Behind the scenes of art-making

My previous posts on this blog were focused on student experience, opportunities, and services offered by the university. I never wrote about the actual work that I’ve been involved in. Time has come to change it; here’s an insight into the latest artwork I made.

I created an interactive installation that takes the phenomenon of “balancing through life” into a literal sense, as it offers visitors to navigate on narrow profiles between sculptures representing productivity, leisure, health, relationships, finances, food, and spirituality.

The work is currently installed in the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.

Let’s start with a talk about artistic research. I heard many people outwith the art circles saying that research in arts consist only of gallery visits and intoxication, so let’s address that. Yes, it can be taken with less strict rules, and it can be refreshing. I made a short video about such:

However, there’s much more to it. As much as it can be seen as fun-only, it requires dedication (Ask me how I interviewed people from seven countries and spent ages locked in the library before I submitted that 8500-word research paper last year.) and practice.

The practice of being inspired. It is a skill that is useful in everyday life, as the more areas one can appreciate, the easier it is to navigate through the world. But to appreciate things means to understand them more in depth, which requires to try them, read, and talk about them. And while trying out stuff, that’s where the last project was conceived.

One of my hobbies is to do tightrope walking, which brings loads of cliches about finding balance. It can be seen in the video above, and I even wrote an article about it here: https://blog.dundee.ac.uk/studentblog/2019/03/24/balancing-through-the-semester/.

As the struggles of trying to allocate time to work, school, and social life, and managing elements like food, relationships, and health follow me every day, the idea for this project started to emerge, and eventually became clear: Create an environment where people can literally balance over aspects of life. But how to actually materialize it? That itself was a big task to tackle.

I had in mind a construction of stairs with a big chain in between, and projection mapping on wooden boards placed nearby. This, however, presented many issues. The main concerns were the production costs and user-friendliness. Many revisions later, I dropped the projection mapping, replaced the chain with a solid beam, and opted for sculptures to represent the topics. That might sound like we are done, but nope – plenty of details needed to be addressed.

How wide should the beam be? And at what height? It can’t be too narrow and high, as it would be too difficult, possibly dangerous, and nobody would want to participate. But it can’t be too wide, or too low – that would take away the challenging aspect, which is crucial to the concept. Also, which material to choose? For the beam, it was easy, as it needed to be as sturdy as possible, so steel was it. But for the sculptures, that was more complicated. Initial thoughts about concrete or wood were quickly scrapped after making the risk assessment. Even that the beam is in height that any potential fall from it shouldn’t cause any harm, if the sculptures underneath would be inappropriate, it could cause issues. Vivid imaginations of someone getting drunk during the opening night and cracking their skull on a piece of concrete representing health… Right, the sculptures need to be soft, low-profile, and round.

I had an idea of using sand. But that was a no-go as well – It can hold moisture, therefore could ruin the gallery’s wooden floor. Polystyrene would be great, but when I saw the prices, I knew that’s not happening. So I recalled the days I worked in constructions and got it. Polyurethane foam costs a fraction of polystyrene while maintaining similar properties. Bingo! Weeks of spraying and carving this slightly toxic material later, I was happy with the shapes. The last thing was to paint ’em with a color to match the steel, and here we go:

If you like this work, come and have a go yourself! As mentioned, the “Balance” is in Edinburgh’s RSA, until the 11th of March. It is a part of the 2020 New Contemporaries exhibition, which contains loads of stunning work from other artists, and I’d highly recommend it.

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