Introduction: FEELINGS ON STANDING
FEELINGS ON STANDING was an installation of sculptures for an exhibition in Brooklyn, NY, in 2015.
Here is a link to the gallery: http://www.99centplusgallery.com/kylie-white
And a brief press release statement: These forms, with the implication that they bear weight, also bear a resemblance to the columns of steel-framed structures, highways, and train stations, the spaces that frame our modern life. Through this mimetic gesture of working within industrially standardized construction methods, these sculptures speak to the act of building in itself. They were designed on a scale which was the absolute maximum that could be managed by one individual, at the limit of their physical means. This single human effort is an acclamation of the impulse to build that has exceeded utility to become our species' legacy.Steel can be the only material for these sculptures, as it is made by man from earth and fire, formed to replace the stone columns of antiquity, which replaced tree trunks before them. It is often difficult to see the forest for the trees in a world in which industrial landscapes are ubiquitous, and even gratuitous, but in the details of building, are embedded existential truths. One goes on making things, not for the sake of use, but for the sake of meaning.
The following images are documentation of my process from acquiring materials to the finished sculptures.
Step 1: GET INSPIRED
This should be obvious, but all artists have something that turns their engine over. Me personally, I like Greek Antiquity, Modern architecture, urban infrastructure, industrial history, mining and the romance of magma. But you do you.
I walk around New York City and take photos and then I write about my feelings and draw.
Step 2: ACQUIRE a TON OF STEEL
For this sculpture, it somehow ended up being exactly 1 ton of steel; it just unintentionally worked out that way.
The way this works is, you make some drawings and cut lists to determine what sections of material you need and how much. These types of decisions seem boring compared to the act of sculpting, but actually choosing the right scale and ratios of dimensions is the most important element of sculpture. So plan wisely, and always account for error by ordering a little extra.
Know exactly what and how much steel you need before you call the steel yard. these people mean business, and if you are a girl, like myself, they will probably treat you like literal garbage and assume you don't know what you are talking about. On the contrary, I worked with the same steel yard for 9 years in New York called Rapid Steel, and they are awesome to work with. If you live in the area, I highly recommend them.
So the truck will show up really early in the morning, without warning, no matter what time you specified upon placing the order. I usually need a friend to help me lift anything over 120 pounds. Then you start schlepping. Off the truck. Across the street. Up the stairs. Up more stairs. Repeat. Sculpture is schlepping.
Step 3: CUT TO LENGTH
Even though you ask the steel place to rough cut pieces so you can move them/get them through the door, you need to be able to cut things to the exact size. For this material, which was 3/8"-1/2" thick, I use a torch to cut things to size. You could plasma cut, use an angle grinder, something fancy like a cold saw, or just a hacksaw, which I do in a pinch.
I don't really want to be responsible for something injuring them self, so rather than explain torch cutting here, I will just say that if you intend to torch cut anything, you need a whole set up of oxyacetylene welding equipment and the help of a TRAINED PROFESSIONAL. It is extremely dangerous to operate pressurized flammable gas if you do not know what you are doing. The photo shows an example of the stack of steel I cut, and my small torch I use for welding, but not cutting. (just showing an example) For cutting you need a cutting torch, which I borrowed from a friend. When I don't know what pressure setting I need for a certain thickness of material, I consult one of my favorite books, "The Oxyacetylene Handbook".
After you cut things, you should probably grind the edge flat, or file it by hand if you are feeling like a work out. Again, using a grinder should be explained by a professional in person. And hand filing, well, it should be obvious, but files cut in one direction - forward. Don't go rubbing a file back and forth on something, it clogs and dulls the file and makes you look like chump. Some people like the look of a torch cut edge and leave it that way. Think David Smith. This is art, so it really depends on your taste, I suppose.
Step 4: ASSEMBLY
This is where the art comes in. Choose the pieces you want to put together and start setting things up. I use clamps to hold things together while I step back and assess the situation. This is one of the most important steps; you need to take a break and look at what you are making and think about what it means. Don't just go sticking things together. Every decision in a work of art is meaningful, for better or worse. You are using a bunch of materials and energy that require fossil fuels and back breaking labor to get to you, so work deliberately.
Step 5: LAYOUT
Getting over 400 holes to all line up is no easy task, so think about that when you look at any large structure that is bolted or riveted together. It requires extensive planning and foresight. For those of you who do a lot of CNC, you probably don't use dividers much anymore, but those of us who still use manual machines rely on good measuring practices and an eye for detail, and most importantly dividers.
Relative measurement, people. There is no such thing as zero. Enough said.
You can use Sharpie or paint marker to write on steel, but I find that layout fluid works best. I use Dykem brand. I get it from Mcmaster. It holds up to cutting fluid and coolant really well, and when you are drilling 400 holes that are 5/8" wide, you use a lot of lubrication. So put the Dykem on clean steel and let it dry for a minute. (I forgot to say, use acetone to de-grease the steel, because it comes from the yard covered in grease) Decide how far from the edge to put your line of screws. Use a graduated combo square or something similar to ride along the edge of the piece as you scratch a line all the way down with a scribe. You can use a razor blade in a pinch. Figure out where you want your holes, set your dividers to the distance between the holes using a good ruler like you graduated combo square. Walk the dividers down the piece, leaving a mark in the Dykem. Then use a punch and some kind of hammer to punch little dents where you will drill the holes. Be careful when you do this, because once the drill finds its way, that is the way it is going.
Step 6: DRILL
Get set up. You need a real drill press for this. Or a magnetic drill press. Hand drill won't be straight enough. And real talk, you will be tired.
Assuming you are using a bench top or floor model drill press like I have, make it so you can move along the piece easily, having an easily repeatable process-because you are about to drill holes for the next week.
So get the steel onto the table and clamp it down really well. Use common sense. Make sure the clamps aren't in the way of the quill or spindle of the drill press as it is coming down.
I created a guide which I attached to the drill press table, that would go along the back of my work piece so I could slide my piece along the Y-axis if you will, and not have to keep setting up back or forth for my X-axis. Think of this language like how the table on a milling machine works, only I don't have one of those in my house. This saved me hours in the end, because when you are working with pieces that are 100+ pounds, just getting them onto the press takes a few minutes.
So get some lubrication ready and drill. I use motor oil usually because it is cheap. And this blue coolant which I buy from Mcmaster. You can use 3-in-1 or Tap-magic also. This is art, right? So we aren't upholding any industry standards. These holes were pretty big so each one took a couple of minutes. Wear a ponytail-it would suck to get your hair caught in the machine.
Step 7: BOLT IT TOGETHER
Put some bolts in there, with the right washers and nuts, and tighten them. The type of hardware you use is really inportant. Construction details say a lot about the meaning of a work of art or architecture. For example, I used ASTM A-325 building standard compliant structural bolts because I want my sculptures to look like pieces of city infrastructure.
I recommend using a socket wrench or torch wrench or an impact driver with the corresponding socket head attached. If the holes aren't lining up how you like, you were sloppy with your lay out and will need to use the reamer. There is one pictured in my hand next to the drill bit of the same size. They are torquey and grabby so be careful.
Step 8: FINISHING
There are a lot of different things you can do to a metal surface. You can polish them, patina them, let them rust, paint them. For this piece, I was really vibing on the dark, romantic color of the bare hot-rolled steel. It reminded me of how the steel was once molten at the steel mill and cooled to form its crusty outer layer of scale. I also think it acts as a window into what those type of steel structures look like out in the world, before they get slathered in industrial paints.
So I just use some acetone to wipe off my lay-out marks. Wear some heavy duty rubber gloves because I am pretty sure getting acetone all over your skin is bad for you. Open a window. Then, here is my secret sauce - WD-40. I spray the whole thing down with WD-40. It's like oiling up for a tan- it just looks good when things are a bit dewy, you know. Plus, it prevents rust indoors. If you intend to put your sculpture outside, accept rust, or get some industrial enamel.
Step 9: MOVE-INSTALL-HAVE a SHOW
I had to rent a truck and have 3 friends help me move these bad boys. Each one weighed between 250-300 pounds and had to be moved down two flights of stairs and into a van, and then into the gallery. This takes all day sometimes. Choosing the exact right placement of the sculptures is as important as the sculptures themselves, and again is meaningful. For example, my sculptures here were arranged in a 4-point grid, and were meant to be like four columns that hold up a structure above, dissolving into the air.
So you set up the show and your gallery tells everyone to come and they give everyone free beer and it is a good time and hopefully someone buys some of it.