Dominique Ehrmann introduced the Mathemalchemy team members to her Maquette Creation Process. See how the three maquettes helped to create, discuss, question, structure, validate and inspire them.
The Maquettes in the Mathemalchemy Project
Maquettes played an important role in the preparation, development and fabrication of the Mathemalchemy project. I have been working with maquettes for many years, in the development of my own 3D projects and murals, and I have found them very useful. After starting with a drawing, I make a low-budget paper maquette to evaluate the potential and visual angles of a piece, enabling me to correct errors that become apparent. This crucial stage helps me decide whether it is a project in which I want to invest myself seriously.
For my own pieces, the maquette process typically takes a few weeks. With the team of twenty-three people in Mathemalchemy, the maquette process took several months, but this longer gestation process was very important.
There have been three different maquettes in this project. The first one, developed as the result of extensive discussions between Ingrid and myself in the fall of 2019, had only one concrete goal. We would take it with us to the Joint Mathemetics Meetings in Denver, in January 2020.
It would illustrate the project and our vision, accompanying our presentation at the Math-and-Arts session. It would also be a focus point as we invited people, artists and mathematicians to join the team that would construct the piece, which from the beginning was meant to be a collaborative work. It worked! Fourteen of the final team members signed up in Denver, and helped us recruit others, until we constituted our full team of twenty-three participants. From the very start Ingrid and I assured everyone that the first maquette was a guide only — everything would be open for discussion during the first three-day workshop, planned in March 2020 in Durham.
The arrival of the pandemic moved that workshop online — at that time this was a new experience for all of us! It also meant that the whole fabrication process would have to change. At the end of the three-day workshop, it had been decided that we would amplify the first simple first vision, to make something more complex, more advanced, more developed. We would deviate from that first maquette even more than Ingrid and I had envisioned.
We began a long process of weekly meetings to explore, discuss, plan, and sketch ideas about what we wanted to do in this installation. And it soon became clear to me that we needed an updated maquette to see the interplay between different component scenes, and to explore proportions.
In just one week I prepared a very ugly flimsy construct out of green cardboard. The pictures I took to show at the next meeting helped the whole group realize that we had to change proportions: the Riemann Hill was too small; if we wanted to have a complex boat, illustrating knotical and many other elements, the Ocean was too small, the Bay too narrow.
They also helped me convince the others that although the lighthouse was a very good idea, the very realistic version we had been discussing was not — I pushed for the creation of a more poetic, more artistic version, which did indeed emerge after the pictures on the more realistic lighthouse in the second maquette.
By May it was time to begin with the creation of the final maquette, built at 1/4 scale, in contrast to the first two, which had been at 1/8 scale. The increasingly elaborate detail and the complexity of the work required this larger scale in order to give everyone a good view of the whole piece. It was also time to move beyond paper and cardboard, using more beautiful materials — wood, fabric — and to bring more realistic color and texture to the maquette. Some elements of the piece were hotly debated, and argued back and forth. I would return to my workshop time after time, to create or adapt an element, take a picture, and bring it to the next meeting for discussion, leading to approval or further suggestions for changes.
For some pieces, I worked up to five versions before we got the right one! But it was worth it! Although this seems a very long process, it is important to take all the time that is necessary: if one makes a big error in the full-scale installation, this is costly to remedy, but on a maquette, it is easy to put a wrong part aside and to start over, correcting the element that needs correcting.
The final maquette has been completed for a while now; it was approved by the whole group and everybody has become attached emotionally to the piece; we have entered the fabrication stage. Even so, the maquette continues to help us: it is guiding our choices of material, color, and tone, and it also helped me a lot to plan the sequence of fabrication. We may presently live in a somewhat unreal period, but we nevertheless need realistic deadlines. The maquette helped us plan those.
In this present stage, I am concentrating my energy on the textile elements of the piece. I’m in charge of the Large Page, the Cryptography Quilt, and the Cavalcade of Sheets. But that is a story for another time.