the glassychord (nothing but what is therein contained)

may 28, 2009

“i spent this past week in philadelphia, to install several works in thomas u. walter’s 1835 building for girard college. all of the works were installed on the top floor which has not been open to the public for 100 years. i’ve posted several times about this project which i’ve been working on for almost two years, so here some images of the first of three works which will be present in the space (the other two include a letterpress text work, and a sound, sculpture, and drawing installation).

this piece is titled “nothing but what is therein contained”, which is a bit of text from stephen girard’s will, in which he stipulated that the design of the building could only contain the things that he had specifically mentioned in his will… nothing extraneous would be allowed. the first design drawings that thomas walter made for this building were incredibly minimal and titled with this phrase.

for my own work, i took the phrase and translated it into numbers based on the alphabetical sequence of the letters, and then cut pieces of wood accordingly. these pieces (running from a 1 foot length for an “a” to an 8 foot plus a 12 foot for a “t”) were then painted in groups, a different color for each letter. i then laid out all of the letters as a kind of stockpile, and then laid out the entire phrase.

i then began to build the structure, beginning with the first letter – “n” – and drilling and wiring the consecutive parts improvisationally, essentially using the letter sequence as a score towards determining what piece of wood would come next. it took two days to build, and it is roughly 16 feet tall. you can see the beautiful dome shaped skylights in some of the images, as well as the doorways from one space to the other. the last shot was taken looking down from one of the skylight windows.

some of the color patterns and painting was inspired by the sketchbook of amish deaf mute craftsman henry lapp, who lived outside of pennsylvania just around the time the building was finished, and the sound was composed using the sound of wine glasses being rubbed and struck with mallets in relation to benjamin franklin’s glass armonica. the piece is essentially an architectural map or likeness of the text…”