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 Black Church

The filming of the last segment of The Magic Box was of course, the most complicated yet.  The difficulties came from the structure of the church itself. Part of the immersion into the world required that no windows or external light be present in the interior shots. That required all internal shots to be done on the GoPro, and more than that, our arms were to big and short to make clean shots possible so a rig had to be made for the camera to ride.

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The rig was made from aluminum shower slide pieces we salvaged from Dionisio Metal and Iron. A mount for the camera made from scrap tin was mounted on to the slide and string was used to manipulate the camera inside the space. Gabe is testing the tension on the string in the image above, to insure the camera will move smoothly. Gabe produced this little video to show the rig in action.

For shots from the other angle, the structure of the building was built to come apart so that the larger camera we usually use could access the shots.

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The result of these filming challenges was a video with a very singular feeling and texture, inadvertently giving the action inside the church the otherworldly quality we were hoping for. This does not become a linear solution that one might expect from a film with the intent of telling a story, rather the last piece conjures many questions and uncertainties that keeps the work firmly aligned with art, in-spite of the narrative structure that it follows.

Let us know what you think in the comments. Thanks for watching and don’t forget to subscribe to our You Tube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCor8dP1FkdrYAp6xkC9l5rw

Building the Black Church

The design of the last set piece of the Magic Box project was immensely important to the look and feel of the entire project.  This element and accompanying video is the culmination of our learning and focus on a project over two years in the making.  While the piece must work well with all those that came before, It must also reflect the inevitable learning that accompanies work of so much duration and focus.

As with the building for “The Empty Room”,  “The Black Church” was based on a building in our home town Pueblo, Colorado, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. While we considered many church designs for the project, we went with the cathedral because of its classical anatomy and ties to art history, which is an important element of the last video.

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We began by photographing the building.  The main challenge in “sampling” a building like this is discovering how much of the original to stay true to and how much to simplify and modify. To help make these determinations I did an extensive series of drawings, to both see the building fully and to determine the essential elements. In the initial planning stage, before the drawings, I imagined holding a large amount of the detail, feeling that was an essential part of the beauty of the building.

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The slow and deliberate process of drawing the church again and again over a period of weeks helped me to understand the soul of the building, the essential nature of the proportion and what that communicates to those on the sidewalk or inside the structure. By the end of the drawing process I was stripping away the detail and focused on the classical structure.

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From the drawing step, our building was designed, rather than the lengthy process of constructing plaster molds for each section, a heavy watercolor paper was used. This step cut at least 4 weeks from the build which allowed the full project to be completed within the semester.

For the build I broke the structure into four sections, the front section, or Facade and narthex, was built first. This allowed the rules for construction to be set on a relatively small and simple piece and to test the scale of the building against the existing works in the series and to ensure continuity of the installation. Rather than the Laguna’s whitestone that we built the empty room house with, we returned to Laguna’s soldate, a body that we have used for years with success. This decision completely solved the major mid slab cracking issues that had been such a problem with so much of the early construction. Another modification of the build  was to  let the slabs set up several days before assembly. This let the individual units do most of their drying and shrinking before they came together which reduced the amount of stress placed on each piece.

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The second section built was the naive, this section was modified from its proportion in the original building so that we could focus the filming in this section.  Because of the size modification, the roof became problematic, columns were set into the mid center of the hall to hold a sort of half ceiling. This would serve the dual purpose of holding a multi media roof that would be constructed post firing and hide the lighting system for the enclosed structure. The decision to go without decoration or windows on the building affirmed itself as the structure grew.  The exterior and the interior were beginning to be understood as separate realms.  the exterior was to exude imposing darkness and mystery in addition to be immediately recognizable as a holy or sacred place. The interior was to evoke a cave, a hidden space not easily accessible from the outside.

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The third piece was the transept. For the long roof section of this unit a sort of joist was constructed from the side wall panel pieces.

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The last piece was the choir. This was the both the smallest and most complex of the sections.

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Once all the sections were complete, they could be placed together to make decisions about the placement and shape of the passage that would span the whole interior.

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Once the interior was opened it was coated in whitestone slip, to tie it to the earlier buildings and to enhance the cave feeling for the interior shots for filming. During construction of each section a waster slab was placed beneath to limit drying and firing stress. The building was then covered and allowed to dry over several weeks.

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Once the units were dried and fired to cone 06 they were again assembled to assess the warping that took place through the long process of clay to ceramic. While we did have markedly better results with this building, each section did move throughout this time, a solution was then sought to fill the gaps between the sections that would allow light to penetrate into the building. Several solutions were considered for this but in the end we decided on vinyl  joint compound, this substance starts very soft and plastic like clay and would dry very hard to allow the building to be handled as it moves from show to show.  The first step for this was to shrink-wrap the first and third sections so that the compound would only go on  section two and four, minimizing both handling stress and cleanup. Each section was then masked for spray paint.

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The process of application and sanding back the material had to be done through several  times before we were satisfied with the fit. The visible sides were then textured to match the ceramic.

Painting was two coats of semi-gloss black spray paint with an additional two coats of a matte clear finish, this had to be tuned up several times through the finishing as the joint compound was very messy when it had to be manipulated. The interior was largely left alone, but some of the ground bisque clay used on the interior was mixed with acrylic to cover epoxy fill and to allow the heavy texture to be picked up by the camera during filming.

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Once the surface was finished, it was then time to install the lights. small battery-powered LED’s were used, hot glued into position in the roof sections using the joint compound to hide the cord running through the walls and down through the joints into a pedestal built to house them. Initially my intent was to light the interior with fire, but having ruled this impractical from a build and display standpoint,  we opted for half flashing lights.  Though labeled as the same light, we found the flashing lights had a very different temperature from the non blinkers so I applied an acrylic wash to warm up the cooler toned lights.

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Following the placement of the lights, the god tiles were epoxyed into place since their shape and the texture of the walls would not allow them to be simply placed and stay where they needed to be.

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Gabe supplied the finishing touches to the piece, first the multi media roof was constructed of similar materials as the additions to the ceramic. His intent for the addition was that it not draw attention to itself yet compliment the overall feeling of the exterior of the building.

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All these elements unite to form what we believe is an incredibly strong piece that will anchor the gallery presence of the entire installation. The last element added was subtle decoration to the exterior of the church. Gabe executed to scale, tags in black marker around the back and sides of the building. These additions tie the piece into the overall intent and work of the studio and also reward the careful viewer looking for the details that are present throughout the installation.church tag 2church tags 1

Detail and subtlety become the focus of this object, the only one in the group with no magic boxes and aside from lights no dependence on technology. This piece becomes a resting place in the work to contemplate the various layers of meaning in the Magic Box installation and video series.

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Inside the Black Church

The interior of the previous houses for the Magic Box and for The Empty room were furnished much like doll houses, beds, tables, chairs, dishes etc. and of course Magic Boxes and TV’s.  The interior of the church is radically different.  In the early planning stages of the project we were imagining a retirement home for gods, a place where they would play cards and wear fuzzy slippers.  As the concept distilled down and Ted’s role in the developing plot became clear it was obvious that absurd humor would not serve our needs. By the beginning of The Bear Cave project we were settled on a church for the last scene of the 4 part video project. Retirement however remained an important concept for the story so making the space both sacred and to refer to the history of the gods became the priority.  In the early planning I was still thinking of sculpting famous works in the round as I did with the stone woman, but as the space was built and “space” became important the idea evolved into relief carvings

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Images and gods were chosen from all over the world. Once one was decided on it was modified to fit the 3″ x 6″ tile slab and then was drawn in and carved.  There are 17 in all. In addition to the cultures that produced these images I was heavily influenced by wood block carvings for printmaking.

Once the carving was done and the images were complete, the originals were used to create slip casting molds, This was chosen for maximum translation of the detail. All were poured at once so that they could be kept on the same firing schedule. After bisquing the tiles were rubbed in a wash of 50% red iron oxide and 50% gerstley borate.

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The first pieces were taken and modified directly from historical images of the gods.  There were 12 of these:

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This image features gods from China and Japan: L to R the Shinto god of thunder Raijin; A Chinese Temple Guardian Dragon and The Buddhist god of anger and enlightenment Fudo Myoo. The featured image at top are gods from the Americas:  Yelth the raven from the American tribe the Haida,Kukulkan, the Mayan feathered serpent God and Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec death God.

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From the top  L to R From Europe Lady or Venus of Willendorf and Minoan Snake Priestess/Goddess; From south-east Asia Ganesh, god of wisdom and learning and Shiva, god of the dance and destruction; From the Middle East and Africa is Enlil, sky god of Sumer and Annubis, Egyptian god of embalming and the dead.

During the cycle of making these image/objects, Gabe suggested we do some that were totally of our own making that would relate to the world of little animals that we have created in the videos. He developed images for two,  a frog and a bird.

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I took his images and translated them into the clay.

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For the last three I combined the concept of using a historical image but combined them with common animals that might have appeared in our world.

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L to R the pig is based on the monolithic figures of Easter Island, The rabbit is based on Europe’s horned god Cernunnos and the chicken lady is derived from Rangda, dreaded widow queen of the witches from Bali. For these I stayed fairly close to the original image and only modified where the greatest impact could be seen, primarily the head, as can be seen from the image of Cernunnos taken from the Gundestrup Cauldron.

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In addition to these 17 tiles and some new poses and looks for established characters I carved The Great One from Chinese images of Kuan Yin. This small sculpture is carved from a solid block, washed with the same mixture as the tiles and given a glaze accent for the garment.

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