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Prototype: Casting Sugar (Part 3)


3D Print + Sugar Cast

The point, again, of making a mold (Part 1) and casting in sugar (Part 2), was to prototype the interaction of the material in the salt water of a river that connects with ocean.  I plan to install models of Fort Humboldt at the mouth of Elk River in Eureka, CA.  I want these to dissolve slowly over the course of, at least, several hours on April 23, 2016.

Pier 4 Beach, Brooklyn Bridge Park.

I took the sugar cast and a camera down to the East River at Brooklyn Bridge Park, to see what the tide would do to the object.

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An issue that became apparent immediately was weight: the strength of the tide massively surmounted the weight of the model, picking it up once the water rose high enough and beginning to toss it in the waves.

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The model survived for about 1:39:00 in the tide.  There was a significant rise over the hour, so two problems were obvious:

  1. If the model was heavier or secured somehow, it would quickly be submerged
  2. If the model was heavier but not secured, it would still be jostled and potentially lost or impossible to track (for viewers).

I lost sight of the model a number of times, but fortunately found it again.  I also impacted the total dissolve time by rescuing the model and pulling it out to snap documentation photos.


  • The sugar models in combination with moving water will be gorgeous, unusual, and therefore compelling.
  • Tidal waters may not be the best option — a unidirectional stream (like the mouth of the river instead of the shore) will be optimal.
  • Most likely I’ll be looking at a dissolve time of several hours.  This will be better for the opportunity for many people to find and see the installation, but will make documentation of the dissolve more challenging.

Source: ITP Thesis

Prototype: Casting Sugar (Part 2)

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In Part 1, I left off with the first few steps of the molding process.  The mold needs to sit for 24 hours.  At that point, it will freely come out of the casing, and the base object should also eject from the mold without too much issue (I had to slice a few spots were the model got stuck).

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Mold & model (video of extraction coming soon).

Eric Hagan gave me a basic recipe for preparing sculptural sugar:

  • Cold water
  • White refined sugar
  • Corn syrup

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I drew on this tutorial as well, which helped me get down the finer points, especially the timing and visuals that indicate progress.  The basics of the cooking are to boil the ingredients slowly, raising the mixture to 300 degrees F.  This should take 15-30 minutes.

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This is late in the boil, with larger bubbles.

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Just over the mark.

One lesson from my first sugar cooking adventure: color is impacted in an obvious way by temperature and timing.  I came out with a golden amber cast, due to going a bit over 300.  A slower boil at a lower temperature would give a clearer cast — which is what I want eventually.

The sugar becomes a liquid that hardens very rapidly, so it’s necessary to work quickly.  I found, from the coating on my Pyrex, that the final product is very much like glass.  Eric warned me that it would be sharp.  It’s true: sharp & brittle.  I’ll come back to this but the features of the material excited me.

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The cast sugar takes about 1 hour to cool/harden.  The result is a translucent, glass-like object.


In Part 3 we travel to the East River.

Source: ITP Thesis

Prototype: Casting Sugar (Part 1)


My sugar model, dissolving in the East River.

In another post I’ve laid out the conceptual framework behind Through Various Hazards.  In these Prototyping documentations I’m showing the steps I’m taking to actualize the ideas.  Previously I looked at making a paper model using Pepakura.  This post and the two following will cover going from a 3D print to a silicon mold to a cast-sugar model that will dissolve over time in tidal waters.

I started by 3D printing a readymade model of a colonial house, similar to the buildings on site at Fort Humboldt.  I intentionally scaled the model down from my eventual size to reduce materials waste.  This also reduces my stress since the mold and cast will be my first.

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Notable learning from the print: 2 hour job time.  If I double or triple the size of my final model, that means 4-6 hours printing.

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Secured model, start of frame for molding.

I took the 3D print home, hot-glued it to a baking pan, and built a frame from matte-board.

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Backing up, slightly, the reason I decided to use sugar is on the advice of ITP alum & professor Eric Hagan.  Last year in Piecing-it-Together he showed us a mold-making process, using a food-safe silicon product.  He has executed a number of sugar projects, including being integral to Kara Walker’s A Subtlety at the Domino Sugar Factory.  Based on my goal — to have a sculpture that slowly dissolves in the headwaters of the Elk River — he recommended that I try sugar.  The mold he pointed me towards is Smooth-Sil 940.  It’s a two part medium that you combine, mix (like old-fashioned peanut butter) and then pour to at least 1/4″ above your base object.

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I was working solo, so I wasn’t able to photograph the mixing process.  The pot time of the mixture is only 30 minutes, it’s very tacky, and I didn’t want to lose any of the materials.  But I did manage to capture the pour over:

In Part 2, I’ll review the extraction from the mold, preparation of liquid sugar, and casting of the sugar.  Part 3 will look at my dissolve tests.

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Source: ITP Thesis

Prototype: Sketchup + Pepakura


Ruins of the Hospital at Fort Humboldt.

My next step for Through Various Hazards is to prototype the range of fort building replicas that I’ll be using in my network of installations.  First attempt:  a version of the foldable paper model participants will write inside and construct on site at Fort Humboldt.

I first altered my Sketchup design for one of the buildings, the abandoned Hospital, to simplify the surface area, remove extraneous parts, and work towards something that would be easy to quickly reassemble by someone who didn’t know the structure intimately.

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Next I used a unique software called Pepakura Designer, which serves to convert 3D digital models into paper ones.  In some ways it resembles the process of creating a UV map, where the polygons in the model are flattened out.  In this case, though, after flattening they are arranged and linked in such as a way as to optimize folds for a paper-based print.


While this design was not optimal, based on the original model it was the best linkage arrangement I could achieve, so I decided to go ahead and print and try to combine the parts.  Pepakura has a function that mirrors the model, and I activated it mistakenly but again decided to proceed.

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Joining the parts was rough; having more linkages that are foldable or that can be joined with a tab will be key to making the UX of constructing the paper models enjoyable with a low barrier-to-entry.

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The model is less refined than I want, but the shape is recognizable and so with a better design going into Pepakura, I’ve proven now that the concept is sound.

Source: ITP Thesis

Planning: Updated Schedule

For the final push of Thesis 2016, I’ve revised my project outline, readjusting for the new physical/sculptural direction of my project and the focus on multiple simultaneous installations in Eureka.

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I’ve tried to pace things realistically — understanding that I have to work continuously but in small increments over the next month, reaching mini-milestones.  The flow of the project outline corresponds top-to-bottom to the chronology I need to follow, except for my “Project Narrative/Peripherals” section, which I put below because while it is vital to my goals for this project, it doesn’t have a function/purpose if I fail to achieve the physical implementation of my installations.

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Source: ITP Thesis

Thesis Rationale

My rationale for pursuing this particular thesis is as follows.

  • I’m haunted by the history of my hometown, Eureka, CA, and I’m enchanted by my memories of Fort Humboldt, the old military installation there. My wonderment at the place has been in dialectic with my outrage at the facts of its past that I only learned as an adult. So I have been searching for a way to house a historical critique (why isn’t it taught in the schools, why does it seem like the community didn’t learn from it) within a beguiling experience.
  • When I first saw how ITPers were using VR, in particular the work of Sarah Rothberg, Ziv Schneider, and Julia Irwin, I had an inkling that the medium might afford me an avenue.
  • Staring in Readymades (Spring 2015), then moving into DIY VR, In Their Shoes, and Cabinets of Wonder (Fall 2015), and now continuing with Computational Portraiture (Spring 2016), I have been exploring new methods for recreating historical sites, bringing the past into the present, and blurring the lines between documentary, exhibits, and art.  These areas are where I have been developing skills and discovering inspiration.  I want my thesis to reflect how I’ve grown at ITP.
  • In some of the courses above, as well as in The Temporary Expert: Anthropocene Edition, I began to play with fictional personas as a means to rein audiences in and convince them to participate in challenging experiences.
  • I arrived at my idea for this particular parafictional exhibit through exposure to the work of artists who are able to tackle harsh subject matter but somehow make it accessible by knocking audiences off their footing with deception and obfuscation*. The fiction can allow me to raise the stakes for users and for myself, which is part of my excitement at the project.
  • If my parafictional intervention can “fuel discussion, keep opening the case, thicken the narratives” then it’s possible that users–with my primary audience being the contemporary population of Eureka–will be able to arrive at important questions that they, as Walid Raad has said, “can now conceive of asking.”**

*Lambert-Beatty, Carrie. “Make Believe: Parafiction & Plausibility*”. (2009).
**Jones, Caroline.  “Doubt/Fear”, Art Papers 29, no. 1 [January/February 2005].

Experiments: FaceGen

One of the key design gestures I need to explore technically is how I might generate figurines from archival images.

Cement Eclipses by Isaac Cordal

This might look like handmade sculptures or puppets, or 3D models.  If I go the 3D model route, I’d like to utilize the photographs themselves as the starting point.  To begin trying this out, I have been running some portraits through FaceGen, a software for converting 2D facial images to 3D facial models that Rebecca pointed me towards (and is also a resource shared by James George and Alexander Porter in Computational Portraiture).


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A young Ulysses S. Grant

For my purposes, this may be an adequate tool.  The face is surprisingly faithful to the original photograph.  I will need to keep testing.

Jerry James, a survivor of the 1860 massacre on Indian Island in Eureka, CA

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Trip Report: Brooklyn Historical Society

  • Impressions: The level of exhibition design and the range of content at the Brooklyn Historical Society surprised and me from the start.   The ornate, landmark building is stunning and the mixture of contemporary aesthetic with the architecture was more pleasing than I anticipated.
  • Atmosphere:  You walk into the Brooklyn Historical Society and immediately you get personal attention.  You find yourself at the front desk and someone wants to help.  There aren’t many people there, it’s a small institution, and yet they clearly are enthusiastic about their exhibitions.
  • The Interface of the Museum:
    • A word (or two)for its personality: Cozy, polished, intimate.


  • A memorable object, exhibit, or hall: I really loved Personal Correspondents: Photography and Letter Writing in Civil War Brooklyn.  I’m a sucker for civil war letters, and the overall design, again, was compelling and effective.  Why (feels important to ask that)?  The use of primary documents with curatorial content, plus voice-over readings and period photography made for a multi-sensory experience of the material.  The whole exhibit fit in one small room and yet there was enough content to provide hours of engagement.  I also appreciated this analog interactive, a desk where you could write your own letter to a soldier far-off in time and space.


  • Interactive technology exhibits: I was very excited by the Potion-designed interactives at BHS, because I haven’t seen this type of mechanism before–pulling strings to trigger video, and it felt so well integrated with the content of the In Pursuit of Freedom / Brooklyn Anti-Slavery exhibit, more so than most panel-based or button-based interactive displays.
  • Hospitality: as mentioned the front desk staff are enthusiastic and helpful, and otherwise there aren’t many docents/guards, so you feel like you have the museum to yourself.
  •  Who’s there?: No one.  I did not see one other person in the exhibits, only researchers in the gorgeous Othmer research library.
  •  Museum Website: 
    • I’m not sure it captures the museum…it lets you know what’s there, and so if you have been before it communicates what you need to know, but the character of the BHS is not really represented by the site.
    • The website for the In Pursuit of Freedom exhibit does capture that part of the museum and feels like a companion to it.
    • The BHS seems to host interesting events, so I would go back to get news about what’s happening there.
    • The basic info (open hours, address) are is available through the first link on the top menu of the website.
  • What does BHS do well that I want to remember as I go forward?  Knowing that the museum doesn’t have massive resources, I was impressed by the level of care, thought, and craft in their exhibits.  I’d like to keep in mind how much can be achieved in a small space with effort into content and creative approaches to presenting that material.
    “How do you define freedom?


Source: Cabinets of Wonder