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Cultural self portrait in tile

In Space and Materiality, we designed a cultural self portrait in tile.

The first objective with this project was to design a method to construct all of the tiles into structures with (hopefully) seamless joints. The second challenge was to decorate the tile and construct a shelf, a window, a pocket, a door, a drawer and a secret compartment.

We first looked at previous works from last year’s class. They came up with the idea of cutting the tiles into Tetris pieces and constructing them on the wall at a 45 degree angle. It was a good concept, functionally and aesthetically.

First, we brought our conceptual drawings and did a class critique. After some debate, we decided to work with Sierra’s design. We decided to deviate from last year’s design and present the tiles on the ground as a sculpture instead of a wall piece. Instead of making Tetris pieces that fit together, we decided to cut in four inches on each side of our 24” by 24” tile. The tiles could then be constructed in various forms, even separated into smaller structures. In class that day, we constructed a scale cardboard model of the tiles. We made a few shapes that we liked and documented.

This design allowed us more breathing room with the actual shape and form of the sculpture because each tile would be compatible on every side. It also had a small but uneven impact on the actual usable space of the tile. In any variation of the structure, there was a four inch overlap on the tiles surface. Not all tiles had equal number of connected tiles, so not all students had the same amount of space to design.

The first alteration we made to our tiles was making a secret compartment and sealing a secret inside. I drilled a hole 1/4” wide in the side of my tile. I wrote a secret on a piece of paper and hid it in the hole. I also accidentally made a blood sacrifice to this project, which maybe should have remained a secret too. I sealed the hole back up with a small dowel. The only evidence of the secret compartment is a slight 1/4” hiccup in the plywood sandwich and a small hole on my thumb.

Once we all cut the slots in our tiles, we constructed them into an arrangement we liked. 

Each student’s tile had unique challenges to overcome due to their placement. Each student had a variety of connections and at least one joint shared with another student’s tile.

With the construction of the base structure complete, we began working on our designs.

After I finished my sketches, I began thinking about the layout of these 5 objects. I knew I wanted to implement mirrors in some way into the piece.I needed to get a piece of glass that was the right size for my tile. With help from Professor Hickman, I learned how to use a glass cutter.

  I began to buy the various materials I needed before I started working on the tile alterations. I purchased a hinge, screws, nails, a small door handle, a 1/2” dowel and paint.

I began to chisel out space for my glass window. I used a chisel and a wooden hammer. I expected it to take a long time, but with my experience from chiseling in the last woodworking project, it came to me a little easier this time around.

Once I made the window, I placed a bearing, a bolt and a nut from my skateboard in the compartment. I recently had my board run over by a taxi and these were parts that I needed to replace. The wear of NYC are clearly visible on these pieces laid under glass.

I really wanted to use mirror in my tile somehow, but I cut the mirror too big for my door. My solution was to break the glass and arrange the fragments in the door. The pieces were glued on a nail polish painting I made earlier that week.







After I made my door, I wanted to make it a little goofier, so I decided to welcome the viewer into my painting.

Once I finished the door, I constructed the drawer out of scrap wood from the wood shop. All I used was wood glue, a coping saw and more scrap wood to keep the pieces upright while they dried. Once I finished the drawer, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to put inside of it. I decided to mirror my current reality by putting a sock overflowing from the inside of the drawer.

I used a hammer, nails and a box cutter to take a pocket off of my own pants and attach the pocket to my tile. I broke most of the pocket already from a skateboarding crash, so it seemed fitting to present it here next to the guts of my recently run over skateboard.

Finally, I got to my shelf. Instead of making a normal shelf, I instead cut a 1/2” dowel at a 45 degree angle and glued it to my tile. This acted as a shelf for my headphones.

I drilled a hole through the tile and put the headphone cable through the tile to the side that will face the ground in the final sculpture. On the back, I had a small muslin pocket that I put my phone in. It was playing a loop of sounds that I recorded in the wood shop. It included sounds of my box cutter safety, the coping saw, hammering wood and smashing glass. I arranged and edited the sounds into an 8 bar loop that played in the headphones during the class critique. The sounds in the track below are all originate from the wood shop and the creation of this project.

The last addition was painting the tile. I chose a chalky teal color that covered the entire tile. I added three silver racing stripes on the tile. This was partially a homage to my younger self when I was obsessed with race cars, but it also functioned as an object of abstract aesthetics. 

This project was uniquely challenging. There was no clear directions for the construction of the 5 alterations to the tile or how to approach our designs. However, the open-ended nature of this assignment allowed me to approach these challenges with an open mind and allowed me to be more flexible with my peers and my concepts.


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