We seem to have cracked it! Transforming bird calls into 3D landscapes. I know, I was working on this a few years back making 2D images of 3D landscapes for the Birds of the Antarctic project, but that is as far as it got at the time (partly because of the realities of working to commission: once one project is finished you move on to the next, with no time to develop what you have just been working on). But now, coming out of my work in the Cotswold Water Park, and the significance of the Bittern in this context (I will blog about that soon), I am working on some glass engravings of bird calls for a sculpture show in the summer. Thanks Matt and Tom for helping with this, and for all those who produced the free Blender software that is making this possible, in particular Hans.P.G.
Looking back over the past few posts, I realise that I have been referring to Alluvium, but haven’t introduced it yet. Well, this is now the working title for the installation I am planning in the truncated chancel at Waterhay later this year. The word comes from the latin ‘to wash against’ and in geology is used to describe material that has been lifted, shaped and then deposited elsewhere by flowing water, such as gravels and silts along river beds. Hence the direct relevance to the water park – the gravel pits, are alluvial deposits – but it also alludes to wider contemporary issues: not just material moved by water but also species, cultures, architecture (which is where the chancel comes in). The flow of water is also a subject close to my heart thanks to where I live, on the edge of the city of Gloucester, right next to the flood plain of the tidal River Severn, where flowing flooding water is a regular part of life, both downstream and upstream (with the reverse flow of the Severn Bore), something that the city has lived with for centuries. So Alluvium it is.
An appeal: if you enjoy reading this blog, wherever you are (and it amazes me to see it being read as far afield as Alaska and New Zealand…hello!), then please do take the time to introduce a friend or colleague to it. From my perspective here tucked away in my studio in Stroud, your subscribing to this blog is a real support for the work that I do, so thank you.
Experimenting with lighting and the reflective properties of the Alluvium spore takes time. To see what it is going to look like you have to render the image; something akin to watching the computer think, as it first approximates what the object will look like, then refines this until, finally, the finished article appears. This video has been sped up three times (and this is just a single frame, ultimately I am going to need 25 of these every second). Time for a coffee!
Today, I have been working at Southampton University on the animation of the spore for Alluvium. It is both a fascinating and frustrating process: nothing is intuitive, everything has to be mediated through numbers; what degree you want to spin the spore, what percentage you want it to distort, what speed you want it to rotate. It is like working in the dark, of numbers. Now we have to let the animation render for 23 hours before I can see whether all this effort has been going in the right direction. But what this disembodied process does allow is the layering of complexity, layer upon layer of information is used to animate this form: the flow of water at Swill Brook, and that at Cricklade, the phases of the moon, and much more. As the complexity of the information driving the animation increases the actual movement become simpler, more animal-ate. Perhaps through these life-like movements I can capture something worthwhile. We will see…in 23 hours. Thanks Gareth for all your work today, speadsheets and all!
The chancel is a captivating room: a sense of grandeur in such a small space. Water stains on the stone floor from flooding, and texts on the walls which remind me of the Mariners’ Church in Gloucester Docks where I worked once, inspired by the wall texts there to write my own words on the backs of the pews. (I’ll post an image of that installation, if I can find it.) Text in this setting take on the form of intimate typographic performances: the way it is written, its location and scale, a proclamation, imagining it being read out aloud by someone else. Text aside, I’m working on some designs for ways to present the work here: a way that refers to the surroundings but is free enough from them to travel elsewhere. At the moment this is involving large magnifying glasses, a bulbous flask from a science lab, and a corner video installation. I am also ambivalent about showing this here, now, work-in-progress: I feel it needs a caveat; what you see here may or may not come to past, may or may not be the direction the work takes, may or may not…
These two little beauties have just arrived in the studio. From my previous posts, you can recognise their shape as that of the protective jackets around the spores of the stoneworts in the Water Park. This is an exciting moment, after weeks of computer modelling, the first time I have something physical in my hand (which pleases the sculptor in me)! What is even more thrilling is that they are heavy, made of bronze, none of the plastics or other lightweight materials so often used in 3D rapid prototyping. And the process, that is a marvel in itself. These two hollow objects have not been cast, sculpted or modelled, but printed, direct into metal: direct metal laser sintering or DMLS (to use the jargon, and is there a lot of jargon in this 3D printing world!). Sintering is a fascinating process in itself, as it happens below the melting point of the material so avoids any runniness. Starting with bronze powder, if you raise the temperature just enough then the powder particles fuse together, the metal atoms in the particles diffusing between neighbouring particles without the overall structure collapsing/melting. In this case, a laser was used to raise the temperature of the powder: a layer of powder was laid down, then the laser sintered the cross-section of the spore pod at that level (in effect a flat 2D print), then another layer of powder and the next cross-section, on up in the sequence until you get to the top. So, section by section, the hollow spore pod was created without the metal ever reaching its melting point: in situ manufacturing. Time to get them polished. Thanks Tim for all your help with this, and apologies if I haven’t understood the process completely!
The chancel left behind when the main church was removed, stone by stone, because of flooding, is shaping up as the site for the final work. Part of my working method is to ‘play’ with the site, see what it might offer, explore its contours, before settling upon the form the final work will take. These ‘site explorations’ are my way of becoming familiar, discovering the points of overlap between what I would like to do and what the site will permit. This ‘spore chancel’ drawing is part of that process, a vast inflated transparent nave, entered via the chancel, a floatable secular space (the chancel is now deconsecrated).