It’s been a wonderfully busy summer so far! Along with a myriad of other art opportunities, I’ve been diligently working on a new sculpture that has just been placed in one of Columbus’ City Parks. I’m quite proud to debut The Living Orb, a mixed medium sculpture that has a slowly pulsing white light that activates as the sun goes down.
My sculpture is a part of the Find Me in the Park- It’s TREEmendous project, an initiative organized by the Columbus Parks & Recreations that encourages community members to investigate our city parks in a new way. Located on the east side of the Goodale Park (across from the Pizzuti Collection), The Living Orb is my interpretation of a mini-treehouse. It’s solar powered and hangs roughly 15 ft up in the air. Continue to learn about the making of.
Full Process & Image Gallery After Article
Where: Goodale Park, West Goodale Street, Columbus, OH
(Across the street from the Pizzuti Collection of contemporary art)
—> Directions here
From Trashed to Treasured
Earlier this spring I came across a stash of office desks slated for demolition. Among this cache of materials was a massive secretary’s desk from the 1960’s. If you’re over 30, you know the kind… you could find them in virtually every elementary school and middle management office in America for decades. The people sitting at the desks may have come and gone, but the desk’s massive heft insured that they were usually firmly planted in a one-time-only location until it came time to remodel.
Such a desk came into my hands and I used the behemoth top to make most of The Living Orb.
The scarred oak veneer gave way to 1 1/2″ solid poplar inside. I used much of the poplar top to make a jig which was then used to bend the remaining strips of wood into the sphere you see today.
Imagine you’ve stacked 2 spoons neatly on top each other. If you place a stick of gum between those 2 spoons and press down, the gum will take the shape of the spoons. Right? Well, this is what I did to make the slats of the sphere. This photo shows the jig (or the spoons in that analogy).
Each slat of the orb consists of two 1/4″ thick strips of poplar that have been glued together with the same adhesive used in skateboard laminations. Still wet, the 2 pieces are then bound to the moon-shaped part of the jig by strap clamps. Once the wood stretches for a few minutes, the whole thing is then pressed into the negative of the mold and 14-15 bar clamps hold everything together with immense pressure. About 12-20 hours later, the jig is opened up and out pops a dried and fully bent piece of 1/2″ poplar.
You can find each step represented in the photo album below.
Since each slat took essentially a day of drying time, I spent the remaining part of each day figuring out the electronic aspects of this piece.
Inside the orb is an Arduino microcontroller. As the name implies, a microcontroller is a miniaturized computer brain that can be programmed to control looped tasks. While I’m used to making projects that employ specialized circuit boards, this was my first real attempt at actually programming the language that one uses. I’ll admit, the learning curve can be pretty intense at times. But Arduino’s online community has amazing tutorials, sample codes, and I had what any computer adventure needs– tech savvy assistance from someone half my age. A real shout-out goes to Karsten Look, a wicked-smart young man who already knows more about the programming cosmos than I’ll ever know.
The Arduino controls a set of LED light strips that slowly pulse on and off when the sun goes down. A set of solar panels and charge controller charges an old 12v battery, which then supplies the brain enough power to get through the day. To fit everything inside the final orb, I soldered all the components onto a cartridge (called a prototyping shield) that plugs into the Arduino. Much like an old Nintendo cartridge, I can swap the shield out for one that has an entirely different set of components on it and simply reprogram the brain to do whatever the new shield is built to do.
With an exceptionally wet summer thus far, creating a water resistant electronics housing was among the highest priorities. This point was especially driven home when at the very moment I sat soldering up electronics for outside use, several flash floods damaged many homes in my neighborhood. Water-resistant junction boxes, foam gaskets, and sealed PVC conduit have been used in hopes to ward off such problems. These proved invaluable on install day, when it rained buckets on the forestry team and myself as we climbed into the tree.
Piecing Things Together
The Living Orb is no lightweight. Literally. The orb weighs probably 40-50 lbs. altogether and it remained quite vulnerable as long as the individual parts remained loosely bolted to each other. During the days in which I pieced the parts together and tested out the electronics, the orb hung in various phases from “Clark”, the Idea Foundry’s resident googley-eyed fork-lift. You can find his cycloptic smile in the album below.
I view this piece as both a stand-alone sculpture and a public art piece. Naturally, this piece currently has a life in a city park. However, The Living Orb was always created with the same attention and intent that makes for an easy transition into a contemporary art gallery. It fulfilled many of my personal needs as an artist and upon de-installation later this year, I plan to offer it for other exhibition opportunities.
The City Of Columbus
Terri Marshall- project coordinatorGeoff Martin- artist coordinator/ project coordinator
Jim Gates- forester aka tree climbing extraordinaire
Lindsay Seeds- various support
Kevin Neff- various support
Jean Winters- various support
Todd Camp- various supportPublicity
Anne Evans- columbusunderground.com
Devan Filchak- Columbus Dispatch
Fifth Third Bank
Friends of Schiller Park
Short North Foundation
Franklin Park Conservatory
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