Since the interim show, I continued to construct the vertical garden. I began growing my plants in March. I’m not much of a gardener, but the idea of vertical gardening is to reduce the labour in the process as well as increase space efficiency. The propagator I had for my plants was meant to be self-watering, and whilst it did provide water to the plugs the seeds were in, I think the design may have stunted root growth. I plan to use a raft technique from here on and may trade my current growing media for rockwool. Likely also is that my lights weren’t bright enough, nor on regularly enough for long enough. I bought a timer switch to provide 18 hours sunlight, it broke. I replaced it, that didn’t work. I returned and replaced that, it broke. So I gave up with that and just had the plants growing when I was awake.
The first tower I made, into the bucket was very successful at keeping its water content. The second, I created two holes in a wheeled tub so that I could make a twin system, however, due to propagating timescales and attrition, I wasn’t able to even fill the second up fully without help from live herbs bought from Morrison’s.
Having finished the project and started reading into Aquaponics (growing plants with fish), which is something I probably should have done earlier, I have realised that the slow growth of my plants might also be as a result of failing to filter the water and so buildups of nutrients can begin to poison the plants. At the time I blamed it on aphids but it may have been my own stupid fault.
For the rest of the show tower, I made a reservoir for the water at the bottom, some legs to allow the tower to stand proud of it and then some fins for each corner. I also made a small reservoir to sit at the top and hopefully allow the water to flow over its edges and elegantly down the inner sides to water the plants. This didn’t work and instead I used some PVC piping with holes in the hid behind the fins on the top of the tower. Finally I built a little skateboard to allow for easier movement and so I could hide the electrics for the grow lights underneath.
All the metal was cleaned with methylated spirits and double coated in a clear acrylic lacquer spray, intended to stop the thing from rusting and the corners were sealed with silicone.
The lacquer didn’t work. A day after filling the reservoir, great patches of rust were at the bottom and it was impossible to remove without simply clouding the water. So, the rust may have damaged the plants a bit, but also I don’t think I gave them enough food and I don’t think my lights are powerful enough and so basically they are all dying or dead at the time of writing. But here it is when it still had life:
I have learnt a lot from this. When the show is taken down I intend to clean, re-coat with a better waterproofing/anti-rusting material, increase the power of the lights by adding more strips, find a timer that bloody works (I borrowed another one for this, to control the pump to turn on for an hour then off for an hour, stopped working), more carefully monitor nutrient levels and give appropriate amounts of food.
One of the things that I have had told to me and the tutor mentioned in my crit was about how this was an attempt at a utopia that then failed, rather fittingly. I get the point, but the way it has always been addressed to me is as if this is the only iteration or attempt that shall be made. This is a vision of utopia, but failure isn’t the correct way to frame it, as a first trial, it simply hasn’t worked yet.
But there was more to my work on display than just the tower. I have been getting into 3D printing, a subject I will talk about more in a later post. The idea cam to me that I would like to make a topographical map of some sort and 3D print it. This would use software such as Terragen or Unity’s Terrain generator to be able to turn a black and white topographical image into a 3D representation of such. I thought about turning this into a chessboard, being a way to engage people into the space. I made a few test pieces such as the one below, that is showing a part of the Scottish Highlands, but I decided to change in order to make the game more relevant and more political.
I watched the film ‘Requiem for the American Dream’ by Noam Chomsky, and one of the many profound things he said was that the two greatest threats facing humanity are Nuclear War and Climate Change. I was already constructing my attempt at a vision for a more climate friendly future so I began designing a Trump Vs Putin chess set. With Trump escalating tensions of nuclear strikes with North Korea, it seemed pertinent that in some manner nuclear war could be addressed. I read that it would take only 100 tactically detonated nuclear warheads to cripple the world’s food supply and effectively kill everyone. In 1985, between them, the US and Russia had over 62,000. Today this figure is closer to 15,000, still vastly more than could surely ever be necessary. As such I thought it would be prudent to use some nukes as pawns, the most numerous and often sacrificial piece in chess.
I found models of both their heads online and took a model of a businessman from Cadnav to create their bodies. To do this I had to rig the models in Maya and position them and fatten Trump out. The Queens were made in a similar way, though I found the most perfect model for ladytrump’s body on Turbosquid. I had initially intended to use other figures such as Medvedev for Putin’s queen but I couldn’t find models of other less high profile people online and after a short attempt at modelling Medvedev myself I decided that I would end up with a small badly made, low resolution version of a person most people wouldn’t recognise anyway and so decided it would be better to use the leaders themselves.
The castles were easy, for Trump the obvious choice was Trump Tower in New York, which I modelled from scratch after looking at images on google. For Putin, the Kremlin came to mind, but I knew that as it is such a vast complex it would be such a small piece and much less impressive than the more recognisable St. Basil’s cathedral that sits right by the Kremlin on Red Square.
Knights again were relatively easy to come up with. For Trump the golf cart I saw as a perfect representation of his preferred method of travel since he spends most weekends at his Mar-E-Lago resort. I had some difficulty manoeuvring the previous model I had made for his king into position in the golf cart. When printing out it didn’t print the roof or the club I designed so I had to model those parts separately, print them out and glue them on. For Putin the allure of a stereotypical Russian riding bear scenario to was too much so I found a bear and adjusted my Putin model into place riding on top of a saddle model I found.
The bishops were trickier. Since both men are christian, yet neither particularly abides by christian values and it was not my intention to open another set of questions into the evil of dogmatic religion, I wanted to encapsulate what they really worship. This was also hard to turn from concept into form. For Trump it was easy, money, or could that be adulation, or fame, or tv ratings… But money is simple so I put a dollar standing on a cross. For Putin, I turned to oil and dropped an Eastern Orthodox hat on an oil barrel ta-da now it’s meaningfully religious, right?
Finally, the board. The warzone that these two men are fighting against each other over via proxy is Syria. The threat of ISIS forms a common enemy, yet Putin aims to back up Bashar Al-Assad whilst the US was attempting to remove Assad before the ISIS threat occurred. This would be the board.
And here are all those lovely pieces printed:
But still, this was not the end of everything I wanted to create for the show, I had a chessboard, but nowhere to play it. I wanted to design a chair and a table. Initially these were actually meant to be places to sit and drink mint tea, made from mint in the vertical garden but I scrapped the idea of serving tea. However I still wanted to promote conversation within the space and I saw the chess set as a means to do that.
I wanted a very simple, Bauhaus/modern/minimal design, taking up the same 1 x 1m footprint that the tower does. I’ve explained previously why I like this as a measurement, because of it as an approximate box for a person. Does a chair represent a person, does it have a purpose without anyone?
So I made the above 3D model and then printed it using Woodfill, a PLA/PHA plastic made with 30% recycled wood fibres and Steelfill which to some extent is steel, though more brittle I have noticed than some of my other filaments.
I decided that I wanted to have a live edge to the wood for the char and went to a Timber Merchant’s to find a nice wide section of tree with bark attached. Well there wasn’t quite the width I desired available but there were some lovely Lebanese Cedar sections. I decided to choose one of these with a giant great crack in it. ‘No matter!’ I thought to myself, ‘I have been on youtube and seen butterfly joints before!’ I cried. ‘How hard can it be?’ I questioned.
Now I’m not saying my job was perfect, but it was very fun and not too difficult. I used PVA to glue the now split cracks together, cut out some bowties from scrap wood. Traced these “keys”, routed out the inset, used a chisel to neaten it up, and glued them in before sanding down, filling the rest of the cracks with a 2 part mahogany filler, sanding, sanding, sanding, sanding and finally using a wax to create a lovely rich finish.
The frame was made from 25mm ERW square lengths and welded together in two sides with two crossbars running along the bottom that are bolted to the rest, allowing for a very flat-pack disassembly.
I don’t have progress pics of the table but it was relatively simple. Rectangular frames with bars to hold the wood and a single crossbar in the middle at the bottom. Because of this it is a bit wobbly.
Finally, here are some installation shots of the space. The other work, the concrete chair, wall, pendulum and the prints were done by Pierre Ehmann. I love Pierre’s work and have been asking him to collaborate for a while and the pieces we were making seemed to fit well together and one of the comments we have received most about this show is how cohesive our work is.
So, there we have it. 3 years of university over. Whatever to do next…?