Construction and Traditions

BY: DANIEL GOLDSBARY

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The University Art Museum has done away with the gore of Gabe Bartalos’ “Abhorrence and Obsession” exhibit and has taken on a lighter, yet intriguing project. “Materials and Applications: Building Something (Beyond) Beautiful” features innovative architectural designs like that of a metal structure that blooms in daylight.

The exhibit aims to push its architecture and design into the forefront of the public’s conversation. Jenna Didier, the founding director of “Materials and Applications,” started the organization in Silver Lake when she turned her front yard into an exhibition space.

“In Los Angeles, as in Long Beach, it’s really hard to find people that are like-minded, unless you’re in a university or college but after that it gets a little tough,” Didier said. “So when I started doing these weird sort of large projects in the front yard, it called in like-minded people. They all saw it and blogged about it, and we started building a community, and that’s why ultimately a dozen years later in Long Beach we have this great body of work that architects and designers from around the world have built; and it’s in my front yard.”

“Materials and Applications: Building Something (Beyond) Beautiful” intends to catch the eye of the public and inform them about the environment. The exhibit’s opening event offered the public a chance to come and see the pieces alongside most of their respective designers who enthusiastically explained their work. One piece, entitled “Project S’more: Small is More,” could very well be considered the centerpiece of the entire exhibit.

“It’s been up in the courtyard all summer,” Didier said. “We’d been roasting marshmallows over the fire pit inside of it. They wouldn’t let me put the fire pit in or else we’d be roasting marshmallows tonight.” The idea behind the project’s structure is focusing on the aspects of community building and becoming less wasteful when constructing with wood. It reaches 14 feet in height and is basically an enclosed campfire setting.

It was built with 175 uniquely curved, pressure-laminated plywood panels, and has the shape similar to a water droplet with an opening at the top. Visitors are able to walk into the structure where they will find a gravel floor and a ring of tree trunk seats.

“We do usually have gravel in the courtyard at my place so it was really important to bring in the gravel,” Didier said. “So step inside there and sit down, close your eyes, and you’ll start to get the sense of what it’s like to be in Silver Lake.”

The truly innovative part of this structure is what it’s made with. According to the “Materials and Applications: Building Something (Beyond) Beautiful” website, nine to 10 times more wood is salvaged from a log when plywood is being produced. This is done by gluing thin strips of wood together in alternating directions, rather than having one, solid wood piece.

The exhibit also features pieces of work more explicitly dealing with the environment and how we can take steps to improve it.

Jennifer Silbert, the project designer of one particular piece, created a graphic display meant to inform the public about watershed health.

“The graphics were meant to illustrate the local flora and fauna, as well as inform people about the water management project,” Silbert said. “It is called the Elmer Paseo project.”

The Elmer Paseo project is led by the Council for Watershed Health and is part of a neighborhood improvement project.

The group reclaimed an abandoned alleyway in order to install water-holding tanks underground after having removed all the concrete. The holding tanks collect enough water to now service the households in the area, according to Silbert.

One project truly fit to dazzle remains just a sample in this exhibit, but it is still something to appreciate. Los Angeles architects Doris Sung and Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, and structural engineer Matthew Melnyk collaborated to produce “Bloom.”

The project features a tall, shiny, metal structure that blooms when outside under a hot sun. When the temperature of the metal is cool, it looks solid. When the metal heats up, small cutout areas bend outward due to the structure being built with custom woven bimetal, allowing airflow through the structure.

“We tried to get [Bloom] installed at LAX but we were having some trouble with the [regulations],” Didier said.

Not to be overshadowed by the architecture dominating the museum, another exhibit is patiently awaiting the public.

“Traditions Transfigured: The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi” offers museum-goers a chance to delve into the culture of the Japanese Noh theater. The artist, Bidou Yamaguchi, formed Noh masks based off of iconic female portraits of both European and Japanese origin.

Noh is a traditional, dramatic play accompanied by music, developed in Japan during the 14th century. These masks were made with great attention to detail and had to be reimagined from a two-dimensional painting to a three-dimensional sculpture. According to Yamaguchi, the masks are meant to possess and exude the essence of humanity. There are even masks in the exhibit that observers may try on in front of a mirror.

Visitors of both “Materials and Applications” and “Traditions Transfigured” can expect a peek into the minds of the artists behind these projects, and to come away with their minds a little wider. The exhibits will remain at the UAM until April 13, 2014.