The art (and science) of pavilion making

Pipe girl.

The name reminds me of a comic superhero side-kick who never made it off the drawing board, yet “Pipe Girl” stuck to me like that irritating chewing gum at the bottom of your shoe. Urgh.

Just as well, I shrugged, since my “break through” (art)work was a full scale PVC pipe forest sound art installation in Johor Baru. The follow-ups have been pipe-centric too (based on client requests; not mine).

So, you can imagine my giddy-happiness when Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival commissioned me for an outdoor art installation held at KL Performing Arts Center in Sentul.

“Now’s your chance, pipe-girl” a voice in my head said.

~

The organizers gave me a budget, deadline and a location. They determined my creative boundaries and now all I had to do is fill the void. Happiness.

This time, I had a fascination towards origami and finding ways to turn them into structures. The other thing was my recent travels to fabrication labs in Japan exposed me to technology-based production and piqued my interests as well. From these two trajectories; origami techniques and tech-based production, I began to dream up aesthetics based on symmetry, repetition, patterns, folds and computers.

Material Hacking

Because of my background in architecture; I am comfortable working with industrial materials rather than paint and canvases. My materials are all sourced from the local hardware shop and with some hacking, ingenuity and imagination; the function and form of these everyday objects (i.e pipes, rubber hoses and sink faucets) can be transformed. However, “hacking” is a double edge sword. The good thing about hacking is that it’s innovation on a shoe-string budget. The bad news is it’s susceptible to failure because you’re putting things together that aren’t meant to be together; making it extremely unstable.

I wanted to use the origami technique as a way of building, but wasn’t sure which material would best suit the job. Over the next few weeks, we experimented with all sorts of materials. We tried compact discs (CDs), aluminum foil, chicken wire; all of which turned out aesthetically unpleasant a.k.a ugly. After a while, and well into my production deadline, I realized nothing good was coming from these experiments. Time was of the essence and I needed to figure out something fast or risk the organizers from ever wanting to work with me again!

Picture above: Preliminary structural study on origami-type surface structures taken from an online available template. Created + Photo credit by Adha Zulkifli.  

I decided to take a stab at it from a different angle; just jump in and start building the damn thing! With the help of a prototype model, I studied the strength of the structure that resulted from folding technique. The fancy side of me wanted to explore laser cutting thinking it’ll reduce time and increase precision. I sent a sample batch to the cutters.

Pictured above: I discovered that polypropylene (corrugated plastic sheets) was a bad choice of material for laser-cutting. Photo credit: Adha Zulkifli.

The results were horrible! @_@

The cut edges resembled rat bites due to the unconventional material choice. Usually, people would cut MDF type boards; anything with highly compressed fibre gives it an even density. But the problem with MDF boards is that it’s not translucent. Another choice is prespex, but that would burst my budget and the installation would be a huge pain in the ass. It would cost RM7,000 to have my components cut and take a minimum of 1 week to cut them.

Screw that, man. No time to be fancy. Time to be realistic!”

We decided to shift our focus from worrying about the surface, but instead, the build the overall structure as a whole. For the surface, I decided on stretched white cloths that were later enhanced with interactive LED light stripes.

Pictured above: The different stages of prototyping making + testing. Photo credit: Suzy Sulaiman

I was given the concert deck at KL Performing Arts Center as my location. Upon site observation, I took note of the deck’s function as a foot path for people. I felt I could engage pedestrians by seducing them to walk under the artwork’s clothed canopy. It will then assume a form of public intervention that will alter one’s experience of walking on the deck. This contrast of big and small space; a big limitless space of the outdoor deck to the limited and slightly claustrophobic interiors of the artwork; was my attempt to accentuate its site conditions. A vision formed in my head that I shared to the organizer.

”Oh! You’re making something like a tunnel, is it? “, she candidly commented.

“Can also lah.” I replied.

Picture above: From mock-up model to the real: Demonstrating the complicated folds of the pavilion/art installation.

Naming the baby: Homage to Lunar Peaks

Being neck deep in production, my only contact to the outside world was through social media. In my media feeds, the controversy of the destruction of Puncak Purnama by DBKL of Malaysian laureate; the late Syed Ahmad Jamal; was at its peak. Photos from a peaceful demonstration in Kuala Lumpur attended by friends, dialogue sessions between art activists and concerned citizens; fuelled my news feed and my guilt for not being able to attend these historical events.

My parents were friends with Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal and I remembered the last conversation I had with him where he said to me in a tender yet begrudging way, ”Your father behaves like a child sometimes, you know. But your mom; she’s such a strong woman.” In his loving memory, I decided on the name “Homage to Lunar Peaks”. For purpose of YSDAF’s press release; pressed for time and not having ample time to reflect; I cited superficial similarities like its shape and colour, but upon contemplation, I hope that idea and memory of Lunar Peaks would continue to exist as long as my artwork is mentioned.

Picture above: Homage to Lunar Peaks extends itself to anyone who wants to reach out! Photo credit: Suzy Sulaiman

~ * ~

In the age of the internet, you would be hard pressed to find anything truly original. My approach to art-making is not to create something original, but to address contextual issues. These situations of context come together through the numerous experiments done throughout the project. The different layers of context; from materials availability to location and even current Malaysian news all shaped “Homage to Lunar Peaks”.

htlp-elevation

Homage to Lunar Peaks chillin’ with her homies…! Photo credit: Suzy Sulaiman

Credits to my production team:

Hailane Salam

Erfann Daniel

Nizam Daud

Adha Zulkifli

Syahmi

Mohd Asyrak

Rainf Puah.

 

 

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