Matters of Sensation at Artists Space: Bioform
New York, NY
September, 2008

Materials: Aluminum Sheets
Techniques: Thermoforming, CNC Machining
Dimensions: 7'-6" x 11'-0"

Bioform is a crowd of expansive, ovoid masses that populates the gallery wall. The collection of masses is visually strange and this strangeness calls into question the context in which it exists. Like exotic forms of deep sea life, the environment in which Bioform exists is specific. Its techniques of design and fabrication are particular and it is under these conditions that its surfaces and sensations take shape.

Materially, Bioform is forty-three identical aluminum panels mounted with six orientations. The resulting field of panels seems organic due to slight formal irregularities produced by panel rotations and randomized panel combinations, which conceal its underlying geometric logic. The panels were manufactured by Superform USA in Riverside, CA, a company that typically produces components for the aerospace and automotive industries. Their components are manufactured in an aluminum alloy that behaves superplastically at high temperatures. The metal alloy is slippery at the molecular scale, which affords extremely malleable behavior at the scale of the sheet. Heat and air pressure are applied using numerical control to form the aluminum over a one part mold. CNC post-processing cuts the panel to shape.

Sensorially, Bioform indulges in the apparent tactility of certain visual stimuli by calibrating shape, texture and tone at multiple scales. Bioform’s individual masses seem to slump under their own weight and that of their neighbors. Each surface modulates highlight, shade and shadow to heighten the three dimensional volume of the masses. This tonal modulation, or chiaroscuro, gives the illusion that the thin surface is expanding under the pressure of a substance it contains. The sensation of expansion lends the surface an apparent squishiness—the surface appears soft and yielding. The cool, rigid qualities intrinsic to aluminum are supplanted by extrinsic qualities generated by geometry, pattern and tonal coloration. The resulting synthetic materiality is particular to the project’s design and fabrication methods.

Digital design has given rise to formal experimentation that outpaces advances in construction methods. As an alternative, this project choreographs formal experiments in step with computer-aided manufacturing processes such that the two are linked from the outset. Rather than translating a pre-existing design proposal as a reaction to technical and material constraints after schematic design, manufacturing specifications are incorporated as agents of innovation during the design process.

More importantly, these altered methods of design and fabrication produce new sensations as Bioform’s networked curves and heat-generated plasticity are captured in the disposition of the surface. This dynamic energy fuels sensation redefining our relationship to one another, ourselves and the world. Bioform, like Baroque sculpture, presents the physical body in relation to energy moving through it—the body is understood as a dynamic process of internal relationships rather than a frozen instant in time. Jeffrey Kipnis captures the potential of this quality when discussing Wolfflin, “In his Renaissance and Baroque he proclaims the raison d’etre of architecture. It provides the best medium…through which we come to know our bodies as physical things.” Bioform’s synthetic materiality suggests that design is a form of life itself.

Project team:
Liesl Margolin

Project consultants:
AJ Barnes, Superform, USA
Hari Raman, Superform, USA
Eric Leishman