BØN541 v3.0

BØN541 v3.0 is the third in my BØN541 series, exploring the form of bonsai trees, using recycled & salvaged materials.

This work was created to be a setpiece for the 2018 staging of Rent, the musical, by Matt Ward Entertainment, at QPAC Brisbane. It is the largest work I’ve produced so far, and is constructed primarily from corrugated plastic water pipe, which is suspended using the truss and chain from my 2012 work Reconfigure.

The work features three major parts:

The play’s designer provided a bunch of old car hubcaps as a material she wanted featured, as well as decorations for the branches, in the form of aluminium cans cut into flower-like shapes, which the cast and crew produced. The designer also provided icicle (fairy) lights, to match the look of the hanging points of light I had included in my VR-based design.

Aside from that, the actual form of the work, the construction solutions and the materials from which it was made, were my responsibility.

Background of the Project:

I was approached by the designer of the play, who had seen my earlier work BØN541 v2.0 and wanted something similar for the Xmas tree that is created by a character in the play. The designer had a goal of involving “real” fine artists on the project, on account of the play being, in aspects, celebration of the 1980s New York art scene.

My initial idea was to build a welded steel armature of triangular cells, almost like 1980s-era computer graphics, into which various junk could be threaded. This was my first option, since welded steel is the only way to get the necessary combination of spannable distance, thinness and (relatively) light weight. Unfortunately, the production lacked the budget to spin up this process.

Bamboo Version

The next idea I proposed, was to use dozens of long stalks of bamboo, in place of a traditional tree trunk. I also developed the base in response to feedback that the specific shape of the base of BØN541 v2.0 was a highly desired part of the project. This would be both cheap, and solve the engineering problem, since bamboo is self-supporting.

However, the response was that it wasn’t “metal” enough, and that the design was being kept very literal to the script, the tree being specifically referred to as made of metal.

From these constraints, came my eventual solution – to use the hanging infrastructure I had already created for 2012’s Reconfigure, to create a vertically-suspended version of 2014’s BØN541 v2.0.

Coincidentally, at this time, I was working on a Virtual Reality project at the Cooroy Library makerspace, and so I was able to use this new VR toolset to actually design the work at life-size:

The choice of materials was dictated by budget – we couldn’t afford the stainless steel braided pipe used for the other BØN541 series works, but I realised there was something I had worked with previously – agricultural water pipe, which I had used when creating my 2011 sculpture This?

Sprayed silver, it would have a metallic appearance (in a Dr. Who sort of way), and the corrugations provide a way to secure the hanging points so that they can’t slip along its length.

So, with a decision on materials, and a clear vision on the form of the work, I was ready to begin production.


Building the base.

Strengthening the truss.

Upgraded, strengthened and complete.

Creating the trunk.

Packing everything away for bumpin.

I did this project for free, and loaned some rather expensive equipment to the production, because I wanted to see it succeed.

I wish the show well, and hope that my contribution is acknowledged.

Special thanks to the QPAC people I worked with – a brilliant, professional rigging team who got my work hoisted and in place at the Cremorne Theatre.

2018 – Week 32

Another VR demonstration this week, this time for local high school teachers, for an upcoming student VR film competition. I’ve been asked to volunteer with helping teach the teachers, and providing support to students, if necessary, s a part of this event.

I also had a video conference meeting with a company in California who does online sales, about trying to get my digital comics onto their platform. The washup of that is that they don’t do the specific part I need a third party to do.

Saturday night, I tried my hand at astro-landscape photography for the first time:

Not too bad as a first attempt, I think.

So that’s the good stuff. The bad stuff is that one of my computer’s two monitors died rather loudly, and now I’m down to a single display. At least having to shop for displays is saving me from fretting over camera bags.

My plan, before this happened, was to but a single 27″ 4k display, and rotate both my 24″ 1200p dosplays onto their sides, to be palette monitors. What I think I’ll do instead, is buy two 24″ 1200p high quality colour accurate displays, and use those in the meantime, until I see what is happening in larger displays in the next year. Along with my car, it’s an expense I didn’t really want right about now, but there’s not much I can do about it.

2018 – Week 31

Been a bit of an admin week – I sent of the final post-project report on BØN541 v3.0 to the producer of Rent. It details my total investment – $900+ out of pocket expenses, and around $16k in in-kind support.

It didn’t have the greatest of returns on investment, and still no reply to the message, or acknowledgement to thank me, so, lesson learned, I guess.

I’ve also had a bit of a confrontation with an electrical utility who supply power to my father’s former house. Backstory is, I called them up a few weeks back to let them know that their bills wouldn’t be being paid anytime soon, on account of Dad’s accounts being locked for probate. They took all my details over the phone, which they said were just to that I could be added as someone authorised to access my father’s account. They then used this information to open a new account in my name, and transfer billing for the electricity to that account.

So right there, we have identity theft, and fraud.

I filed a complaint with the Ombudsman, and then, still fuming, took to twitter to publicly shame the company. Once a couple of my friends were in on replying and stating their dismay, the power company reached out to me and asked my to direct message them the details so they could resolve it. Total elapsed time, less than it takes to wait on hold to speak to an operator.

Other things… the local arts creative organisation has asked me to volunteer in helping with this year’s High School VR Filmmaking contest, which involves schools from the surrounding 100km or so. It should be interesting to see what high schoolers can do with this tech.

I’ve spent a lot of the week refining my SketchUP model of this compact studio design. It’s coming along nicely, and the continuing practice is making me a better SketchUP operator.

Finally, I published an article that had been sitting idle for a while – on my latest gear hack, connecting a Blackrapid connector to a standard camerabag.

Add a Blackrapid slider to a Lowepro Toploader camerabag.

One of the problems when carrying a DSLR, is that occasionally you might want to go somewhere with your camera, where you want to take the minimum amount of bag to protect it, but not have a second strap around your neck / shoulders when you take your camera out to shoot.

Another problem, is that you might go somewhere that doesn’t allow you to carry even a small bag into a venue (some art galleries, for example), but you still want your camera on a strap.

Here’s a solution that ads a Blackrapid connector, on a slider that runs along the small bag’s shoulder strap, and which, when you detach the strap from the bag and join its ends together, turns it into effectively a standalone Blackrapid camera strap.

The donor equipment

In this case, the bag is a Lowepro Toploader 70AW. This is a bag that can take a full size pro body, with a medium sized lens like a 24-70 still attached.

Lowepro 70AW (discontinued, replaced by the 70AW II).

Two key features of this bag, the first is that the zipper that closes it – it’s one continuous length, even though there’s two zips and a buckle in the middle. That’ll be important later. The second, the shoulder strap clips on at both ends, so can be removed.

For the dropper to connect the Blackrapid connector, I’m using a Blackrapid Backpack Strap as the donor for all the parts.

Blackrapid Backpack Strap (Discontinued, replaced by Backpack Strap Breathe).

This has the advantage that it comes with all the bits you need – the BR connector, the safety catch to cover the thumbscrew (not shown in this pic), and importantly, the webbing has a loop sewn on the end.

The Backpack strap has two plastic carabiners on it (the updated version only has one). One is connected to the full length of the strap, the other, to a short loop (left and right images above, respectively).

The other parts you’ll need, are a nice smooth stainless steel d-shackle, wide enough to fit the bag’s strap, but narrow enough that it won’t be able to slide over the clips, and off the end, and a safety splitring.

  1. First Step, you need to cut through the eyelet of the plastic carabiner that’s connected to the long section of the strap. The sewn loop on the end of that strap is something we need to preserve.
  2. You need to cut the pull tag (next to the blackrapid logo left pic) off the end of the strap, so you can unthread the full length of the strap from the cleat (right pic).
  3. You need to cut the short strap and carabiner free of the cleat, so you have it as a separate piece.

Now, you’re ready to reassemble.

You’ll want to seal the cut end of the webbing with a bit of fire (I’ll leave it to you as to how to create that). The difficult part is getting it back through the cleat, which isn’t strictly designed for a double layer of webbing. It’s doable, just difficult. When you’re heat-sealing it, try to squash it flat, so it’ll feed through more easily. You could then double it over with glue / stitching so that it can’t possibly go back through.

Don’t forget to thread on the Blackrapid clip in the process.

The splitring is optional, but what it does, is prevent the pin in the shackle from turning, so that it can’t come loose.

Going back to the advantage of the Lowepro bag having a single zipper – once you connect your camera to the Blackrapid you can now put it in the bag while leaving it connected, and then close the bag behind it.

Not shown – The safety tether I use with any connection system. In this case, I attach it to the shackle, since the split ring means it isn’t capable of undoing.

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2018 – Week 30

The big event this week was a conference at the local Library Makerspace – about 80 local council CEOs were brought through in 4 groups, to tour the equipment and systems we have, and get a hands on with the gear, to see how public-access technology can improve things for their local communities.

I was demonstrating the VR setup. I’ve got to admit, I really enjoy the public outreach role I’ve been doing with the library.

2018 – Week 29

It’s been a bit of a nerd week, tidying around the house, and getting the new graphics card installed and running.

Wow, what a difference it makes. Aperture, my photo management software, is so much faster. I ended the week with an experiment in casting the 3D Print of one of one of my residency projects, into a block of solid resin.

It didn’t seem to go well – despite following the directions, the cast became super hot, scorching the print in places, and then it shattered as it cured. Oh well, lesson learned for next time, I guess.

Things learned along the way:

  • Seal the print first – it’s porous, so material soaked into it, and airbubbles came out, freezing in the resin.
  • The print is less dense than the resin – it kept trying to float  and upend itself. I was so busy trying to hang it correctly, it didn’t occur to me that it might not sit still.
  • Figure out the correct pouring method – we had what I suspect was mixing between layers with differing degrees of curing, which may explain the fracturing, which you could watch progressing in realtime.

2018 – Week 28

My new graphics card arrived this week, however I’m still waiting on a weird cable to connect it to power inside the machine.

I also ordered a bit of photography gear I’ve been interested in for a while – a device that allows remote control of the camera, including live view, from a smartphone app. should make certain situations where I need to be able to focus carefully, but can’t be physically behind the camera, much easier.

The other thing I picked up is a new finishing sander, which I’m going to use to complete my long nesting tables.

I spent some time investigating Capture One, a photographic application that might replace Aperture as my photo library manager, but decided that I can stay on Aperture for another year, given reports are in that it works fine with the next version of macOS.

The big bad news – the constant squeak I’m hearing in my car might be a $40 bearing, that requires $500 in labour to get to, because it’s in the middle of the gearbox. *sigh*

2018 – Week 27

It’s been an admin week. Moving bank accounts to a new Applepay enabled provider, as well as finally pulling the trigger on a new graphics upgrade for my Mac Pro – and boy, was that a saga.

Backstory – the “Cheesegrater” Mac Pros have the ability to supply 2x6pin power to a graphics card. That’s the equivalent of a single 8pin connector. When Apple announced the recent next version of macOS “Mojave”, my machine was included in the “supported” list, with the caveat that it had a certain level of graphics card support. Most of the cards that would fall within that envelope were released after Apple stopped making machines with user-upgradable graphics cards. However, there is one specific card they mention by name, as it was supplied by them in a piece of developer hardware – the Sapphire Pulse 8gb Radeon RX580.

Great, so I’ll buy one of those – not so fast. The exclusive Australian distributor isn’t carrying that card, because there’s a higher spec one with more features they’re concentrating on. It’ll work, but because it’s physically larger, it’ll block a extra slot in my machine.

Looking at Newegg – they carry the card, and will ship to Australia, but have a terrible after-sales service reputation. Amazon no longer ship physical products to Australia, as a result of the Australian Government’s idiotic decision to impose GST on all imports, down from the previous $1000 threshold. You can buy on the American Amazon store, then use a shipping service to forward it here – but it’s more expensive.

Not the best of situations. Then, I thought about New Zealand – I’d seen a few search results come up with NZ stockists, so I looked at Sapphire’s official distributor page for NZ (there are three official NZ distributors), and found a company which not only had the cheapest price in NZ, but also have an Australian side to the business. I was able to phone the local side, they transferred me internationally, and the NZ salesperson gave me an Australian bank account to pay into – no international funds transfer fees, no expensive phone calls, easy and simple.

With that sorted, I had to order a special cable to power it, because of course Macs are weird in the way they do things. Cable is on its way from China. Could be here soon, could be here in weeks.

So with all that sorted, my machine should have it’s final major upgrade complete. The next thing to think about is getting a bigger, higher resolution monitor, because the new photo management software I’m looking at, looks like garbage on standard-dpi screens.

2018 – Week 26 (VR Residency Week 4)

The final week spent of my residency was spent checking out a bunch of CAD-based VR apps, including in a plugin for SketchUp that allows it to be used in VR.

This culminated in an industry meet & greet event I organised, to get local architects, engineers and fabricators, to come have a look at VR, and see how it could be applied to their industries.

Sadly, we didn’t get much of a turnout, but the library was very happy with it, and the residency in general. So overall, it’s been a great month.

2018 – Week 25 (VR Residency Week 3)

Monday this week saw the final proofs for my 3D VR modelling to 3D printing workflow demonstrated.

First small-scale proof print.

It’s still got all of the support infrastructure attached, which is designed to snap off.

Tuesday, I explored some other VR appliations, Kingspray Graffiti is an astounding example of a great app, with a brilliant tutorial. I also made some updates to the model, and cued up a new print…

Guess I’m coming back the next day…

Wednesday, I went in to the makerspace to check up on my finished print. Everything looked OK, though I waited a few days before taking off any of the support structures:

There’s a little roughness around the glasses, where we’re getting into the limits of the printer’s capabilities, and I lost a tip of the collar, but it’s a pretty solid proof of the process. I may cast it into a clear resin block to protect it.

In addition to picking the work up, I also spent a while chatting to a retireee couple who were looking at the makerspace in my capacity as Artist In Residence. I showed them a bunch of VR stuff, and talked about the possibilities, especially for things like rehab and aged-care.

Wednesday night, I edited a video of working in Kodon:

Thursday was a down day, spent on admin, plus a walk by the river, where I met a very friendly duck. Friday, back in to the makerspace to keep looking around at Kodon. Saturday, I dropped in again, primarily to test a couple of things I couldn’t get to work correctly. I joined Steam, and put a couple of messages on their forums, which seem to be the app’s primary support channel, so we’ll see if that gets us anywhere.