Play It Again, Steve

Puttering about this afternoon, we came across this jewel in the video archive. Though previously posted, it’s worth a second pass. An ode to former colleague Steve Cipoletto, it summoned wistful tears of laughter because he was hilarious company and because he’s long gone. Mind you, Steve’s not dead, he just lives in Palm Springs.

And if you knew Steve, the locale is as perfect as it is absurd. This is a man who was known to regularly chase a tin of sardines with a shot of espresso each morning at the shop, stage-dive at Ramones shows, and regularly copy Old Masters’ etchings in the evenings. In one sense, he seemed too ragged and urban raw to end up in a resort town. Then again, legend has it that Palm Springs is peopled with many unlikely types, so I guess he fits right in. Either way, we really miss him.

This video was taken during an installation in Hong Kong. At the end, he quips that he’ll retire to Hollywood. He was prescient. A year later he bid farewell, we wept, and he strode into the desert to lounge by pools in the county next door.

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Panel Ascending

Coffee. Lots of coffee. And then more coffee.

We’re knee-deep in glass tubes, cable, and thousands upon thousands of tiny hardware bits that comprise each of fourteen giant glass “leaves.” They range in size from roughly 3.5 meters (12 feet) to 6 meters (19 feet) and collectively appear to float down and through a vast atrium space. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. We have miles of cable to go before we sleep and more coffee to drink.

Here’s a time-lapse video of Carl and Matt’s afternoon. Before buttoning things up, they were doing a little “check-your-head” mock-up to verify how the pieces would be installed. Check!

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Bon Voyage

While this transport may seem mundane, we’re clicking our heals over here. The strike at the Port of Oakland was averted, the clouds parted and a large shipping container was dumped in our parking lot!

Although we had nothing to do with any of this, we’re nonetheless grateful as we got rid of too many crates that were in too small a space with too much work going on. After waiting nearly six weeks, we got a call the night before and by sundown the next day, it was gone. Bon Voyage and we’ll see you in Singapore next month.

The dropoff was over before it began. Bill claims the guy did the whole maneuver in less than ten minutes and was a sight to behold!

The dropoff was over before it began. Bill claims the guy did the whole maneuver in less than ten minutes and was a sight to behold!

Bill "blocks" the crates against the inside of the container to arrest any shifting during transport.

Bill “blocks” the crates against the inside of the container to arrest any shifting during transport.

Matt affixes shock-absorbing "donuts" in a tight spot between crates.

Matt affixes shock-absorbing “donuts” in a tight spot between crates.

The faithful twins. One let's us know upon arrival if the contents were unduly shocked or tilted.

The faithful twins. One let’s us know upon arrival if the contents were unduly shocked and one if they were tilted.

Goodbye.

Goodbye.

Behold, Apolo! This is the vessel and one of those is ours. It's also incredible to note that each one of those containers is forty feet long.

Behold, Apollo! This is the vessel and one of those is ours. It’s also incredible to note that each one of those containers is forty feet long.

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Up to Our Eyeballs in Crates

The sound of industry is eerily silent in our part of the world. The big boats and cranes that define the Port of Oakland are listless. And others up and down the West Coast are largely inactive due to a spate of work stoppages and contract negotiations. Container ships are stacking up in the harbor with no place to unload or fill up. It reminds me of the surreal spectacle of hundreds of enormous ships dead in the water off the coast of Singapore during the 2009 financial crisis. It’s not that bad, but this time it has hit home in a more personal and spatial way.

We have been trying to ship a completed sculpture to Singapore for over six weeks now. The correspondence with our shipping agent is nearly comical:

“Not sure what is going to happen.  ILWU/PMA announced a tentative agreement on Friday.  On that basis – the ILWU was hired for work on the weekend.  PMA had shut them out weekends and nights for the past two weeks.

On Sunday – the ILWU all took a break at the same time – prompting the terminals to fire all Union Labor.

The Union still has to vote on the contract.  If they accept – we should start seeing some improvement.  Not sure how quickly – but will keep you advised.  I suspect March 2 may be ambitious.  I’m beginning to think at least another week and maybe two.”

We have no real sense of when the crates might leave. They’re too big for planes and they could ship very soon. Or not. And so, we have six very large crates underfoot while we’re in the thick of building another project. Each morning, we perform an absurd ballet: we forklift crates into parking spaces outside or stack them here and then there and then move them back to their original location. It’s maddening. It derails our work and upsets our client’s plans. Grrrrr. And all the while, the unions bluster and management pretends at impassivity.

Stop parking your crate in my spot!

Stop parking your crate in my spot!

Oh, don't mind those two large boxes there. Or the two behind you. Or the one in the back. Oh, yeah. There's one outside as well.

Oh, don’t mind those two large boxes there. Or the two behind you. Or the one in the back. Oh, yeah. There’s one outside as well.

Sooner or later, we’ll still saddle-up and head across the waters to install this sculpture. We’ve become awfully fond of the piece and each day makes us a little more expectant. Let’s just hope this all breaks soon. Until then, here are some early model photos of what lies ahead:

View upon entering the room.

View upon entering the room.

Staring at the ceiling.

Staring at the ceiling.

View along the length.

View along the length.

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Back in Play

Even though we’re up to our gills in work, it feels like ages since we’ve installed a project. So before disappearing into the wormhole again, we wanted to post a couple of photos of a project that we just completed for a new Hong Kong residential tower. It’s our second collaboration with Swire Properties, the developers with whom we worked on the Frank O. Gehry building. It was a quick affair with a team of six, powered by Japanese energy drinks, Vietnamese pho, and a dizzying array of chocolate treats.

Matt up in the boom futzing.

Matt up in the boom futzing.

A view of the sculpture as it peels away from the balcony's glass balustrade.

A view of the sculpture as it peels away from the balcony’s glass balustrade.

Jenn and Matt preparations for the next lift.

Jenn and Matt make preparations for the next lift.

Happy Kaitlin makes some final adjustments with a dental tool.

Happy Kaitlin makes some final adjustments with a dental tool.

Jennifer commands the "Airman scissor tank."

Jennifer commands the “Airman scissor tank.”

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What’s Afoot at NWS

Hi, this is Emily. Since we haven’t posted in a while and I actually have some pretty cool things to share, I’m commandeering the blog today. Who am I and what do I do here? I spend my days managing how we engage with the outside world – talking to new clients, staying in touch with architects and designers, and organizing investigatory trips to distant lands. Generally, letting the world beyond our doors know that we exist. So, I’m excited to tell you about two recent events that put us in the public spotlight.

This month, we’re featured in the Art and Design issue of 7×7, a San Francisco-centric magazine. [Article PDF[Article Link] The photo editor, Jodi Nakatsuka, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Nik’s work and has been putting us under the noses of her editors, looking for the right time to showcase the work. The current feature article is great with lots of photos and some good background information. I’m not sure how I feel about the quotes. They kind of make Nik sound a bit full of himself. I mean, he has enough of an ego to keep this endeavor going, but he by no means thinks he’s an Art God. But who am I to critique positive publicity. We’re grateful to 7×7 and thrilled to have the work seen by people out in the public sphere.

7x7Nov2013_spread

On a broader public note, we took home some gold in New York last week! I’ve always got my eye out for competitions we can enter, but until recently I couldn’t find one we were suited for. I mean, what do we really do anyway? Sometimes Nik says he’s a designer. Other times he refers to himself as a sculptor or an engineer. Long story short, we’re in a pretty niche market. Architectural competitions say we don’t meet the criteria and interiors competitions don’t have a category that suits us. So I was thrilled to hear about the “Judges’ So Cool” category of the 33rd Annual Gold Key Awards sponsored by Boutique Design and Hotels magazines. The competition was part of a large hospitality design and trade event at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. I entered a recent project we did in Hong Kong thinking whether we won or not it would be great to have our work seen by the esteemed panel of judges.

Shatin

When I learned we were finalists, I told Nik that the winners would be announced at a gala award event in New York. I had somewhat predicted Nik’s response, so when his eyes were on the ascending arc of the anticipated eye roll, I jumped right in with, “I know, not really your kind of thing so why don’t I go.” So I was off to a gala event and a few vacation days in New York. Nice perk. And if I could bring home an award, all the better. It was the last award of the evening and when they put images of our project up on the screen, the whole room oohed and ahhh-ed. I blushed under the dimmed lights and wished the rest of the team were there to hear it too.

As the winners were announced each recipient went on stage to accept their award and take a photo, but there were no acceptance speeches.

So, as long as I have the floor now, here’s what I would have said…

“The Artworks at Nikolas Weinstein Studios are 100% Nikolas but the figuring out, the making, the business, and all the rest is the group effort of Nikolas and a bunch of really committed, talented, unique, and hard-working people.  And even though he’s not here tonight, I’d like to thank Nikolas for always using the pronoun “we” when talking about his work and the studio.”

And also as long as I have the floor, I’ll let you know that we just got a small project in Russia (a new country for us), and will be installing artworks in Jakarta and Shenzhen soon. And this summer, we’ll install a very large piece in Singapore. So my plan for World Domination by Art is shaping up quite nicely.

Boutique Design article about Gold Key Awards is here.

Posted in Nan Fung Sha Tin, People | 2 Comments

Join Bag

Over the past several years our digital documentary archive has ballooned. Moore’s Law posits that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years. Butter’s Law of photonics says that the amount of data pumped through optical fiber doubles every nine months. Our library’s growth rate is somewhere in between. We have added more than 32,000 photographs of building, thinking, failing, experimenting, and executing artworks in the last two years. Video chews through storage at an even more alarming rate.

And so, one sunny Tuesday afternoon I sat down with Emily and Arlen to assess the bloated video catalog. Half of us have no idea what we’re doing with a camera and the other half have too much else to do. Consequently, the real gems are scattered amidst an overwhelming amount of trash. As a test case, Arlen had run through footage from our fall installation in Hong Kong. He seemed a tad forlorn; the task of cobbling together compelling snippets was admittedly daunting. But he did perk up when he offered to show us one in particular: nothing more and nothing less than Steve Cipoletto, our very own diamond in the rough, caught at the beginning of an especially tough day on-site in Hong Kong.

I don’t think the clip needs more of a setup than a brief sampling from his wondrous professional resume before he joined our team: book binder, florist, master painting restoration and conservation assistant, bronze worker, teacher at the Santa Barbara Rock & Roll Academy, bar back, and typewriter technician as well as beloved grandson to Dominic Alfonso of Domco Business Machines in Jersey City, NJ. In this featured clip, Steve is caught at the beginning of an especially tough day on-site.

And if the spirit moves you, get to know Steve better still by watching the video of his singing cameo with Joey Ramone at the now defunct club Coney Island High. He makes his appearance at 1:38 in the timeline. Thereafter he stage dives.

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CCA Lecture

I will be giving a lecture on the evening of Wednesday, February 13, at the San Francisco campus of the California College of the Arts. Here is a link to the event.

I will mostly be speaking about the trouble we get ourselves into here at the shop. Although I repeatedly lull myself into believing that things will be relatively straightforward and manageable, our projects are spectacularly complex. There will be many examples of my unbridled optimism and my team’s ceaseless efforts to rescue me.

Among other things, I will be discussing some of our more recent work which includes a new installation in Hong Kong, continuing investigations into using glass as “fabric,” and the Weavilator AS2013.

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A Glimpse Into Our world

We just received the first transmission from our advance duo that is preparing to install a new artwork in Hong Kong. We typically send these probes to make sure that the site is  good to go before deploying the balance of our crew (seven more people to be exact).

I typically find myself waiting for this first communication with something akin to holding one’s breath. Considering that each piece that we build consumes thousands of hours and gestates over a period of some eighteen months, I am always a tad giddy and somewhat anxious during this limbo.

And it is in these moments of suspended expectation that I find my team’s unusual character particularly refreshing. Instead of some mundane assessment or an email detailing how exhausted they are after the flight around the world, I am certain to receive something far more colorful and idiosyncratic. In this case, it is dear Arlen who chimed in first by issuing the following salvo. For those of you who are less than hip and perhaps pushing on in years like myself,  his entrée of “tl;dr” means “too long; didn’t read” and is a delightfully cynical quip that almost augments the comedy of the hyper-technical summary that ensues:

Subject: Wheels down.

tl;dr: we have internet in spades. the hotel is nice.

Got a SIM. There’s a 7-11 in the Sha Tin MTR Station Mall. Super easy to get to, unlike certain countries that will not be mentioned. You do need to do the whole APN config thing, which I can help you with.

I’ve got 4G seems to be plenty fast. SMS to the US is ~$0.25/ea, phone calls appear to be $0.03/min to HK or US, which seems insane, but I could be reading this wrong.

Ari and I are sussing out reasonable places to eat and the hotel seems great so far. Steve, you’ll be glad to know the minibar is comped. Unclear on exactly how the laundry works, but there’s some amount of free laundry. The in-room wifi is super easy to set up on any number of devices. It’s a little late at night, but I’m pushing 17Mb/s symmetric with a 5ms ping (!). Pinging the shop shows a TTL of 52, 1% packet loss, 210ms ping. Not bad for trans-pacific.

We should set up an rsync to Pixie [shop server] to back up photos and such as we shoot them.

Thanks for lining up the hotel stuff, Jennifer.

MUJI, UNI QLO, H&M and other fine retailers with fewer capital letters are within spitting distance of the hotel, you might as well not bring nice clothing.

That’s about it, I’m gonna pass out. I’ll be up around 0700 HK time. Ari and I are going to have breakfast here and head to the site.

Word.
–a

Welcome to my world and what makes it tick, and to those who make it tock.

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Handful of Salt Strikes Again

Our friends over at Handful of Salt have posted another little story about our work with the US Commerce Department (They ran one a while ago that can be seen here). I particularly liked their lead-in quote from Reagan, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ” That was most certainly not our experience.

Their blog is about trying to redefine “craft” in a more modern and innovative way. This has always been a problem for those of us who feel saddled with the disparaging associations that some people have with this term. I stand accused as I sometimes associate glassblowers with a vagabond troupe of drug-addled slackers. Here’s to their mission (Handful of Salt, not the addled slackers). As always, Godspeed. Fight the good fight.

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