Structure Under Tension (we’re all connected)

I created this piece while teaching design at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I’ve unearthed it from my archives as I’ve had a chance encounter on a project that reminded me how small the world is – and how interconnected we all are.

The piece attempts to reflect the interconnected nature of the world, where actions we take are linked through a web of ecosystems, potentially affecting the stability of the structure – the stability of the whole as influenced by small actions. A current that ran through my class was the blending of traditional craft with conceptual art – and my students’ work focused on blending the disciplines of ‘thinking’ with that of ‘making’. This object was the result of turning the tables on my students and asking them to write the final assignment of the semester. Both instructor and students would create works that enmeshed recent changes in our world view within an object.

Structure Under Tension is a kinetic sculpture made of wood and steel cable. 26 wedges and 26 keystones form a circle. Steel cable links keystones opposite each other across the circle and individual cables extend outward from the wedges to wooden handles. Participants assemble the structure on the ground, sit in a circle, and pull on the handles. The circle locks together, becoming a tension ring with each piece of the circle compressing on it’s neighbor. If the tension is equal and controlled around the circle, the ring lifts off the ground and floats. When pressure becomes unequal, the integrity of the structure is compromised and the ring collapses. The forces involved in holding the circle together are easily visualized – but the variables in the pressure are not easy to control. Predicting where the ring will break is impossible – as the slightest change in pressure finds the weakest link and starts to break the chain.