First off, I must extend a HUGE thanks to the Elsewhere Museum. I was fortunate enough to be granted a residency there, and it opened so many new worlds to me. I left that place with new friends, a refreshed state of mind, and a project that I was really proud of.
xoxo, I love you all. <3
This piece is titled "Safe Passage", the following Instructable details my build and experience at the Elsewhere Museum, as I built a site-specific work in one of their stairwells.
The Elsewhere Museum is a magical place.
It is a former thrift store, turned archive, in Greensboro, NC. They invite about 60 artists a year to come into the space, and respond to it.
Yes, that is incredibly vague. But it is intentionally vague. The Elsewhere Museum transports the notion of 'site specificity' to a singular building, and to a finite set of objects. Artists respond to, appropriate, ideate, in and around this iterating time capsule. The space changes rapidly, but always organically.
The building is 100% a representation of it's current inhabitants, a fleet of directors, curators, and interns that are the pulse of that space. I found the space to be a dialectic: one part current inhabitants, responding to the relics of the previous artists and inhabitants, and always considering the building, the thirft store's history, and the materials that have become the collection.
The museum still houses every bit of material that was in the thrift store when it closed in 1997, nothing new comes in - and nothing old leaves. That makes up the museum's collection. This is not limited to thrift store products, building parts, etc. If it's there, IT STAYS.
There are lots of ways to work with the collection, but there is also some ground rules.
nothing can be permanent! Fasteners on everything, glue nothing! I very rarely cut fabric unless it was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY
collaborate: with other residents, with the materials at hand, start a dialogue with EVERYTHING
When building a project in the Elsewhere Museum, one must be very conscious about the environment around you - it is important to perpetuate an aesthetically pleasing environment. I could go on with this concept at length, but this fun video does a much better job about talking about it.
You know that bit where I said nothing new comes in? I lied. I spoke to the curators at Elsewhere, and we mutually agreed on a more contemporary lighting solution. I decided to use LED strip lights to make 'light bulbs'. We got a really nice soldering iron, some heat shrink and new wires.
But these were the only modern pieces I contributed, that were not technically part of the collection.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of working iteratively when integrating electronics into a project. If you are unsure of any element of your project, test that system as a stand alone, and then collate it into your project once that particular element proves to be functional. No one wants do tons of work on a project that ultimately could fail.
It was fortuitous that Jacob Stanley was here working on his project (Insert link once it is posted.), and that he had lots of bits and bobs of LED strips and electronics around for me to tinker with.
I dug around the collection's wood library to find a small dowel rod to affix small scraps of LED strip to. I also found a clamp lamp with no light or reflection dish.
Time to get to work!
I found a short dowel, and sanded the paint down a bit with 150 grit sand paper. I thought this may help the LED strips stick a bit better to it, but ultimately the adhesive on the LED strip kind of blows. (Thank heaven for zip ties.)
I cut the lengths of LED strips down to a length that would fit on the dowel rod and moved on to wiring.
I took all the wired ends from the LED strp and connected all of them in parallel. I found a slightly thicker gauge wire and connected all of them into two lines, positive and ground, to run back to the barrel plug connector that came with the LED strip kit.
Two quick solder joints, a little bit of heat-shrink, then I was ready for testing.
The barrel plug connector that came with the kit is pretty cool. I had never used one like this before, but decided it was totally rad. It has two marked screw terminals to insert the wires into, and then clamps down on them. Pretty cool way to do quick testing.
Alas, it worked!
I knew I wanted to create something that looked like light bulb, and that meant concealing the wires in a smart way.
I found a piece of what I suspect used to be a furniture leg, or maybe a broom handle. It had a tapered edge and was a very dense wood.
I did some lackluster center-finding, then clamped it into the drill press to punch out a hole large enough for all the wires.
Zipties are your friend. No, really.
The circumfrence of the clamp light was a little bit bigger than the dowel I had made the wire chase through. I faked a tight tolerence by using a zip tie on the tapered part of the dowel to prevent it from sliding though.
I went to my proposed installation space - the stairwell between the 1st and 2nd floor - and clamped the light to the hanging lathe sculpture "Vertical Displacement" by Christopher Moore. I plugged the DC adapter into the wall, and examined the quality of light in the space.
Overall I was pleased with its luminosity, but the color temperature of the lights pushed me to ultimately order Warm White LED strips.
Now to begin the larger task of harvesting the collection for lamp parts, lighting fixtures, and building materials to construct the overall structure.
Courtney and I hung out on ladders for a bit and took down the sculpture that was there. It was a bit unweildy, but it came down with out personal harm, or harm to the work. HIGH FIVES ALL AROUND!
The space was instantly brighter, less claustrophobic, and easier to navigate. Now onto reinstalling a bunch of stuff in that space!
I cleaned up a little spot for myself to map out how the lamps could potentially hang. I applied low-tack blue masking tape to the floor that matched the dimensions of the proposed installation site. This was a good way to meditate about what I could make in the space before I got to work.
(inevitably, I ended up moving away from my original plan, Elsewhere is a space where artists come to be responsive to their environment - I allowed particular pieces of the collection to indicate where my work should go, and how they could be re-curated into the museum)
I found this really excellent piece in the metal scrap bin of the collection, and ideated a bit with it while I cleaned it up. The Elsewhere (House)pitatlity crew makes a mean all purpose cleaner that was perfect for shining up this old bit of brass with a wire brush.
It smells of vinegar and herbs but works just like Simple Green.
10 minutes of scrubbing, and a quick wipe down with a rag, then it was ready.
The collection houses some really stunning fabrics. I found a small piece of this beautiful blue woven silk, that I thought would go nicely with the brass. I found some matching thread, and got to work on adhering the fabric to the form.
It took a while. I got to watch the excellent artist lectures of Justus and Lani while I completed this portion of the build.
I placed my prototype bulb in there and wasn't really pleased with how the light looked from underneath, it wasn't very pretty. And sometimes the pixelated quality of the LED strip isn't very appealing.
I found a small swatch of thick white velour, and sewed it to the bottom, just like I had sewed the blue silk to the metal form.
I found these small pieces of wood in the trash. They were serendipitously just the right size. I stuck the LED strip to them, and wired them in parallel.
Getting good photos of this part was near impossible, so excuse the extreme close ups. It was hard to jam a camera into the lamp.
I offset the LED lighting strips at a 45 degree angle to the corner. All the filaments were facing the center. I sewed them to the corners with the same thread that I used to adhere the fabric to the form. I extended the wiring and plumbed it up the center ballast.
I found this 5-point candelabra lamp in the Collection - It was in pretty rough shape when I found it, the wires had been junked, light bulbs had broken off from their sockets, there was even dead bugs in it....ugh.
I knew it was a good form to work with, and it was really light weight. So I got to sprucing it up.
First, I took out all the old lamp parts, and figured that I only really needed the candelabra bulb ballast brackets (say that five times fast?). Each one had a base that it screwed into to fix it to the candelabra. It came apart really quickly.
I found a piece of wood, that I suspect to be part of an old drawer set, and cut it into five 3" pieces. These would become the structural part of my new light bulbs.
I drilled tiny holes, big enough for the tiny machine screws from the bracket to go into.
I was able to fit two sections of LED strip onto each little wood piece, and fixed it in place with the adhesive part from the LED strip, and a zip-tie.
Initially, I intended to use the wire that was in the lamp - but after a few solder joints, the wire insulation started to crack. Who knows how old it was, I decided that it was safer to use wire that I had purchased.
I used 18 AWG stranded wire - it is flexible, and can still take a fair amount of amperage, even though this project didn't really need it, I decided to error on the safe side by using slightly thicker wire.
After I had plumbed the new wire into the piece, I re-connected the lamp brackets with the new wooden 'bulbs' into place. A few quick solder joints on each lamp, a dab of hot glue to prevent wire tear-out, and I was ready for testing.
I wired all five candelabra points into one common junction, then sealed it with some heat shrink. It worked great.
I searched high and low throughout the museum, trying to find ways I could make lampshades for the lights. I tried to force old bed springs into shape, wire hangers, bowls, sewing loose forms, I struggled with this for about a day.
I could have made clunky wooden ones, but I was so enamored with the Elsewhere Museum's fabric collection, I wanted to find a way to utilize some the fabrics I had found, and elegantly display them.
Alas, when I was in the kitchen one day, I found these clear plastic cups that were the perfect size for lampshades. I took them up to the shop and drilled some holes in the edge of the cup that I could sew fabric to.
I cut out the middle of the plastic cup, and cut slits in the remaining material. This way I could create a pressure fit coupling to the chandelier.
I found some really nice buttery yellow fabric, that was kind of a pain to sew, but It was too pretty and shiny to deny.
I cut 5 pieces of 7" x 12" fabric, and sewed them into 6"x11" rounds.
I took some embroidery thread and whipstiched the fabric shade to the cup, utilizing the holes I had previously pre-drilled.
I jammed the cups with my make-shift pressure fitting onto each 'bulb' of the chandelier.
I cleaned these just like I had cleaned the other lighting fixtures, and then plumbed them with wires that would make sense for DC wiring.
Just like the other bulbs, I used a wooden dowel. To get the dowel rod to nest nicely within the opening for the light, I had to chisel out a small wire chase for the LED strip.
Using the same 'cup technique' I made shades for the sconces after the bulbs were in place.
Neat! It works!
I wanted to mush together the box lamp with the chandelier. I wired them to one common junction, and wove some collection thread in between the two, so there wouldn't be too much wire strain.
Daaaang. That looks great. Let's hang that sucker.
I went through Elsewhere's amazing fabric library, and found some nice golden-ish yellow scraps to sew into tapestries. I wanted the tapestries to fill the void of the sculpture that was removed in the stairwell.
I had to cover a scallop shaped space that was 12x3 feet on each side, as well as a 4x6 space at the top of the stairwell.
I ended up sewing 3 different pieces - my choices for assembly were indicated by the fabrics I found. I tried to find pieces that would fill that space instead of trying to cut pieces down to size, I mushed old scraps together to make cohesive tapestries.
One ended up being quite heavy.
I found some amazing edging and frilly stuff in the fabric workshop, they were the perfect accent to put an edge on the tapestries.
This process took a while. I couldn't have been able to do it without the help of the Elsewhere Staff, particularly Cyrus Smith, Courtney McCracken, and Lyric Morris.
We had to plumb a new 120V line from a different part of the building to bring light to the stairwell. (TURN FUSES TO OFF POSITION BEFORE TAMPERING WITH AC CURRENT!)
To hang the light , I found an old pipe flange that was ready to accept a threaded mount. Miraculously, I found a fitting on the chandelier chain that would couple to the flange.
Cyrus is seen installing the flange, THANKS CYRUS!
I used speaker wire to route DC current from the adapter to each light. Speaker wire looks great, and is clearly marked with positive and negative lines. It is also rated to handle more current than I would ever be pumping to this circuit (i.e. very safe choice)
I wove speaker wire through the chain of the light, and covered up the messy coupling bit with an old chair leg. It looked great.
We hung the chandelier from the flange, and installed a small cup hook to move the larger light out of the way while we were installing the tapestries. Work smarter, not harder.
We suspended the tapestries from small metal C hooks that we got at the hardware store. The wooden rods for the tapestries came from bolts of old upholstery fabrics.
We found these great wire clips that make great guide fasteners to the wall. They elegantly guide wires to the main power junction above the doorway in the stairwell.
I needed to wire the lights to the DC adapter, so I separated all the leads to the lights into positive and negative, and wired it into the DC OUT of the DC converter that would be hard-wired to a switch.
We initially went with a PIR motion detecting switch for the stairwell, but in the end it was deemed impractical for permanent use and replaced with a conventional switch. I never snapped an image of it - but here it is with the PIR switch!
I snipped the AC end of the DC converter and hardwired it into the wall power.
I had the best time responding to the Elsewhere Museum, and am forever grateful for the opportunity to make work in that space. Check it out any Saturday if you're in Greensboro!
Thank you again to all those who made this project possible, and for the most inspiring wonderful experience I could ever ask for.