Dandelion Wave

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2017 – 14′ tall, 1584 pulleys, one motor, string, steel, aluminum, delrin, wood.

The Dandelion Wave is years in the making. It was over a decade ago that I first started thinking about how to add waves onto a sphere. It’s a tricky problem because gravity doesn’t help much when things are moving in every direction, but I had a hunch it would offer a feeling of buoyancy and expansion if I could figure it out. It’s one of the most delicious problems I’ve ever encountered, and I must have picked it up and put it down a dozen times before I made any real progress on the design.

In the fall of 2015 I was invited to give a talk in the Outer Banks of North Carolina at the Costal Studies Institute. What a cool part of the world! I was put up in a small farmhouse in the country and after the talk I had a few days to explore the beaches. Every day I’d take a long walk looking for shells, then go back to the farmhouse and work on the sphere problem. This time around I made a little progress and by the time I flew back to California I had some specific ideas. But this sculpture, more then most, changed a lot in the process of making it. I was impatient to get to work, and so even though there were big blank areas to the design, I charged right in and spent a week making a thousand tapped aluminum parts. I was planning on dividing the sphere into 102 points, but as I got further into the design I realized I made too many aluminum parts – so many extra in fact that I ended up changing the sphere division to 132! This added a bit of fluidity, and having factors of 11 and 12 ended up being a blessing. I also made a couple thousand pulleys on the lathe, but they had too much friction and I didn’t end up using them at all.

I had been imagining the sphere coming sideways out of the mechanism, but then I realized if I flipped everything over and had the sphere coming down I could repurpose two big steel rings left over from Helio Curve. And that would allow me use a motor I had left over as well, and so things got a bit topsy-turvy. I had the aluminum sphere spun at a metal spinner’s and then had to mark the locations of all the points. It turns out that how to cover a sphere with circles is a problem already solved, and I found an online set of coordinates for practically any division at “Tables of Spherical Codes with Icosahedral Symmetry” by R. H. Hardin, N. J. A. Sloane and W. D. Smith. I converted these coordinates to latitudes and longitudes, mapped two waves onto them, and had the string pattern figured out, at least in concept.

After a couple more months of work I got one rod going back and forth. It looked promising, and I was ready to make the final run of all the parts. But then I got busy with Contours and so I moved the sculpture to storage for six months. After installing Contours in New York in October 2016, I brought the Dandelion Wave back to my shop and hung it up again. Sometimes I’ll send out parts to local machine shops, but for this sculpture I made practically everything singlehandedly in my studio. All told I probably spent about seven months cutting, welding and painting the steel, and machining all the aluminum and plastic parts. The final step was to paint the backside of the wood and cut the discs. I made a template using a rotary table on the mill and then cut all the pieces by hand with a trim router.

Once all the parts were finished my friend Scott Cole came and helped for the final two months of assembly. One of our first steps was to weave the strings in the upper mechanics, but after a few days I realized I had messed up the pattern (swapped some x’s for some z’s in the wave calculation) and we had to cut out all the string and start again. Whoops! Getting the strings through the aluminum sphere took about a week in itself and was a little stressful because if we dropped a string while passing it through the sphere there would be no way to get it out without taking everything all the way apart. But we got lucky and didn’t drop a single string. The final step was to climb up, adjust the amplitude, and turn it on. So exciting!