculpture



I have another fun little sculpture to share with all of you. This one is inspired by my most recent major work, which itself was inspired by a number of much older sculptures. The whole thing is kind of circular in a satisfying way to me. 

This work happened because I wanted to give weight to a simple phenomenon that I have encountered many times during my career. It is easy to overlook, but common enough that I have heard numerous artists mention it also. I suspect what I am referring to is actually quite universal.
 

What I am talking about is this; often when I am executing a design, I will reach a point in the work that, while unfinished from the standpoint of my original plan, the work seems interesting or complete as it is. I will sometimes look at a half assembled sculpture or a solitary part and think “this could be a sculpture all by itself”. This happens with some frequency, and it happened yet again while I was assembling my last sculpture. I decided that this would be the time I latch onto the moment, and make a small sculpture with that it in mind.

Of course I am being dramatic, but I think it is important to exaggerate the little things. However one is able to identify and commit to ideas is worth elevating just a bit. When I was a younger artist, I was often dismissive of the little quirks of mind that yielded the best ideas. There are no doubt others in my shoes and I relish taking small luxuries with my work. My smaller works are expressly intended to be a fun way to approach some of the trends I see in the fine art world, the machinist world, and my own muddled head.


This work incorporates two dozen magnets to hold the assembly together and their use is another thing that I have given an unusual amount of thought to. Magnets are inherently novel, and while novelty is a tool many artists use, it is one that should be handled with care because it wears off ver fast.




There have been many novel art fads that have come and gone, and the work that outlasts them is work that has more going for it than what is in vogue (fidget spinners anyone). I think it is perfectly appropriate to make work that addresses a trend, but I always try to do so within a framework that takes a much longer view of whatever it is. 



So if I am going to use magnets, I just want to be sure I have sufficient justification for doing so other than the fact that, no matter how much you understand them, magnets still always seem to be somehow magical. 



Many of you will be familiar with some form of (currently popular) magnetic desk toy, rightly or wrongly this work will no doubt fall into this category for some. Now I don’t really mind how people view my work, but as most of you know, I personally do not see these pieces as toys or gadgets, I see them as experiments in sculpture (fine art or otherwise). 

Hopefully this is seen by most as some combination of commentary and appropriation. 



With that all said, my choice to use magnets in this case was actually a simple one. This work is a scaled down version of a larger concept that utilizes a mechanical turnbuckle system. Magnets provide a perfect analogy for the forces that system creates, only by a different means. 


If you are unfamiliar a turnbuckle, it is a piece of hardware typically used to adjust tension in a cable or chain. It has three primary components: a body, a right-hand threaded end fitting, and a left-hand threaded end fitting. When you turn the body, the two threaded ends are pulled together or pushed apart equally. 

With the larger works, alternating spheres had either right-hand or left-hand threads to allow the turnbuckle bolt in the center gears to tighten those elements together. It was the engineering framework for the entire piece.



For this much smaller work, a turnbuckles system was both too complex, and overkill from a fastening standpoint. So instead, this work uses magnets to attract the spheres and uses alternating magnetic poles of attraction to similar effect.

On the configuration above, the brass spheres have north facing magnets, and the Stainless spheres have south facing magnets. Only opposite spheres will attract each other and because they are at right angles to each other, they self aline quite nicely.

This material combination demonstrates that functionality perfectly. Because of this, I am calling this particular color combo  "Polar Logical" 


There is an elegance to this smaller work that the larger ones lack, this piece derives a lot of complexity from only two unique machined parts (excluding the magnets that is). This is precisely what I aim to do in all of my work, set up a logical system that builds and amplifies itself to create complexity from a relatively small number of constraints and visual elements. Rarely does it work quite this well. 


Given the interest this piece has already attracted, I am going to be offering it as a pre-order edition. I will send out a second post this coming Wednesday Jan 13th with the sign up form and all of the details of the sale. I have a lot of details to work out still, but let's say 11 AM EST. 

I will likely offer the four varieties above; stainless/brass, brass/stainless, polar logical, and full stainless steel.  

As always, questions and comments are welcome.