The Magic Box Complete

The Magic Box has been the central focus of Foxy-Wolff over the last three years. During that time the project evolved into more than we could have imagined when we conceived the idea in hotel room in Hays Kansas. To bring all that time and work together into a solid installation was the focus of nearly a year of that time.

The first step to bring the installation to completion was the show catalog. The size of the objects with their projections makes photography one of the most demanding aspects of a show like this. To get the images we felt we needed, we were fortunate to borrow the gallery at Colorado State University.

Magic Box Catalog (low res)

This was a dress rehearsal for installing the complete show and so required us to consider every aspect carefully. This meant pulling together and retesting all the tech, building the pedestals, and solving the problems set aside for later consideration. Once done, we were ready to set up and photograph the show.

Because projected video is such a crucial element of the installation, lighting the gallery was a central consideration every time it went up. For the catalog we lit the space far more than we did for the actual showings of the work, but even so the images were very challenging to work with.

One of the most incredible things about this project is how multifaceted it is, requiring us to extend all of our skill sets. This was especially true of the catalog. Most graduate students hire out this aspect of their MFA show, but because of my intermedia emphasis, I chose to do this myself. One of the long-term goals of my education was to become proficient in Photoshop and Illustrator. This was the first step on that road. Using some terrific online tutorials, I shut myself in the house for 6 weeks and got focused. In the end I had to learn Indesign as well, plus stay focused through repeated edits but it was a wonderful period of learning and we were really happy with the result. Here is a link to the tastytuts channel. It’s a fantastic resource.

https://www.youtube.com/user/TastyTuts

Once all these preliminaries were complete we were off to install the show at the Moss-Thornes gallery on the FHSU campus in Hays Kansas. Getting the work and equipment to the gallery was our next major hurdle. Our plan was to rent a truck but by the time we finished acquiring all the last-minute gear for the show we were way over budget on the project and so had to find another option. fortunately we were able to arrange the install with graduation weekend so my parents took it and us in their camper and we all stayed for the weekend.

We consider the blog and the website a central piece of The Magic Box. To bring those aspects into the gallery we used QR codes as gallery tags. We generated these through a Japanese company that allowed us to incorporate text and images into the codes design. Using these meant we could keep text and other distractions to a minimum in the space and worked beautifully with the overall content of the piece.  All the QR tags are shown in the catalog pdf above.

Once all the details came together the installation came down to the same effort and endurance required of all installation days. Though exhausting, this is one of our favorite aspects of working in the visual arts. With a couple of good hard days we had the show up and ready for visitors.

In addition to the show in Hays we were fortunate to be invited to show it at the Hoag Gallery at Colorado State University-Pueblo. It was wonderful to get to put it up and take it down so many times in a year, of course each gallery added new features and challenges to the work which really allowed us to understand the dynamics of the entire show.

 

It’s a thrill to see the installation complete and hear from so many people who appreciated the work. We have settled on our next large-scale project and will be developing clay bodies and concepts in the coming months, stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magic Box

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Though the video was completed in May, we have done very little to share and promote it beyond our Facebook circle.  Preparing the work for our first major show entry has motivated us to begin sharing in earnest.  Here we share the video and a brief artist statement that accompanies the work.  If you are interested in learning about the project, we have blogged it extensively since October of last year.

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Foxy-Wolff is an art collaborative featuring artists Gabe Wolff and Kate Fox. The focus of our work is in uniting the oldest forms of art (ceramic) with the newest (digital technology) into works that honor both history and craft tradition, while at the same time exploring contemporary life and culture in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

The Magic Box project is inspired by toys and explores the lives of ceramic figurines as the Magic Box influences them. Central to this work is a story of misplaced desire and addiction, and one squid’s attempt to save his relationship and understand his world.

The ceramic objects are central to a project that includes technology within, in the form of touch screen portable devices and technology without, in the form of a video that uses the house and its characters as the set and actors.

 

Video Production for Magic Box

IMG_5298As stated earlier, the script was begun in early December.   The final edit was finished in early April. It has been the centerpiece of the building effort to see this film to completion. It was not however the only piece of preparation that had to be done. Early this spring we began pulling together the structure of the set. We began at a local scrap yard owned by a client. She let us sort through the stainless steel and aluminum pile in exchange for a trade for classes for her girls. From the pile we pulled rejects from a company that makes shower surrounds and stainless conduit housing. We were working from a design of Gabe’s, that in the early stages we were hoping to make portable for workshop teaching in the future. We had to abandon this plan due to time constraints, but the drawings and materials are gathered and I am sure that the portable model will be built when we have more time.

With the completion of the script we were able to record the audio for the film. We wanted this early so that we would have the audio to use as a sort of road map for the filming. The biggest challenge here was to find the voices for each of the characters. We wanted to do all the voices ourselves for several reasons. One of the most important was our focus on a complete professional result for the film. We knew we would be willing to stay with the process until each piece was perfect. The other was knowing that this will be a four film cycle. Loosing an actor, three films in is such a difficult hurtle to overcome, by making the voices and characters ourselves, we do our best to avoid this.

photo 1The recording took several days as we read, edited the script and tuned the performance to get the finished voice audio that we would need. Once the recording was complete, Gabe began editing the music and the voices together to form that rough draft. Those are his words. The result of the several days of editing between the Cubase software for music and voice and the iMovie program for compiling and layering the audio seemed a bit magical. It produced a beautiful audio version of the project that allowed the black and white script to breathe and begin to evoke the emotion that I imagined for the characters. Five original songs were created for each character or situation and then edited into a score format for the short film. Picket Line War, Trapped, The stone Woman, Curiosity, and Jeff’s Mind were created in house with the Cubase software and Garage band.photo 4 copy

Every part of the preparation happened on top of all the other things that happened this semester. So amid the web page development and the editing and the new gig at the community college, the set preparations continued. We used the 1 1/2” flexible natural gas conduit in a large half circle 30 feet around on top, suspended from the steel frame on the ceiling that is a part of the barns agricultural history, and on bottom, screwed onto the heavy stall matts and reinforced with a steel braces designed and created by Gabe to reinforce the structure to allow the large piece of canvas to be stretched between the two conduits. Pockets were sewn into the top and bottom of the canvas to allow the conduit to be threaded through and then stretched using zip ties and bungees. Lighting was the next critical issue to solve. Gabe chose a daylight LED bulb and rigged the light array to a dimmer switch so that the day and night passage of time would be possible.photo 1photo 3  photo 2

As soon as the set, including a reinforced pedestal was built and lit, we were ready for filming. To make this possible we needed a way to move the figurines without having our hands show in the film. To solve this we made slides that would glide on the unglazed surface of the floors of the house without scaring that surface or allowing the figures to fall as they are being drug around the set, as many of them, especially the squids, are top heavy. To make the slides, we used a heavy clear plastic used for document display and tied a light weight but strong fishing line to holes drilled in on four corners. The ends were tied to color coded dowels so that multiple strings hanging together could be differentiated. The operation of the slides in the set was a bit like operating a marionette. The priority was to hide this manipulation throughout filming as much as possible.

The filming itself relied on playing the audio and filming just what we needed for each scene. We generally filmed 2 or 3 angles for each so to that the immovable figurines could feel more active on the screen. We used monitors to better view the camera in action. Here Gabe is checking the light levels and setting the manual focus, which had to be used extensively to control the shots. IMG_5431

The end of the filming is the beginning of the editing, which is another process that takes time. At this writing the film is about 98% finished. It is the perfect mixture of artful mystery and fairy tale. There are sections, following the camera closely up the stair case that make me feel I need another bone in my neck to properly follow the movement, and scenes in the dark with silhouettes of the squid heads with bright points of shine off the glazes that have the character of a dream. Yet it is paced in the classic formula, wishes, gold and three guesses. The mysterious supernatural figure in the attic oversees the world and it is unclear if she is a helper or the cause of all the trouble.

Bringing the script to life illuminated the ideas I intended and revealed deeper and older story telling devices and symbols that I did not realize were there. This is the essence of storytelling and art making. To put forth our knowledge and ideas, to give those things every bit of ourselves and then to be granted gifts in return. In this way, story and art are alive, as responsive and intelligent as a dear friend, whispering encouragement and demanding endurance.

 

 

Stone Woman

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The Venus of Willendorf (or Woman of Willendorf as she is now known) is one of the first pieces of art I can remember being aware of.  The first time I saw a photo of this tiny sculpture I felt a deep connection.  Throughout my making life I have returned again and again to this piece for inspiration.  After writing a paper on sculpture of the Gravettian last semester and doing a series of paintings this past summer featuring figurines from the same period I knew I wanted to include the Willendorf figurine in this body of work.  Initially I thought I would have another couple, living  in the attic, and that the fairy godmother figure would come from outside the house.  As the script evolved however and I got real about the extreme limits of space in the top floor I arrived at a reworked concept to change the roll of this figurine within the story.  She was sculpted from a solid block of clay using many images of the original for reference.  Like Bob, this object is something that people know.  I wanted it to be instantly recognizable so I would not have to involve explanation in the dialog of the video.  Of course some modification was necessary as the original can not stand on her own and this one has to not only stand but “walk” within her space.  Her surface is a fired wash using red iron oxide, traces of which still cling to the nearly 26,000 year old original.

With this piece the objects for the film are complete, though I may remake the magic box holders to allow more room inside the apartments.  The next step then in video production is to construct the set and determine the lighting.  It is our intent to continue with this concept for at least 3 more films, so all our decisions are being made deliberately so that the filming can grow as the world does.

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Bob the Unicorn

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Bob the Unicorn is the resident of the first floor of the Doll House, and he is unique.  Not only is he the only unicorn in the collection, but he is the only figurines of the group made by Gabe.  There were several reasons for handing this difficult piece off to him.  Primarily was the desire for this work to have a marked stylistic difference from the rest of the characters, but also Gabe brings a different skill set to the table.  Gabe’s years of study in drawing  and painting have given him an excellent eye and an ability to deliver convincing detail. Though this work is stylized to emphasize power and size in relation to the other characters of the film, he is very horsey.  Unlike squid or bears, we work with horses every day.   Not getting this piece right was unacceptable.  He is finished in acrylic as the bears are a part of his world and they needed to matchbob outside house 573

Here he is with Ted the squid.  Ted is our hero as in the last video and so interacts with most of the other characters.bob and ted 585

The Complete Squid Family

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Rather than the acrylic surface that you saw on the bears, I chose glaze for the squid, both to set them apart from Bob and his world and to give them the look of being wet.  Above are shots of them alone on a clean back ground and below they are in the house with the magic box on.  It gives a much better feel for the quality of light we will be going for in the video.

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The Bears Finished!

cave483No spoilers here, but we are very excited with the way the ceramic and sets are coming together.   Here are some shots Gabe took and edited over the last couple days.  I can’t wait to see filming begin on the full video, the test shots and mini films are better than I could have imagined.

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Building a Bear Party

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Today was an incredibly productive day in the studio.  After a reworking of the timeline on the film project and a remade list of things needed to be ready to shoot, it was time to get cracking.  The first goal in terms of time and delivery for the piece is my midterm critique in March.  For this critique I am planning to have all the figurines finished and the mini films that are internal to the world of the film.

Part of the reassessment of last week was to abandon the live action portions of the film.  The logistics were nearly impossible and we were unsure if we could blend these two styles seamlessly, so it was decided the magic box films for the interior of each apartment would be filmed with ceramic.  This meant that I needed several bears in a hurry, not only to have them made by the deadline, but early enough that their films could be made.  I went back to techniques developed for teaching children to create a bear quickly and convincingly in a short amount of time.  They also needed to stay within the style restraints of the rest of the figurines.  The guiding principle here has been the doll house theme, so everything needs to be cute and a bit toy like.

while I built bears, Gabe has been focused on the audio portion of the project.  He spent a good part of the day composing the theme for the Stone Woman.  Part of this was to review the other existing parts of the sound track and ensure that when finished it will sound like a cohesive piece of music.

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In addition to the soundtrack, he worked on the sound for the announcer bear’s voice and layering in the song for the bear party with that voice.  A process that requires several different approaches to the original reading and then hours of listening and making slight adjustments.

Once this sound was acceptable we threw together a little bear party on the dirty table and made some quick proof of concept videos with the iPhones.  Though neither the bears or the sound is finished, I am posting a couple of clips here.  While the work is very rough and there is plenty of offensive language, it is worth sharing these because they are such a good look at our early process for video production.

We need about five of these mini films for the overall film, and production will begin as soon as squids and glazed and bears are painted.

Script and Squids

Once the body of the doll house was finished,  we needed a story.  Initially I wanted this film to center around gender identity issues, and the first characters were chosen as a vehicle for this idea.  The story of course has evolved beyond the first basic idea but Ted and Jeff, the couple up stairs, and Bob the unicorn made it through the editing process to the actual making.  I don’t want to say too much about the story because i want the film to speak for itself, but each of the characters is struggling with a desire that cannot be fulfilled.  This could have been done with a couple of any biological make up certainly, but leaving this a gay couple allows us to avoid a conversation about traditional gender rolls of men and women in relationship, which is outside the scope of this project.  More than that, and more intimate to the experience of life for me now, I wanted to include queerness as an integral part of this film.  Not simply as a concept of sexuality, because I’m pretty asexual these days, but as an attitude and baseline concept.  To me queerness points the way, it will let the viewer know to pay attention and that the subjects of the film will not be understood by a quick read.  We are communicating a feeling with this film.  To me, that feeling is the most important thing in the world.  For the characters of the film it is cloaked in sadness, but it is still true and redemptive and all creatures are granted its grace.  Especially dysfunctional squids.photo-8

From an emotional perspective then decisions were made easily and though the script was certainly not easy to write, one sentence led to the next and though I could not have imagined where it led before I got there, its end is complete and very satisfying (at least from the storytellers perspective).  Once the script was finished then, how to make a film, with such complex concepts from rigid ceramic figurines became the central issue.  When the idea was just an abstract floating around in my head, I though something like the play set for the previous video might work, with a single figurine to represent  each character.  As the script took shape, I realized that would be impossible.  All of the characters have a range of activities and motions.  In the end we needed four separate poses for each of the characters except one, and she is singular.

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Jeff and Ted began as drawings, First I drew squid, trying to understand basic anatomy and then to consider anthropomorphization of the animal.  These drawings here are the final draft and are drawn to scale.  This was a critical tool in keeping each of the various forms of the characters similar enough to carry the feeling that each represents a single identity.

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the first character I focused on was Ted.  Again Ted is the hero and the mover of the story.  Not that you see this in any way from the construction of the figurine.  Although the figures were made to stand up right and seem human after a fashion,  I really wanted them to remain ceramic figurines.  Their life is specific for two things, first is the video, and second is our intention to display the doll house and its “dolls” in the gallery when they are shown.  It seems such a mad idea to want to make films that star ceramic, but thats the idea, so we’ll have to go all out.  We will rely on the script and the voice acting to convey the emotion needed to tell the story.  After making Ted in his entirety twice, Gabe suggested that I make a single head and interchangeable legs for the chatting and stair climbing Ted.  It was also Gabe’s design for the stair climbing sled legs, which will allow for the ceramic to get up the steps on camera.  The head slots over the stem  of the legs and reduced the making time for each significantly.

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Jeff is far less active but had to be seen sitting on the couch alone.  Of course the script was not finished when I made the first pair on the couch and they are fused to it, so a second couch and Jeff had to be made.  Here is that squid, the arm is raised to that he can also sleep on the couch.

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Here they are on the first couch, the second pair built.

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The title of the film is “Magic Box” and the activities of all of the characters center around this TV like device that serves as a sort of electronic life coach.  The Magic Boxes will be iPhones and iPods.  I didn’t want to show anything but the screens so a sort of entertainment center for a phone had to be designed and built.  There will need to be a total of 5 of these for the entire apartment.  The build on these is complex as it requires shrinkage calculation.

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Here is a grouping of some of the objects for Ted and Jeff’s apartment after the first firing.  Glazing ideas are hatching slowly, but nothing will be attempted until all the figurines are ready for glazing as surface will help unite the four figures as one.