Video Archive added

I’ve been going through my archive of ephemera (catalogs, invitations to exhibitions, correspondence from galleries, museums and clients), trying to sort through, reduce and put some order into it all;  just in case the Museum of Modern Art in NY gives me a call (hint, hint). I came across some videos that were created for exhibitions which are hard to find on the web. So I have added a new section here called video archive which I’ll add to as more come to light.

Just click on the link to the left to view.

Longplayer – live in San Francisco

Longplayer – The Long Now


1,000 years in three simultaneous acts.

Saturday October 16. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. 7am – 11.30pm

Longplayer is a 1,000 year long musical composition by musician and artist Jem Finer that has been playing since 1999.

This performance of a 1,000 minute excerpt will be played by live musicians using 365 Tibetan bowl gongs.

Longplayer will be presented with the Long Conversation, an epic relay of one-to-one conversations among some of the Bay Area’s most interesting minds. At the Contemporary Jewish Museum from 3pm-9pm .

Click here for more information on Longplayer.

In the studio – Making the benches

It might seem from this blog that all I ever do is travel abroad, run around the Bayarea with my faithful pooch Nico and read books. This is what I’d LIKE to be doing most of the time but I have also been spending a huge amount of time in my studio since I got back from my travels last year. I thought there might be some interest in seeing some behind-the-scene’s, in-process shots of the outdoor benches I’ve been creating over the last few years. You can see all of the benches in the commissions part of my site.

Each bench is tailored specifically to its site on the paths that wander through the private sculpture garden. So each design must be prototyped in situ before any material is cut. I do this by making a foamcore pattern of each location and then transferring that pattern to an MDF ‘cartoon’ in the studio. I subsequently test that MDF pattern one more time at the site to make sure that everything will fit correctly and to get the client’s final approval.

Fitting the foamcore template on site

Checking for details and a perfect fit

Two MDF cartoons in my studio

The MDF cartoon then acts as my shop drawing, my lamination jig, my joint layout template and finally my archive of the piece (in case a section needs to be replaced or repaired in the future).

Detail of the MDF cartoon showing how the laminates will be spliced together

Once the cartoon is approved by the client, I finallize the arrangement of laminations and joinery details on the cartoon. Then I can order the lumber that I need. I have been using Jarrah for the project. Its a wood I fell in love with in my native Australia and which I find challenging but a great joy to work with. The color of the raw material is mostly a deep blood red sometimes trending to pink. Its incredibly hard and due to silicates can be tough on both machine and handtool blades. But it planes to a mirror finish and takes a wonderful crisp detail. Over time, out of doors, it ages to a glorious pale silver and its very durable (it has been used historically for railway sleepers (ties), fence posts and wharf pilings). The perfect material for outdoor furniture in my opinion. My only problem using it for this project is that it has to be imported from Australia. This goes against one of my manifesto admonitions that is to use locally harvested materials whenever possible. But in this case I have defied my own principals to work with a material that has exactly the properties that the client and I am looking for. The fact that Jarrah is from my home country and that I have a 25 year history of working with it comes into play. My client commissioned me to do this project and he took on my aesthetic, skills, limitations, philosophy, and passions when he did so. The Jarrah is part of that package.

I proceed by having all of the Jarrah that I use sliced up into thin laminates by my colleague Chris Lomis’s at his studio in nearby Alameda. The laminates are delivered to my studio and I begin the process of building up the laminations. Each lamination is built directly on the cartoon and glued up with a slow setting epoxy glue (Smith’s Tropical Hardwood Epoxy).

A lamination being glued up

Once I have all the laminations completed they are scarfed together according to the plan on the cartoon with a long tongue of solid jarrah inserted between each pair of laminations.

Scarfing the joints

Getting the long curved scarf joints perfect and having all of the curved lamination come together in a tight and even pattern is both a joy and challenge.

When the whole surface is complete it needs to be sanded flat and detailed with both a router and chisels.


End details in process

The legs are quite simple and are also individually tailored to the site. They are joined to the tops with inlaid metal plates and then set into the ground with small footings.

Yvonne building the legs

Finally the finished pieces are installed with small concrete footings to secure the legs.

'Crossroads' bench installed

I love the color and texture contrasts

Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio

“Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio”.

This new documentary aired on PBS in the US last night. I missed it but will be getting the DVD for my own personal use and for teaching.

Sam Mockbee was the most inspiring educator I have heard of here in the US since I’ve been here and provides huge motivation and a moral compass for my own work in education.

Watch it if you can. There is a link to the movie (small size) on the PBS website below. Even the preview on the website for the documentary is inspiring!!

Watch the full episode. See more Citizen Architect.

The quandary of the local

Many of you have read my manifesto (a work in progress) and some have even been so kind as to provide useful comments and criticisms. I recently had my theories and intentions tested and placed into high contrast when I ordered a shiny new MacBook Pro (my 5th laptop since my first Powerbook 100 which I got in 1993). For some reason Apple offers all sorts of unwanted (by me at least) offers to sweeten the deal like free printers and ipods. Its hard to resist something free and I succumbed to a new ipod shuffle. Such a cute and seductive piece of gizmo jewelry. Being imbedded in my studio of late I ordered all of my new silicon based goodies on-line and they have been arriving in a strange summertime Christmas pageant throughout this week.

The iPod provides a perfect counterpoint to the admonition in my manifesto to buy, make and honor the ‘local’.

The tiny jewel-llike device arrived a few days after it was ordered, hand delivered by Fed-Ex to the door of my studio. VERY NICE.

Gizmo Jewelry

But what went into this contemporary shopping experience? Not even including the design, production of the item itself or the details of my on-line shopping operation, the arrival of this tiny gem was a marvel.

Firstly, my order was transmitted to Suzhou in China where my iPod was engraved, packaged and despatched. The following manifest shows its trip across the Bering Strait and down into the US by air and then by road to my door.

What a huge trip for such a tiny thing!

It arrived at my door pristinely packaged and ready to disclose its secrets.

Traveler's Chest

Gorgeous packaging

I know we’ve all experienced this moment, innumerable times.

The joy of a package in the mail.

The incredible detail, quality and functionality of contemporary electronics.

The sheer fun of having hundreds of songs or audiobooks or podcasts available at a thumbs press.

The guilty sin of being able to leverage international banking, unlimited (or at least unreasonable) credit, online shopping, off-shore manufacturing, international air freight and road shipping, door to door service, and individually custom-specified and detailed products.

And in this case, all for ‘FREE’, as a thank you for shopping with Apple.

It leaves me excited, fascinated and horrified all at the same time.

My friend Marty Marfin led me to the recent book Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling – “A manifesto for the future of design, impeccably crafted by Bruce Sterling and enhanced by the delicately emphatic graphic intelligence of Lorraine Wild…”.

Sterling creates some novel definitions for Artifact, Machine, Product, Gizmo and his newly coined ‘Spime’. His manifesto casts some interesting light on my thinking about the ‘local’. I wonder if my ambition for increasing the local focus of design is simply counter to the direction of the international interconnectivity and deeply information enriched design that Sterling sees as our irrevocable future. Have we passed what he calls a “Line of No Return” so that all objects can no longer operate merely as ‘artifacts’ but must be ‘gizmos’?

I recommend ‘Shaping Things’ to you as a provocative manifesto. And if you have any thoughts on this please leave a comment.