This fall, the Arts, Science + Culture Initiative at UChicago presents Slipping and Jamming: Variable Installation of Z-Forms, by Chicago-based artist Dan Peterman. Commissioned for the second Chicago Architecture Biennial, Slipping and Jamming is a sculptural installation that explores the tension between structural stability and instability. The work is composed of thousands of "Z-Forms"—post-consumer reprocessed plastic elements each cut in the form of a Z. Assembled into large sculptural forms, they embody a highly counter-intuitive idea: The possibility to create load-bearing, stable forms not by orderly arrangement of the individual elements, but by random, disordered configurations that structurally resemble a potentially flowing liquid.
This new installation grew out of a 2016 Graham Foundation-funded collaborative project between Peterman and the laboratory of University of Chicago physicist Heinrich Jaeger. The work is based on radically new concepts at the intersection of contemporary sculptural practice and research related to the physics of granular materials. Conceptually original and forward-thinking, Peterman translates concepts from granular physics, typically researched at small scales, to a larger, essentially architectural scale through his artistic practice.
From a sculptural perspective, jamming is an evocative concept. It is applicable on both micro and macro scales; the behavior of a ball of shaving cream in the palm of your hand or that of polar ice sheets. In both cases, the jammed, effectively solid behavior has the possibility to deform like a liquid when forced strongly enough. "My work as an artist has an ecological focus, and this shifting range of scale is relevant to how I think about the world,” says Peterman. “For me, jamming behavior carries along with it the companion idea of slippage—a fine line between material conditions of either stability or flow, useful engagement or abandonment.”In Slipping and Jamming, these concepts assume an additional role for Peterman. Fabricating the elements themselves from post-consumer reprocessed plastic material reflects the cycle of jamming and unjamming, the changing forms and states of being, and the complete re-configurability of the structure itself. The dual nature of the particles, both composed of a constituent material and also comprising a greater structure, points toward a cycle of “invention, production, and generation” with echoes in ecological responsibility and petro-chemical dependency. In this way, Peterman’s sculpture is placed prominently into the larger context of a materials life cycle that minimizes waste.
The sculpture will be installed in the William Eckhardt Research Center on the University of Chicago campus during the Biennial. Z-Forms is curated by Julie Marie Lemon, the Program Director & Curator of the University-wide Arts, Science + Culture Initiative and supported by the University of Chicago Public Arts Fund.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
An image from Dan Peterman's new structurally evocative exhibit, Slipping and Jamming: Variable Installation of Z-Forms (photo courtesy of UChicago Arts, Science + Culture Initiative).