This past March, Ball-Nogues Studio consumed nearly one million linear feet of metal chain. Well, they didn’t eat it, they used it in their projects. I’ve been thinking about the studio’s work since we posted about the handmade work of THiNG THiNG, which reminds me of B-N’s paper pulp experiments. More broadly, the firm has an approach to craft that seems appropriate to point out during a week devoted to things handmade… plus they have a great new project.
You may be wondering what in the hell the studio is doing with all that chain. But before we get that that, I have to say that the word craft is thrown around in architecture school so much that by the time I graduated, I had no idea what the word actually meant. At first, it was simply a way to describe things made by hand and made well, but over the years it became needlessly muddled. I once heard a professor tell a student that their project was ultimately more interested in “craft-ness” than in craftiness. That doesn’t mean anything, but the verbal gymnastics was intended to help her figure out how to draw a section. So the professor kind of left her hanging.
But back to the excess of chain. The studio uses the chains to make stunning sculptures. We’ve featured thirty miles of their string in the past, noting that if we wanted to be more precise, we’d call them complex arrangements of catenary curves. (But now I’m asking myself how helpful that distinction really is.) Their most recently completed work was unveiled to the public last month as installed inside Nashville’s astonishingly large Music City Center. And the chains give their swooping sculptures a more refined craft. In 2008 they installed Feathered Edge in the mausoleum-like MOCA at the PDC. The sculpture used lightweight string that gracefully arced from the ceiling toward the floor and back again. But not all of the strings were uniformly graceful and the lightweight string had kinks in it that distracted from the overall form of the work. You might be able to see what I’m talking about in this photo or this one taken when I visited the installation.
Still, I’m not sure what craft means anymore. And B-N is just one of many firms that increasingly utilizes a myriad of technologies that could easily erase all traces of the hands that create the work. It must be incredibly tedious to put these things together, but any traces of such handiwork is on the scale of the fingerprint. So it’s left to people who either visit the work in person or have better magnifying glasses to parce out what it means to be crafting work that seems reluctantly hand made.