Re-Purposed

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It’s easy to fall in love with the history of objects and the marks they carry with them – marks of function and previous ownership. This history trails the object, like an echo, on to its next purpose. When that next purpose is art, re-purposed items lend a certain resonance to the work, allowing space for new understandings of function post-function. BELLWETHER is a new exploration of these understandings, and an experiment with light + sound + interactivity.

BELLWETHER was our second project with the Lexington Art League in Kentucky. Intended for Luminosity, an exhibition at LAL’s gallery headquarters (Loudoun House), BELLWETHER is an interactive analog installation marrying sound and light to create a magic space inside LAL’s historic gallery house.

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BELLWETHER utilizes a large collection of re-purposed glass bottles, altering them to create flickering bells.

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We began BELLWETHER with about 1,500 glass bottles (donated from one local Wine Bar Enoteca), a team of extremely awesome unpaid interns, and a concept. Most of this was arranged before we even arrived in Lexington (we were, once again, blindsided by the amazing community in Lexington and LAL’s adeptness at tapping into it). In this respect, we owe great thanks to a small selection of volunteers who soaked and scraped over 700 wine bottles throughout the month of December, and the brilliant gang of interns who helped us score, shock, and cut over 1,000 bottles!

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Scoring the bottles

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This process was time consuming and we scrambled to multitask between creating BELLWETHER and adapting NEW MOON for outdoor installation. Without a team, this project never could have been finished – how fortunate we are!

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Accidents…. (luckily, most of these were dud bottles on their way to recycling)

Re-purposing materials is an interest borrowed from one of our nearest, dearest artist pals, Lane Shordee. While his practice of re-use is much more rigorous than our own (he once built a life-sized, fully-functional horse-drawn carriage out of dumpster-dove materials!) we credit him with an ongoing influence on our way of looking at post-function materials. BELLWETHER also draws on an interest in multiples, and creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its many parts (a conversation tied very closely to thoughts regarding contemporary consumer culture… but we’ll be discussing these ideas more in upcoming blogs).

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In essence, BELLWETHER is a field of bells created from glass bottles, vibration sensors, and LEDs. When the dongle inside the bell makes contact with the side of the bottle (ringing the bell) it shocks the vibration sensor, completing a circuit, and illuminating the LED for a brief moment. When a bell rings, it flickers like a fire-fly, creating an ephemeral and magical effect.

The internal circuits were hand-wired (with help from a whole variety of Lexington folks, including both interns, friends, local artists, and Grade 4 students alike!) and then hung from a ceiling-mesh in the gallery space. Our first indoor installation in ages, working in the gallery space was both liberating and challenging. Unfortunately, we had to leave for Singapore the day before the show Opened to the public, and so we were never able to witness the viewer response to the space (social experiments!)

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The finished installation is almost impossible to document, but the process of making BELLWETHER was a truly communal affair. Thank you to everyone involved!

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