This week, we’ve been in the process of acquiring materials for our 45x18x12′ whale skeleton that will be at White Flag Projects on April 6.
It’s not as easy as you might think to figure out how to build this monster: there’s quite a bit of math involved. We’ve always known we were going to use our industrial heat-shrunk plastic for the “skin,” but we needed to figure out “bones” that would be strong enough to hold it all together, yet lightweight and flexible enough to withstand the pressure of the heat shrinking process.
We used a wonderful 4” diameter flexible plastic piping for the structure of our installation at Sound Art Space in January, but it was salvaged. We had no idea what it was or where to buy it new. After a lot of research, we found out that the material is used to house underground wiring. Now we see it everywhere, sitting out on the shoulder of the highway where there’s construction, coiled next to pylons at intersections.
We talked to the city who recommended a place, and we drove out to the industrial part of town and met with a manager who led us through acres of the stuff wrapped around giant metal spools. They offered to donate some short lengths of the material to the project, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the skeleton, and it’s expensive to buy new. Plus, although it’s a great structural material, it doesn’t quite have the aesthetic impact we want in the piece.
Round two: plywood. We use trusty plywood for just about everything. It’s strong, lightweight, flexible and readily available. We did the math and figured out how much wood we would need to get the specific curves for the bone structure; it checks out for structural integrity, weight and flexibility.
The only drawback is time and muscle power — that’s a lot of wood to jigsaw. The last time we used wood as a structure for plastic, in the Mountainside installation, there was one memorable day where I jigsawed curves for four straight hours with no break. For this project, we figure we’ll spend about 25 total hours jigsawing curves.
We’ve ordered wood from a wholesaler, and it will be delivered to our studio in the morning. Murray and I will spend the next four days camped out there on a jigsawing marathon so that we’re ready to start installing in the gallery early next week. We’re hoping to recruit some student workers looking for intern hours, but other than that, it will be the two of us and a huge stack of 4x8s, waiting to be contoured into whale bones.