As I have been wandering through the sculpture studio, observing them work, digging through their studio space to find what materials are the hot subject of the week, and looking to the trash piles or sculpture studies hidden in the corners to see what materials have been worked previously, I’ve come to realize that whether or not they are aware of it, these students have the knowledge of the Smart Materials and Technologies reading embedded in their brains. I’m sure if I asked anyone of the students how a material behaves, every one of them would be able to tell me how ductile, strong, or temperature sensitive each material is, but I doubt that as many would be able to tell me why the materials behave the way they do. It is a knowledge of the hands and of experience.
Looking around the studio, I notice one of the major processes of the major is heating. They take advantage of the various phases of a material. For instance, there was a significant amount red wax being used by multiple students. There was some melting of the material, which could then be poured into a form, or due to the low melting point and thus low temperature of the liquid wax, brushed over a form without burning the brush, or swirled around a volume. The wax was also being carved while in the solid state, for more detailed texture. Then, the shavings were being thrown back into the melting pot to start the at the beginning of the process cycle again, unlike the shavings from wood carving which would be unusable in the same process due to the physical transformation.
Another material which was being manipulated in various ways was metal. In this case, not only were they taking advantage of the melting point of the various metals in order to create castings, but they also utilized the strength of metals such as steel for support of other materials. Additionally, the electrical conductivity becomes essential in the sculpture studio when welding is involved in the art (let alone the issues of using gases in order to make for clean welds). Although I did not see any projects currently involving thermal expansion of metals, based on the tools available, I would hypothesize that this is another characteristic tested by the students. Now, one material I saw, I was not exactly certain what it was, but I’m guessing based on color and texture, that some sort of metal was involved in the safety jackets that the students wear when dealing with the extremely hot melted metals.
Finally, there is the role of the student as unknowing chemist. There were many bags, both the unopened variety and the shredded bag robbed of its contents. These bags were the keepers of Portland cement, Quick Crete, or Plaster. There seemed to be many uses of these materials, but in each case, this grainy material had been used by mixing it with water to yield a chemical reaction and ultimately, a solid material. In some cases, the objects rendered were the sculptural elements, while in other situations, these objects became vehicles for manipulating and controlling another material.