On the last day of last year I received an email asking me if I do large commission work. I tentatively said "Yes". That was the start of this ride. They were building a theme bar called "Frankenstein's Laboratory" in Seminyak, on the island of Bali. They wanted one piece - 90cm by 60cm - for the prime centre position behind the bar. It's the place where we all stare while waiting to be served so it has to be something interesting and a focal point for the bar.
Art and design is crucial in a bar/nightclub. Without it a bar is just a large shed with sticky floors, loud music, dim lighting and TV screens. It sets the tone, expectations and behaviour of the customers. It can be the ice-breaker and start strangers talking. It can entertain and be interactive but most of all it must engage enough people to stay and spend their money. The owners had been to the US to purchase props and furniture so I was coming into the project in the late stage.
Their biggest concern was could I scale up my work. The biggest thing I've ever made was a sculpture/assemblage under 12 inches high. I work in miniature. All my equipment and supplies are for miniature work. My disability restricts me to light work. I can't lift heavy objects and without a functioning wrist (it's permanently fused to a 6 inch metal plate with 9 screws) it's difficult to access items. Pain in my back and right shoulder also hampers my movement, range and length of time I can work. But I didn't really think too much about all that when I said "sure, I can scale up".
I had an idea for the concept but my method makes it virtually impossible for me to draw a blueprint beforehand. It also doesn't help that I have zero talent in sketching out a design. It's difficult being a creative without that 2D talent. I'm extremely envious of those who can look at a scene and get perspective and detail down on paper. My drawings look like a 5 year old has drawn them. I work with existing items and I don't fabricate or cast metal - the problem with that is not knowing if something is going to fit (and look okay) until I try it. Many times I've bought objects only to have them not fit where I wanted it to go. Fortunately the opposite is also true - happy accidents that not only fit but take the piece to a new level.
So I started ordering the supplies - copper tape, copper upholstery tacks, vintage gauges, knife switches, copper tubing, a plasma disk and articulated wood hands. I wanted to put a new spin with the obvious horror film clichés. It had to be a dimensional piece - using panels to get depth and imply hidden machinery. It also solved the issue with the back of the gauges not fitting flush with 16mm MDF. I had a mistake early on using a rust effect paint but with the high shine copper tape and tacks (as rivets) it didn't fit. I made one prototype hand to check I could do what I wanted to.
I decided to use wood gears painted gold because the real thing, brass clock gears, are just too rare and too expensive. The wood ones easily fitted together - I personally hate "orphan" gears - my rule is gears should only be used if they actually look like they are part of feasible working machinery. That means gear trains. Steampunk, the genre, already asks us to "suspend disbelief" so I don't want to push it any further in my own designs. The green plasma disk required some very lateral thinking. The disk is on an unusual shaped battery pack. It had to be easily accessible for battery changes but not too loose for fear of it falling out the hole. I had been given some 3M grip tape - perfect for the task.
It was only three days ago that I realised the piece was going to look like a robot stuck on the wall adjusting knobs and flicking on knife switches as Dr Frankenstein's assistant and therefore the infamous Igor (I pronounce it ee-gore). I asked the Tactile forum at Brass Goggles for help turning Igor's name into a synonym. They didn't let me down with some amazing ideas but I decided on Intelligent Geared Operational Robot. I printed it on some clear adhesive and attached it to the copper tape.
Gary, the new owner, was absolutely thrilled with the piece when he picked it up today. After three crazy months there is a large empty space in my studio, wood dust is coating everything and my back is killing me but what an amazing creative adventure this has been. So goodbye Igor I hope you become a real entity in your new home in such an exotic locale. Dr Frankenstein would be proud!