Little Dome on the Prairie pix
No log cabin, Christine Tarkowski's installation for an Illinois university artfully investigates utopian living
Ruth Lopez -- Interior Design, 8/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Commissioned to create a sculpture for Governors State University in University Park, Illinois, Christine Tarkowski started by fashioning a model from plastic straws and pipe cleaners. Photography by Michelle Litvin.
The artist checks the progress of the dome's construction. Photography by Michelle Litvin.
A pair of honey locusts shade the finished Working on the Failed Utopia. Photography by Michelle Litvin.
To fabricate the skin of the dome, the artist prepares to screen-print imagery onto tissue-thin white paper. Photography by Michelle Litvin. Photography by Michelle Litvin.
A pass with a squeegee completes the second phase of a three-color print process. Photography by Michelle Litvin.
Studio assistants Michelle Faust and Nat Ward arrange the prints on a resin-coated fiberglass panel, which will be sealed with another panel and buffed with polyester resin and wax. Photography by Michelle Litvin.
The frame is assembled on-site. Photography by Michelle Litvin.
The 21 faceted panels are attached. Photography by Michelle Litvin.
Completed, the dome stands 13 feet tall and 20 across.
|Out of a pool of 10 contenders, Christine Tarkowski was one of three artists commissioned to create a permanent installation for the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University, 30 miles south of Chicago. But while the opportunity to bring her latest vision to life was cause for celebration, one serious problem loomed. Her proposal involved a geodesic dome—a somewhat complex structure that she didn't have the slightest idea how to build. "You can't just buy these things," says the artist, who often uses construction materials in her architecturally influenced work. "You have to make every single part of it."
To learn more about the geometry developed by Buckminster Fuller as an affordable-housing concept, Tarkowski consulted books and research papers, then noodled around with plastic straws and pipe cleaners. She learned that the greater the number of triangular facets, the rounder the structure would appear. After settling on a total of 105 facets for a dome 20 feet in diameter—a structural engineer helped get the math right—she constructed a full-scale model out of steel conduit in a lot adjacent to her studio on Chicago's South Side. Then she hired a metalworker to fabricate the actual frame in structural steel.
As a counterpoint to the geodesic form, the ultimate symbol of utopian living, Tarkowski envisioned the dome's panels as a reflection of urban environments. She started by collecting found objects—a McDonald's coffee stirrer, chicken bones, an exploded firework, unused soy sauce packets—arranging them on a cart in her studio, and photographing them. Transferring the digital images to a computer allowed her to produce a silk screen, which she hand-printed onto tissue-thin white paper. The final step was to take the three-color prints and seal them between layers of translucent fiberglass coated with clear resin.
Given a choice of sites for the finished sculpture, Working on the Failed Utopia, Tarkowski selected the grass near a brick campus building, between a pair of honey locust trees and next to a satellite dish used by the department of communication services. "That way, the piece is integrated into the life of the campus," she says. It wasn't until installation was complete that she got the idea to hook up LED fixtures inside the dome, to make it glow at night like a luminous pile of beautifully arranged. . .trash. The fixtures and wiring were not factored into the project's original funding. With luck, however, the academic brass will see the light.