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 20

A week of horror, sorrow, regret & relief, with one small moment of joy. Most of the week was spent in what was my father’s house, cleaning. It was an insane job, there was so much stuff. Years out of date unopened cans and jars of food, an entire 2 council garbage bins full of it.

A week in the cold of Victoria cleaning my dead father’s house – it was like being in a Russian novel. I’ve never loved the subtropics more, than I did coming home yesterday.

Relief, that I have finally bumped out the sculpture from QPAC, and the most disheartening and traumatic project I’ve done, is finally over. I kept the silver pipe, but all those flower decorations, that the designer made such a goddamn fuss over for not getting sufficient credit, after we had to remove them from the pipe, got turfed into a dumpster. I’d suggested to the producer that they might make nice keepsakes for the cast & crew, but nope, they’re just rubbish. Sad, really.

The joy:

I’d contacted one of the local papers directly, to tell them about the QPAC project, and the fact the local library’s Makerspace was the enabler of the project. I didn’t know when it was going to publish, but in the middle of my awful week, I received an ecstatic email from the library, thanking me for the piece.

It again reinforces the feeling I have, that being present, going to events, and being seen to be a person at these things is really going to be important, and is now starting to pay off. The mayor knows my name. I’ve never experienced that before.

2018 – Week 19

Short post. The week was spent on trying to organise access for a photography session of my latest bonsai sculpture.

I got the pics eventually, but haven’t had the chance to really look at them yet. Drive down to Brisbane and back on Friday, then Saturday spent demonstrating VR at the Cooroy Library Makerspace for the Fusion Festival.

Sunday, I’m at what was formerly my father’s house, having flown from the Sunshine Coast to Melbourne, then driven 4+ hours to the Gippsland Lakes. Tomorrow, I start on a giant clean and sort.

2018 – Week 18

Another Sunday rolls around, time for another blog entry. It’s been a week of recovery. The bumpin at QPAC went smoothly, thanks to their brilliant and professional rigging staff. It was a long day, and sadly the sculpture suffered some twisting and shoving to preserve eyelines, which compromised its appearance from what it could have been.

Personally, I don’t think that “eyelines at all costs” is necessarily the right thing to do. If a character is momentarily obscured by a piece of the set, is anyone really going to complain or demand their money back? Maybe that’s the sort of people who are into theatre…

It’s been a learning experience – I don’t think I’d do it again, unless I have a much more locked-down idea of what the constraints of the project are. So many things, on which I had based my design decisions, were changed out from under me, that the project was always going to struggle. That wouldn’t have been so bad, and honestly, I wouldn’t mind about it, if the production had understood my requirement of a licenced rigger to hang the work during construction, so I could work on it safely, and provided a credit in the programme that reflected my creative contribution.

I attended the premiere of the show, sadly no mention from the producer, no thanks expressed for my work. If I was to review the show – what stands out is that the sound mix is off, the band is about 25-50% too loud, so that when the guitars and drums are going, you can only grip onto and understand about a quarter of the lyrics. When the band is quiet, and it’s just the vocals, the performers’ voices are fantastic.

So, that’s this week. It’s one of those times I miss my father. We had a difficult relationship at times, he had views I simply couldn’t square with being on the right side of history. Perhaps that’s why his advice was at times a comfort, because he wasn’t like me.

It would have been nice to chat.

2018 – Week 17

It’s been a nightmare week, an absolute nightmare, but the top part of this play sculpture is done. The entire project has played out in a very predictable way – everything I needed to do, happened exactly the way I said it would, and in the timeframe I said it would. Everything I needed other people to do, had problems, because despite being the expert, no one seems to listen to the artist.

This is made doubly stressful, given that I’m the only individual whose contribution can kill a person on stage (or in production).

I’ll have a project reflection post eventually, but for now, all that remains is to disassemble the sculpture tonight, and pack it up ready for bump in to the theatre tomorrow morning.

2018 – Week 16

Well, a busy week, full steam ahead on the play sculpture. Monday was spent putting the finishing touches on the base:

One unbroken length of corrugated plastic pipe.

After driving back home on Tuesday, I had an idea about how I could get some work done on the truss that’ll support the entire structure. I was able to rent a storage shed, opposite the one that’s holding all my stuff from Sydney. It works out at about $10 a day, and has given me a week or so to get the truss into a turnkey-ready state, so that when I take it apart and head down to Brisbane on Wednesday, everything will be ready to roll.

Found another use for my engine hoist.

Once the final parts of the construction are finished, I’ve got sticky labels to attach to everything, so that it should all just be easy to reassemble. Fingers crossed.

2018 – Week 15

Bit of an admin week. Doing some sorting of issues with my father’s estate, also, sorting out my storage tank to get equipment ready to begin work on this new sculpture.

I submitted a couple of entry forms for projects, one an art competition entry, another for an event a little south of home. Hopefully the concept for that one will get up, because I’m really keen on it.

Friday, I headed down to Brisbane, to begin work on the new play sculpture.

2018 – Week 14

VR, VR and more VR. That’s been this week.

We launched the Cooroy Library Makerspace on Friday, with local and state government representatives. We put a dozen people through the VR system, showing them around. Kids pick it up instantly – it’s amazing.

I’m now convinced, that if Apple do not produce machines that are price and performance-competitive with windows machines, and have the ability to have their graphics cards upgraded independent of the rest of the system, they have no future in this world. Previously, they could dismiss “Gaming PCs” because Macs weren’t for games, buy VR is where work is going to be done, and right now the Mac is a secondrate platform for that.

2018 – Week 13

What a week…

I started on Tuesday by heading over to the local library, to check out their VR setup. After going through a makerspace induction, and playing a bit in the Steam Labs app to get a feel for the system, I did a bit of sketching in Tilt Brush of the tree sculpture for this play.

Wednesday and Thursday, the VR lab was booked, so I took the opportunity to get more work done on my tables, finally completing them on Friday.

Filling and cleanup to go, but done!

Saturday, I was awoken by a call I’d been expecting for a few days. My brother’s name on the caller ID was all I needed to see to know the content of the call – my father had passed away, after a fight with lung cancer. I’ll post more about that later.

I spent the rest of the day pottering around the house, filling holes in the tables, not doing much.

Sunday was the first day I took advantage of the after-hours access I had at the library, and spent the whole afternoon immersed in VR. I managed to get some serious work done, completely redrawing the tree for Rent. It was a satisfying affirmation of VR as a serious workspace, where a very different sort of mindset and physicality is a part of the creative process – it’s very body-thinky.

2018 – Week 12

This week was based around future project admin. I went down to Brisbane to chat with a designer on a play about producing a sculpture that will be a feature part of the set. Then once back up the coast, off to an information session about a self-contained event going on within the Horizon festival, and then also laying the groundwork for a potential VR arts project.

I still haven’t finished my benches, however.