Bennington’s Egg: A Synthesis of Collaboration and Individualism

Almost a month ago now, a space much unlike any other space that’s ever existed before on campus went up for a couple hours on the day that Mariko Silver, our new president, was inaugurated. 

This temporary, reusable and inflatable structure, “the Egg” (as we referred to it during its construction), was designed and constructed, collaboratively by a group of 12 students (including myself) with the guidance and leadership of digital arts faculty member, Guy Snover ‘06 and sculpture technician, John Umphlett MFA ‘99 throughout the span of 9 weeks in a sculpture class called The Field Research of Closed Cells. That very day, was the first day that any of us had ever seen it entirely inflated; it was the first time we were able to actually enter and experience the interior of the structure ourselves, given the fact that the entire time we were piecing it together, we were only able to assume what the experience itself would be like through imagination and the help of 3-D modeling. It was either going to work and be successful, both conceptually and functionally, or literally fall flat. I’d say that despite some struggles in the process of fabricating this beautiful, monster of a space, we all came together to not only enjoy the fruit of our labor but also revel in the experience of seeing and knowing that the audience of the day truly understood how transformative it was. After all, this was a project for the College that was designed to reflect what being a student at Bennington is all about, physically as well figuratively.

The structure itself is made of re-enforced clear and black+white plastic. The design process began with the construction of small scale, paper models. Many structural ideas were presented through these models, but what the Egg ended up representing was the interest in the idea of symmetry and chambers within chambers. After working with paper, it was time to familiarize ourselves with plastic as a workable material with its unique sets of limitations and possibilities. To understand plastic, we began working with smaller models, working our way to a larger (still MUCH smaller than the Egg) test model. John Umphlett, a true master of none, taught us basic techniques in welding plastic together. The Egg itself was fabricated by tacking (30’ +) pieces of the structure with hot glue to keep them in place, then seaming them together using an all too familiar tool: an iron. Heat is what fused our Egg’s walls, floor and inner yolk, structure together. 

The pieces that together make up the whole structure were cut out from 100 ft rolls of plastic, using paper patterns (again these patterns were at most about 30 ft. long) that we made by projecting the digital, model files onto the wall of the space we worked in (VAPA’s Sculpture “Pit” which is only about 40’ by 40’!!). We used those patterns to trace the pieces’ outlines onto the plastic, which were then cut. This part of the process demanded a great deal of organization and cooperation from the group. Systems of organization were always shifting, from one step to the next, until the end. It was important for all us to stay on the same page. 

As mentioned before, there were many struggles along the road to the finalization of the structure. We had to practice a great deal of task-managing, making sure that work was divided up somewhat (at least) evenly between the group. And although we were dealing with material that was foreign to us, we worked hard to help each other out, compiling our experiences and growing familiarity with the material the more and more we worked on it. An even more important part of this collaborative practice was learning how to respectfully exercise our responsibility as individual members of a collective, of communicating with each other, addressing issues within the work flow and keeping each other in check. Interdisciplinarity, the collaborative art practice and skill-sharing is something that is becoming more prevalent within the Visual Arts courses at Bennington, a gradual shift that mirrors the larger shift within the context of the art world. Artists (as well as researchers, engineers, etc.) are coming together more and more to create, transitioning out of the individual, studio practice. I believe this experience, from start to finish was invaluable as a VA student here and as a creative individual who intends to continue making and creating beyond my time here at Bennington (+ not everyone can say they had a hand in making such a thing!).

Here is a photo of the outer shell of our Egg in the process, hanging in the Sculpture Pit.

A quick, iPhone panorama taken from within the Egg, capturing the internal, more intimate yolk structure. 

The interior structure is important to mention. Individuals who had the opportunity to enter the Egg also had the option of crawling into the round, yolk structure within it. While its exterior glowed white, its interior was pitch black due to the lack of light and the black side of the white plastic. This, as you can imagine, provided a dramatic, contrasting experience for the viewer: transitioning from a seemingly endless, bright space to a more intimate, dark space.

The main supply of air was pumped in by a large, re-purposed fan with a powerful motor, directly into the yolk, through a white tube. The air pumped into the yolk is what also helped inflate the rest of the Egg’s structure. So in a way, the yolk is what provided but more importantly sustained and supported the rest of the larger outer shell. This harmonious model reflects a rather poetic outlook on what the experience of being a student in the Bennington College community is like. Being a part of a place that is all about individualism, finding and activating your own voice, and figuring out how to best mold the provided education to yourself, it’s important to realize that there is a symbiotic relationship present. Being a student here is about acknowledging that the student, the individual, needs the community just as much as the community needs the individual. 

One of the last images I took as we deflated and Egg at the end of the day. Again, this wasn’t to be the last time the Egg would be inflated. It is to be stored and taken out for future use. 

~Doug ‘16~

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