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Jamming Particles into Textured Bowls at the 2016 Collective Design Fair

Brooklyn-based design studio CW&T presents ROTOJAM at their hands-on booth

by Nara Shin
on 04 May 2016

Founded by architect Steven Learner, Collective Design Fair is now in its fourth iteration. Between the 31 big name exhibitors from around the world (like Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery), new installations from Nendo and The Principals, an exhibition by Cranbrook Academy of Art grad students interestingly titled "Fine Design for the End of the World," the four-day NYC event (which opened today) certainly keeps its promise to "spotlight emerging concepts, material evolution, and international design trends." One thing to keep an eye out for: two artist-designers jamming particles in a pop-up studio.

That's Brooklyn-based studio CW&T, made up of Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy. Besides making everlasting jump ropes, TV wheel-barrows and apps that test your internal sense of time, CW&T have a project called ROTOJAM, first born in an MIT Media Lab class a few years back. Particle jamming involves filling a latex balloon with granular media (something as small as sand or as big as ping pong balls), vacuum sucking the contents to harden it (think of those stiff, bean bag-shaped stress balls), then using it as a unique mold for casting. The results look precariously fragile to the eye and are entirely captivating; with unusual, repetitive textures that look more like something nature might have produced.

"The first day at the fair we were playing with a variety of media: garbanzo beans, plastic bbs, pinto beans, rice and marbles. Media with a finer grain like rice produces a far more delicate surface, but if you use marbles, there are crevices within the media where the drystone can seep in that produces a more durable structure," Taylor Levy tells CH. "We are sort of making and curating as we go—not every piece survives the de-molding process. We are starting to like using more regular (spherical) media as opposed to irregular pieces like garbanzo beans so that you have an irregular surface produced with legible forms."

Can the technique be used to make something more than pretty bowls? "This project was actually originally developed with a stool in mind as an end goal," she adds. "We wanted to see if a material process like this could not only function aesthetically but also perform functionally. We do have a stool that we made using this process. It was really hard to make, and messy, so we’re not making any here. But it is something we’d like to experiment with again in the future. Tomorrow we're going to buy some wax to experiment with investment casting while we’re here and set up. And test some things on a smaller scale."

They're able to present ROTOJAM at the fair thanks to a partnership between Collective Design and not-yet-opened A/D/O—a MINI-sponsored work and play space for designers that will open in Greenpoint, Brooklyn later this year. A/D/O will host a free workspace, store, restaurant, digital fabrication studio and even serve as the headquarters for URBAN-X, a start-up accelerator. The team behind A/D/O learned about CW&T on a hat tip from their Greenpoint neighbors, Kickstarter, and an in-person visit to CW&T's home studio quickly won them over. Now with A/D/O's sponsorship, CW&T has the unique opportunity of showcasing their work at the fair without having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a booth. There are a few more "Work in Progress" collaborations planned between Collective Design fair and A/D/O; the remaining will showcase other designers' work at the new Greenpoint space. A/D/O in essence is demonstrating its dedication to local designers before they've even launched.

Catch CW&T at their temporary studio set-up if you're visiting the Collective Design fair through 8 May 2016 at Skylight Clarkson Sq, New York. Those outside of NYC, check out the videos on CW&T's Instagram.

First and last image courtesy of Sam Deitch/BFA.com, product shots and portrait courtesy of CW&T, third image courtesy of Leandro Justen/BFA.com

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