This sculpture was conceived as part of To Be Continued: Troubling the Queer Archive, an exhibition set to open September 19th in a semi-virtual form at Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, Canada. The show, curated by Anna Shah Hoque and Cara Tierney, examines queer BIPOC histories, and so my premise was to create this life-sized, figurative archive of LGBTQ identities in Middle Eastern history.
I used the visual reference to henna, a very interpersonal, bodily practice, to make a conductive surface out of copper tape and conductive pigments, which works as an antenna for a capacitive sensor, which, in turn, controls the volume of the audio that emits from the speaker in the mouth. The audio tells the story of Qamar-al-Zaman and Princess Budour from the 1001 Nights. With records dating back to the 14th century Middle East , it tells a fun, raunchy story of gender-bending and same-sex desire, as well as misunderstandings, adventure, and mischievous Jinn. It challenges the way gender norms in Muslim history are understood, and to hear it, you need to get very physically close to the sculpture, generating a kind of intimacy with your body’s electric capacitance and its androgynous form and many limbs.
While it was initially conceived as a directly touchable artwork, it was re-thought a bit due to the pandemic, with distance- instead of touch-sensing to perform the same functions without, y’know, risking viewer’s lives.
To historically preserve the archive, I created a perma.cc link with the project audio, schematic, and various forms of documentation, all of which can be accessed through the QR code on the figure’s belly.
In my mind, this figure is a sort of time traveller, sent from a future in which gender and sexual identity is freely determined, sent back in time to tell us of a part of our history which we’ve forgotten. This is part of why it’s covered in crystals: used for timekeeping, I think of its body and our bodies as historical archives in their own right, accessed though intimacy, connection, and the intrinsic capacitance they create.
I started off by making a 3d model to use as a reference/ sketch.
Which I then “sliced” into 1″ flat sections, and printed their outlines on paper.
I cut out all the pieces from Foamular XPS (basically just pink insulation foam), glued them together, and used weights and tape to keep them in place.
I then started roughly shaping the foam, mostly with a serrated kitchen knife.
Further shaping of the anatomy, now using a file, ~40 grit sandpaper, and the serrated knife.
At this point I used the Hot Wire Foam Factory’s ‘Create Coat’ product to seal the foam and smooth it somewhat
I decided I wanted it smoothed and built up further, so I used a polymer-modified, smooth concrete on top of the Create Coat.
Finishing the concrete coat, sanding, smoothing.
I decided at this point that I didn’t like the face, so I did some digital remodelling using Blender.
Based (roughly) on the 3D model, I made a version of the new face out of cheap, home-made ‘clay’
Then I made a mold of the new face, cast it in concrete, and put it in place of the old face.
This then took a bit of smoothing to get it looking right.
(At this point I realized I should start thinking about what the weird crystal protrusions would look like…)
(But I wouldn’t be attaching the crystals until near the end, so back to the sculpture!)
Now that the cement has created a barrier from the (very solvent-sensitive) foam base, I coated it with “Rondo”, a mixture of fiberglass and Bondo.
I also started modeling the fingers out of a combination of 1-part silicone, starch, and pigment.
Once it was fully coated, I gave it several solid coats of primer.
(It’s hard to tell in the photos, but those silicone fingers are bendy and soft!
Refining details + initial paint coat.
Oh, I also removed one of the arms early on so I could take it home and figure out the electronics stuff on it.
Sculpture is basically just a lot of building stuff up, then sanding it down, then building it up, then sanding it down…
Adding some initial paint layers to further define the face.
Starting to paint and shade the body. The actual sculpting of the figure is mostly done at this point!
This part took a lot of experimentation. The general idea was that I wanted the conductive copper on the arm to function as an antenna for the capacitive sensor, which would translate a person’s distance into audio volume.
This is the basic schematic I ended up settling on. I used the Teensy 3.6’s hardware-based TouchSense library to read the values coming in from the distance sensor, which were then fed into an Audio Shield attached to the Teensy to control the volume, which was sent to the speaker in the mouth. Oh, and there’s an amp and a decoupling filter in there too.
Re-attached the right front arm, and added copper tape to the left front arm.
Carving out space in the back of the neck for the electronics.
Putting the electronics in place in a clear plexiglass box I made. Finally!
Modeling the crystals with cardboard (and you can see the speaker in place in the mouth here)
Filled the crystals with expanding foam, then coated them in pigmented fiberglass.
(Some of the crystals are actually cast in resin, too, like the ones around the right eye)
Adding translucent layers of paint to further integrate the crystals, electronics, and body.
Lots and lots of gradual painting and refining…
Put a lil’ QR code on the tum using an acrylic transfer, and that’s basically it!