Q&A: Ball-Nogues Studio
Euphony, a dramatic installation of suspended stainless-steel ball chains by Ball-Nogues, has been created for Nashville's Music City Center. The studio, headed by Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues, intersects the disciplines of architecture, art and industrial design. We talk to Benjamin Ball about Euphony and the process of its construction.
What kind of brief were you given by the Nashville Music Centre and how does Euphony relate to it?
Music City Center provided us with a location – a 117-foot tall entry space that is visible from the street and flanked by cascading escalators – and a budget, we weren’t given a conventional design brief. Gaston and I imagined a piece that would have different qualities when viewed from various vantage points. Euphony isn’t so much an object as a presence that exists somewhere between solid and emptiness – it’s a kind of atmospheric body or a spatial drawing.
Can you talk us through the designing and construction process?
We digitally model the precise shape and color distribution using custom software. For Euphony, we organized the color according to a set of mathematical rules that enabled the color composition to be derived from the shape of the piece – similar to how stripes on a zebra relate to the shape of its body.
Our digital design models provide the input for the Instal-lator 4 – a purpose-built, numerically controlled measuring and cutting machine. It enables us to measure, cut, and manage thousands of chains composed of many individual coloured segments, far more than a sane person could handle. We pre-assembled the chains in halves at our shop and then transported them to Nashville. We individually attached them to a 36-foot long, oval-shaped steel ring beam. Over the course of a week, we incrementally raised the ring beam and connected the chain halves, as it went up.
How does Euphony relate to your previous installations?
For five years we’ve been working on a series of installations called Suspensions – after the chemistry term referring to solid particles hanging within fluid or gas – and Euphony is part of this.
To what extent does technology assist the making of these works?
The Instal-lator 4 allows us to create works that have a mind-boggling degree of intricacy, far more than we could achieve by simply measuring and cutting by hand. The machine serves as a conductor governing the movements of our assembly crew.
In spite of the digital precision, there is always a bit of noise in the final result and the physical work differs from the computer model. This is due to irregularities in the materials and idiosyncrasies introduced by the human hand performing the assembly. We try to incorporate this fuzziness into our conception of the work.
How many people are on the team and how long did it take to construct?
There were about six people on the assembly team. After the contracts were signed, the project took about a year from concept through installation. Roughly nine months were spent exploring the design, estimating costs and doing the engineering, followed by approximately eight weeks to fabricate the chains and a week to install in Nashville.
How do you feel your combined backgrounds contribute to installations such as Euphony?
Our installations definitely require us to employ some of the tools that architects and set designers use – the works are inseparable from the spaces they occupy. Even if by conventional architectural standards the works appear quite exuberant or chaotic, there is a governing order to them.
Your studio “crosses the boundaries between architecture, design and art”, in what way?
We are currently working on about a dozen public art commissions. We are also working on a park, a residence, a gallery installation and a series of lamps. We like the challenge of developing unusual ways of making things – most of the time the products of these methods don’t fit neatly into a single discipline.
Photos Bruce Cain