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Yarnbomb…A Pyramid-Inspired Sculpture

Published: August 1, 2014

A new temporary addition to CSULB’s campus commitment to sculpture across the 320-acre campus was celebrated on July 10 near the Walter Pyramid.

MatterApp: Pyramidial (MA:P) is a crowd-sourced space-frame sculpture inspired by the Walter Pyramid and created through a collaboration between the University Art Museum (UAM), the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Materials and Applications and the students in CSULB Design faculty member Heather Barker’s “Environmental Communication Design” course.

“My students gave me extraordinary feedback,” said Barker, a member of the Design Department since 2012. “They wished every class was like that. They began to appreciate the challenges of working with other students in other disciplines. They saw the differences in execution from a painter’s sense or from an industrial designer. They learned it is not as easy to realize a project as they may have thought. They also found the experience of assembling the sculpture to be extremely valuable. The idea of research became more relevant to them. They learned to execute.”

Funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Art Works Design grant, MatterApp: Pyramidial culminated the Spring UAM exhibition, Materials and Applications: Building Something (Beyond) Beautiful, Projects 2002-2012, a capstone to more than 10 years of effort at the Los Angeles-based experimental architecture and design organization to advance new and underused ideas in art, architecture and landscape.

Kristina Newhouse, curator of exhibitions for the University Art Museum, feels the new sculpture represented a commitment to CSULB’s students. She explained, “More than 50 percent of the people who visit this exhibition space are students. If we can get people in their undergraduate experience to partake in the arts, they will take it with them out of the school. They will form a lifelong commitment to the arts. That is one of my goals.”

Newhouse credited cooperation as the key to the crowd-sourced MA:P project, from the students, to the fabrication team, Gossamer Space Frame of Huntington Beach; to input from engineer Mic Patterson, who helped to devise the original space frame for the Walter Pyramid; to the German company, Krinner Ground Screws that provided the sculpture’s anchors free of charge; and to the team from Sacramento-based Eco Foundation Systems who donated their labor to secure the work to the ground using the latest, most innovative and efficient anchoring technology.

The MA:P structure itself is made of mild steel pipe. “Because it is raw steel, it oxidizes,” said Newhouse. “That is the fancy word for ‘rust.’ In the art world, we call that ‘patina.’ It is not a bad thing. It is beautiful. It is a lovely orange brown and looks fantastic.”

The design students’ original goal to clad the structure had to be scrapped due to wind issues. For this reason, the popular street art technique of “yarnbombing” provided a means to temporarily “skin” the piece to both celebrate it and to bring a new audience to it, Newhouse explained. Yarnbombing is a kind of urban graffiti that makes use of crochet and knitting instead of paint. It represents a quiet, little “hands-on” rebellion in the world of graffiti art. The UAM invited the fiber art collective Yarnbombing Los Angeles and the Long Beach Depot for Creative ReUse to join CSULB students and alumni from the Design and Fiber program to transform MA:P into a giant loom, ready for yarnbombing.

“We saw that knitting would take too much time,” she laughed. “It’s actually going to be quite beautiful—woven from reclaimed T-shirt fabric, VHS tape, and glow-in-the-dark nylon parachute cord, among other things. I think everyone is excited.”

The yarnbombed skin of MA:P will have a brief lifespan. Newhouse explains, “It is out there exposed to the elements, so it will only last a few weeks.” The sculpture MatterApp:Pyramidial itself is slated to remain onsite through early Fall, so CSULB students can see it when they return to campus.

Newhouse feels the success of this project will enable students to think about DIY (do-it-yourself) culture.

“We want to nurture a passion for the arts among the people on campus,” she said, noting that among students from the millennial generation, there is a desire to be hands-on and engage in communal activities. In this respect, Newhouse feels this project is about the “now.”

Shefali Mistry, public relations and marketing coordinator for the UAM, sees education at the heart of what the museum does.

“We are called an art museum but I see us as more of an interdisciplinary outfit,” she said. “Education is central to our purpose. Our primary audience is students. Finding out what it takes to engage them means thinking outside the box.”

The next hands-on project for the UAM arrives in January with “Jessica Rath: A Better Nectar.” Rath’s multimedia installation is an exploration of native bumblebees. The exhibition will include sculpture, light, sound, a native species “Research Station” and garden boxes on the new UAM Plaza.

“We are partnering with biological sciences, the Cole Conservatory of Music and the Art Department,” said Mistry. The UAM will collaborate with its longtime partner, the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), on educational programming. In the spring, all fourth graders in LBUSD study pollination to meet new California Core Curriculum standards for the sciences and environmental literacy. Another partner on the UAM exhibition, the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, will be key to the development of educational programming about California native plants and the natural world for K-12 visitors.