Designing the Harmonograph sculpture
The prototype harmonograph worked well, but I wanted to create something more elegant and original that would paradoxically evoke the sensibilities of the industrial nineteenth century at the same time as expressing the spirit of our own age. This is pretty much what the Steampunk movement is all about, so I guess that I am falling into that category by default. The influence of the physical environment in which I have been working has seeped into the designing process – the new Central Saint Martin’s campus is part of the current King’s Cross redevelopment of a vast nineteenth century industrial area. A major landmark is the magnificent High Victorian edifice of St. Pancras Station and its Grand Hotel, which I have written about in a previous post. Walking through this magnificent space on a daily basis on my way to the university, I could not help but absorb the influence of the proud engineering in steel, and the loving attention to detail at every scale.
So, for my harmonograph sculpture, steel would be the material of choice, and engineering the approach I would take in designing it. It so happens that back in the ’70s and ’80s I picked up some traditional technical drawing skills, and have since then been collecting some beautiful sets of drawing instruments. These are in themselves exquisite precision-crafted objects of brass, steel and nickel alloys, and therefore intrinsically inspiring to work with.
With the encouragement and guidance of my tutor Eleanor Crook and engineering metalwork technician Ricky Lee Brawn, I rationalized and developed the design for the sculpture. I made a maquette out of mounting board, and detailed scaled technical drawings that would be used to fabricate the sculpture.The next stage was to plan the workflow. One option was to have all the structural components cut by a firm of engineers (as I did for my steel Shamsas). But as the university is equipped with a workshop for fabricating by hand large steel structures, with artist and technician David Stewart happy to teach me the skills to work with him on making the sculpture, I felt that this was my chance to get some real experience with metalwork.
My journey with metalwork and the fabrication of the sculpture began in January, and has continued for the ensuing six months, almost to the exclusion of all else.