For my upcycling piece, I chose to make an abstract wireframe sculpture. For the body of the structure, I solely used straightened paperclips and rubber bands. The feet are made of Play-Doh.
The initial inspiration for the project was the idea of creating something using simple, repetitive tasks. My mind tends to race, so these tasks are a form of stress relief for me. In the context of this piece, the tasks were creating a roughly 1-inch diameter rubber band ball out of about 100 rubber bands, and straightened-paperclip linkages.
This is where the name “Motion in Static Life” comes from. In order to calm my mind and stay grounded in the moment (static life), I perform simple, repetitive tasks (motion). The name is also inspired by one of my favorite music albums: “Movement in Still Life” by BT.
On the subject of music, rather than following the design loop that I’ve used in every engineering project for the last 7 years, I wanted to follow the workflow I use as a composer. When I write music, I usually pick a style and just go with the flow until I feel like the piece is done. Doing this allows me to be in touch with my emotions and let them influence the piece more than my preconceptions about the end result.
Phase 1 – Getting Started
The first thing I did was straighten out 15 to 20 steel paperclips. Next, I used a pair of pliers to bend small hooks onto the end of each paper clip and hooked 6 of them together into one long assembly. At this point, I considered the possibility of immediately proceeding with a 3-dimensional wireframe, but I realized that each connection point had strange degrees of freedom. As I started to build upwards, I noticed that the linkages would rotate in unpredictable directions and the sculpture would continually collapse on itself. So, I moved on to the rubberband ball.
I started by bunching around 10 rubberbands together as a core, then wrapped this core with more rubberbands. Initially, I needed to double them back, but as the ball grew bigger, I was able to wrap them more comfortably. I continued this until I ran out of rubberbands.
Then, I stabbed the ball with the ends of the linkage, and everything stayed intact!
Phase 2 – Laying It Out
I took the initial linkage-ball assembly, and started adding more layers of paperclip linkages. Each successive layer had one less link in it (5-4-3-2) and a single link connected each layer to the next. No cross braces (colored paperclips) were added until the 6-5-4-3-2 pattern was complete with standard paperclips. On layers that did not have a central connection point, the connecting link was kinked. The picture below shows one such layer (the member above the red link is kinked).
After this initial pattern was completed, I added cross-braces to three layers that were not holding shape well due to the unpredictable degrees of freedom of the connections. In order to easily visualize the whole thing, I hung the piece from a coat-hanger.
Phase 3 – Making it 3-dimensional
Once complete with Phase II, I started folding each layer up and attaching it to the the next layer using more colored paperclips. I also attached particularly unstable connection points to the rubberband ball. As I was working on it, I realized that the sculpture was starting to remind me of a BCC unit cell. However, because each layer had less links than the last, it quickly evolved into an amorphous shape. I was able to maintain some level of symmetry by using like-colored paperclips across the center from one another. The symmetry is not as apparent as it could be because most of the paperclips were still somewhat kinked and the hooks were all different sizes. This made almost every link a unique length and thus, the sculpture was somewhat lopsided.
Finally, I added rubberbands between wide, unsupported spaces to give the sculpture a bit more strength, and play-doh feet so it could stand up on its own on a table.
There are a number of things about this piece that I am content with. I believe that it served its purpose in giving my mind a break from its constant racing, I’m happy that I was able to maintain some amount of symmetry, and I’m happy that it is structurally sound and free standing. I’m also impressed that the design was able to evolve from a line (the initial linkage), to a plane (the coat hanger pattern), to a 3D-object.
That said, I believe the piece could be improved significantly if re-done. Given the “musical” approach I was taking and the fact that it was my first attempt at creating such a sculpture, this is unsurprising to me. I need to ensure that every link used is very straight, of the same length, and has relatively uniform hooks on it. Connection points that have multiple links on it are very challenging, but if the parts are generally uniform, the whole piece will be much more likely to hold symmetry. Additionally, I would not use the 6-5-4-3-2 pattern on layers. I would most likely go with a consistent number (6?), which I also believe could give the piece a more “geometric” appearance. Perhaps I could even attempt to make it resemble something real, like a helicopter!
I don’t anticipate using any part of this piece in my final project, so it’ll likely be discarded. I will definitely harvest the rubberband ball in case I want to make another wireframe sculpture at some point. I may also keep adding to the rubberband ball to make it even bigger.
I just realized that it kind of looks like a bear when it’s slightly rotated!