Guldagergaard week 4

The past week has been an odd mix of very busy and very relaxed.  We finished the soda firing last Friday, and I spent the weekend relaxing and starting some preliminary work on the installation frame. However, as soon as Monday came, life kicked up into full speed once again.

Mette, the wonderful director here at GG, has arranged it so I could install “Swarm” temporarily in a local elementary school. We met with a school official Monday morning, who asked when I could start installing it.  Despite the fact that the pieces were all still in the kiln at the time and the framework was barely started, I decided to be optimistic and said I could start on Wednesday.   This was setting myself up for a lot of work in a short period of time, but then again, that’s what I’m here in Denmark to do!

Jody with the mega sculpture

As soon as I got back from the school, it was time to get the kiln unloaded and get myself to work.  While I was fairly happy with how my work came out, but it  turned out the soda firing held some surprises. The main one was the way that Jody’s work reacted to the firing. Her work is made of thrown porcelain which has been cut apart, manipulated, and reassembled. While it’s visually all about movement, we weren’t expecting the fact that the pieces themselves moved a huge amount during the firing! Every nearly single piece warped, fell or tilted. The mystery of the overly long and difficult firing was solved when we discovered that two to three pieces of hers had fallen into the firebox, blocking off most of the path of the flame into the kiln. In the end though, she seemed ok with some of her results, and started to get excited about some of the new creations that formed as a result of the firing.

Soda fired fliers!

On my part, I didn’t loose a single piece, which is a very luck situation. Overall, while I’m still not sure soda firing is really for me I’m still quite happy with the results of this firing. It seemed to have work especially well with Swarm. Anyway, as soon as my pieces were out of the kiln, I got to work on the installation framework.  It was my plan to make a wooden frame containing a metal grid.  Each flier would be hung from parallel strands of fishing line, which would run up to a stick that’s a bit longer that the mesh work of the grid.  That way, hanging each flier from the grid would be as simple as slotting the stick through the grid and letting it catch, like a button on a coat. While this worked as well as I hoped it would, the frame and hangers took no less that five trips to the hardware store along with many many hours of very hard work. I also totally owe my friend Rachel Van Wagoner who spent several hours helping me string fliers on fishing line.

making progress

However, in the end, everything came together for Swarm.  I’m extremely happy with how it’s worked out. It’s taken weeks of hard work and hours spent walking up and down a ladder, but I think it’s all worth it.  This idea of thing hanging together in space is one that I keep coming back to, much like my city beasts.  In fact, my parents recently reminded me of a ninth or tenth grade math project, where I tried to build a three dimensional diagram of the golden spiral using ping pong balls and fishing line inside a plexiglas cube.  The end result was giant, clunky, and awful looking, but evidently planted some thoughts about space and sculpture that have stayed with me to this day.  It’s wonderful to finally have created something that properly explores those ideas. Here’s a brief video tour I made of it. The video accidentally got shortened by flickr, but I’ll be making a longer one with proper lighting soon.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading back to the school for an opening reception, complete with snacks, tours by some of the older students, and music sung by the students in the grand tradition of Danish fantasy ballads! It also apparently will include a speech, by me, to the students. I better go figure out what I’m going to say and see if I can finally manage to pronounce Guldagergaard in such a way that it doesn’t cause all Danes in the vicinity to burst into laughter.

Guldagergaard week 3 – Soda Time

It’s been a very busy week, but then again, I suppose nearly all of my weeks here have been and will be very busy. With only five week here, time seems to go by so quickly.

Anyway, the first half of this week was consumed by finishing every possible sculpture I could, so they could be soda fired. The plan was to load the big bisque kiln on Monday, giving it plenty of time to cool before we loaded the soda on Thursday.It’s been a bit rough doing my main firing only 3 weeks into my time here, but fellow artist Jody was about to return to Canada, meaning if we wanted to fire together we had to fire this week.  It’s worked out for me though, since I managed to finish 90 flying beasts, which wasn’t far from my goal of 100.

Unloading the bisque

So after about a full week of last minute frantic studio work, Jody and I loaded up the Guldagergaard wood-soda kiln on Thursday. The kiln is a small little beast, with a capacity of 300 liters/ 10.5 cubic feet. It’s also a very different type of kiln for me, since I’ve only really fired an anagama and a train kiln.  This guy is a cross draft kiln, with a firebox located underneath the ware chamber. It’s weird.  It wasn’t like stoking a firebox, it was like stoking a conveyor belt. It wasn’t so much much a rhythm of “stoke, see how the temperature responds, adjust”, as it was a constant process of stoking, gradually pushing the wood further in the the kiln, and constantly adjusting.  It was like switching from a Sousa march to one of the Bach cello suites. Looking around online, it visually looks a bit similar to the “phoenix kiln” in a book by Jack Troy, which was mentioned on Carl Gray’s website. The main differences are the fact that the firebox has a flat, not arched roof, and the chimney is on the side, not the front.

Anyway, due to some last minute kiln maintenance work, we didn’t get the kiln started until about 9pm on Thursday night. The plan was to fire for about 20 hours, waiting to put the soda into the kiln until cone nine on the bottom of the kiln had fallen. Sounds good, as far as plans go.  However, life is seldom that simple. By hour 22 or so we had cone 9 down on the top, but had barely moved cone 8 on the bottom. It took easily another 4 hours of struggle before finally dropped the lower cone nine, by which point we’d also dropped cone 11 on the top of the kiln.  In all, the firing took us 28 hours, which was pretty exhausting for just two people, especially since we were also constantly splitting  more wood.

Richard prepping the soda bombs

Richard, the tech, had to leave for the night before we were ready to put the soda in the kiln, but here’s a shot of him explaining the soda balls to us. We were using a method developed by Gail Nichols, generally referred to as soda balls/bombs/burritos.  In previous soda firings that I’ve done, people have used the more traditional method of spraying in a mixture of water, soda ash, and sodium bicarbonate into the kiln. However, it seems like Nichols’s soda bomb method is taking off, which is understandable if you’ve seen how amazing her work looks. Basically, you mix soda ash, sodium bicarbonate, and whiting together, and add just enough water to form it in to balls. These balls then solidify to rocks, which you then dump into the firebox.  The soda then vaporizes in the firebox, distributing itself around the kiln.  I haven’t done much soda firing, but I would love to play around with it some more if the results from this firing are promising.

dawn over the wood pile

Anyway, at this point, we’re stuck waiting for the kiln to cool, and catching up on sleep. I’ll let everyone know what the results look like once we unload it!