Introduction: How to Execute a Large Scale Art Installation With a Team.
This is a bit of an unusual Instructable, my first one, documenting a very large art installation I completed for the Fitness Room of a new luxury condominium building in Stamford, CT. It was a three year process start to finish and I wish I had taken more instructable photos along the way.
I was contacted by the architects while in the process designing the building (who had seen another installation of mine) to come up with a proposal for the mirrors of the Fitness Room, which sits prominently at the heart of the building on the ground floor.
I proposed a using a vibrant pattern inspired by the circulatory system and hemoglobin molecules (blood cells) to cover the mirrors with 8' x 72' of intricately cut vinyl with a second layer floating in front on clear lexan panels. The density of the pattern changes across the 72' span such that those using the Fitness Room can choose their spot based upon how much of their own reflection they prefer to see.
At this proposal stage, especially for something visually complex, it is vital to use as many tools of communication as possible. I presented CAD elevations, axonometrics and other sketches but it wasn't until I pulled out a material model mock-up that the developers clicked with the concept and were completely on board.
The next two year phase mostly required patience and malleability while the building was under construction. The budget was cut at a certain point and the project scaled back. Once they neared the finishing stages, it was important to be ready at any time and communicate well with the construction management team and help them understand the project. A fun ride of wait and GO!
Step 1: Prepping the Vinyl
- 24" Graphtec vinyl cutter from Coastal Business Supply
- 100 sf of custom printed wallboard vinyl (Jay Buckley of Megaprint.com which specializes in large format printing was very helpful and sent samples)
- 600 sf of premium rated Oracal 951 vinyl (the cutter can handle 24" x 10 yards so there is a lot of tiling) from Sign Warehouse
- 1000 sf of medium tack paper backed application tape +
- WeberMade pre-masker - an apparatus to hold the application tape roll in place to coat your vinyl for installation
- Ten 4' x 8' x 3/8" thick lexan panels (from the good guys at TNT Plasticland on Church St in Manhattan - better to rent a work van and deliver them to the job site myself than risk shipping damages on a tight timeline)
- Metal channels with rubber to hold them in place top and bottom (CRL Satin Anodized Wet Glaze 2" Deep U-Channel Custom Length + CRL 3/8" Roll-In Glazing Gasket - 100' Roll from DK Hardware)
- An army of exacto knives and squeegees.
The design started as a photoshop mockup, moved to Illustrator, then to AutoCAD to coordinate with the architects and to verify sizes, and finally to Graphtec Studio software to prepare each section for cutting.
The printed vinyl was as wide as my studio doors, so the first step was carefully cutting it to size before sending it through the vinyl cutter to be cut to pattern.
Keeping careful track of the many many pieces of this puzzle was clutch. One shape in one color might measure 8' x 12'. It was vital to come up with a system of labeling each shape on the back side and keep legends of how the individual shapes tiled together as well as how these shapes worked within the larger image.
These reams of cut vinyl then need to be weeded (where you take the negative space/unwanted vinyl out). Friends and their knife wielding babies can make this long process fun, be careful with what stays and what goes.
Once the vinyl is weeded, you coat it with application tape.
A second set of hands is helpful here, especially if your pieces are quite long. I found the medium tack paper tape to be the easiest to work with but you don't want to store your vinyl once prepped for very long lest you risk damaging the goods.
Step 2: Tightening Up the Design Team
I already mentioned this, but good communication with all members of the team is necessary to make the project run smoothly. Making sure everyone from the architects, the developers, the construction managers, the on-site builders and your assistants understand the big picture as well as the little details necessary for them is one of the most important parts of success. They all have their minds on other important things, but they want to help you succeed. Anticipate gaps and timing. Make it fun to be a part of and they will be proud of what you build together and help you with good suggestions and clever problem solving when the time comes.
- Site visits.
- Detailed drawings.
- Updated proposals.
- Updated material mock-up models.
- Hard hat couture (note: if you are the only woman or artist on the job site, everyone is going to be excited and worried about you. Be mindful of the dangers of the job site and remember smiles are free)
Step 3: Installing the First Layer
GIANT puzzle, here we go!
Each tiled vinyl shape should have its own map or legend and be clearly marked on the back side. Even so, with pieces this large, things can get askew.
- Clean everything. This may take a while.
- Tape these pieces gingerly together with a paper tape, then tape into place on mirrors.
- Tape next shape and see how they align.
- Once aligned, you will need to secure each tiled panel of each shape individually so that you can place the whole shape without gaps. You don't want to pieces adjacent to the one you are working on to move in the meantime.
- Each piece is tape-hinged at the center and you rub the vinyl into the application tape once more to make sure it pulls off when you lift one side off the backing (but not so hard that it becomes one with the backing paper). Cut backing free with scissors or knife (once person holds vinyl, one holds backing paper and cuts- this is where things get literally sticky).
- Remove backing paper and rub the vinyl and application tape into place on the mirror. Repeat on the other side.
- Rub again, more vigorously and without creating bubbles (though you can touch those up with knives later). Remove application tape.
- Exhale. High five.
Step 4: Keep Spirits High
It can be a stressful, physical process in less than hospitable spaces. Feed your team pickle sandwiches (or whatever makes them happy) and take frequent dance / stretch breaks.
Your team will help come up with good ideas and help you execute them smartly. The colored lighting and veil options were fine tuned with the help of the construction crew on site. This crew also helped install the C-channels to hold the next layer of floating art in place.
Step 5: Apply Vinyl to Next Layer of Lexan Panels
Simply removing the backing from the large and static-y lexan panels is an arduous task. Care must be taken to clean and de-static these panels, gloves should be worn to eliminate finger prints.
Layout the next layer of pattern on the reverse side of these panels. Hold these panels in place to verify placement before committing them permanently. Adjust as necessary and repeat vinyl application.
Be careful to not hit fixtures, lights, persons as you move 4' x 8' pieces of plastic around a space that now has equipment and finishings. Fit into channels. Use gasket tool to place rubber finish front and back. Note, these will probably need to be cut into smaller sizes to be more manageable. Make it pretty too, front and back.
Always always clean up the job site at the end of the day and place trash in correct location. Don't leave tools out or they may walk away in the middle of the night.
[This is where it begins to get very tricky to photograph the project - the layers multiply in the mirror, the space and light give off a lot of reflections and the piece begins to really come alive]
Step 6: Take Lots of Pictures!
It is impossible to capture the infinity effect given off by the mirrors across the room, but some fun effects can be caught in the mirrors lining the niches and repeating the pattern on a parallel plane. A long narrow room full of equipment presents challenges to the overall view, come back with a videographer if you can.
Step 7: Sign Your Work
And send it off into the world!