Soundforge: In Process (Update #1)

Posted June 30, 2011 in Blog

This fall, HCCC will premier Soundforge, a work two years in the making. In the fall of 2009, while he was an artist-in-residence at HCCC, metalsmith Gabriel Craig began collaborating with Houston-based music composer Michael Remson. Their project, Soundforge, will be an interactive, multimedia installation that explores forging metal as both a means of fabrication and an act of percussion. Gabriel Craig has graciously agreed to give us regular updates from his studio on the fabrication of the project.

Artist rendering of the proposed installation in HCCC’s Small Gallery, 2010.

Soundforge is physically and logistically the largest project I have ever undertaken. That, in itself, makes me anxious. However, I have heard it said that if you are comfortable in what you are doing, you are not growing. The ambitious scale of the physical work, along with the deep involvement of other collaborators, is a challenge in the truest sense. I hope, at the end of September, we can all see how this challenge was met.

After living in Houston, I moved to Savannah, Georgia, for three months to be the Artist-in-Residence at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and then returned to my native Detroit after nearly a decade away. Over the harsh, cold winter, I set up a small iron shop in my garage that is now only just equipped to handle the task at hand. I built the shop from the ground up for this project. I started by buying a welder, a 200 lb anvil (affectionately named Bernice for my deceased grandmother), and fabricating a forge. With these tools, I knew I could build the rest of the tools I would need to actually start building the project.

Left: the fabricated steel structure of a propane forge with a foam mold being prepared for insulation. Right: the cast refractory in interior and painting completed.

Test firing the forge.

Bernice, a 200 lb. anvil from 1903, remilled, refinished, repainted, and stenciled as the Art Deco beauty she was. Be still, your beating heart.

The Shop, finally put together, and featuring: a Mig welder, an abrasive chop saw, anvil, welding table, drill press, forge, shelving, hand tools, etc.

My training as a jeweler, my dedication to exploring the margins of craft, and my somewhat limited exposure to blacksmithing techniques allowed me to dream my way into this project, but I am constantly struggling to prove I am technically equal to the challenge. After 10 years as a metalsmith and several summer flings with blacksmithing, any naivety I had about the difficulty of blacksmithing has now been dispelled. Summer is here in Michigan, and I find myself every day in the shop, no longer building tools, but finally building the work. Let the pain (work) begin…

Six (of 30) hand-forged tenons. These will eventually act as lateral braces for the armatures.