Philadelphia Fullerine is a geodesic narrative montage showing people, events, and themes of ethnic life in mid-19th century Philadelphia. I presented this sculpture at the National Collegiate Honors Conference in New Orleans, IL., which was held on Nov. 10-14, 2004. A multidisciplinary project, it pulls together skills in art, engineering, history, writing, performance, and recording.
Addendum: I presented a paper on the computing and literary theory of Philadelphia Fullerine at the 16th Annual ACM/SIGWEB Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, in Salzburg, Austria. My paper won the Ted Nelson Newcomer Award! The title of the paper is "Philadelphia Fullerine, A Case Study in Three Dimensional Hypermedia."
The sculpture is an extension of my senior English honors project, which is a traditional narrative nonfiction on the same topic.
At its most basic level, this sculpture is a geodesic sphere featuring images from mid-19th century Philadelphia history. However, much more is going on. Each of the numbered triangles represents a different story or theme from that time period. An attached mp3 device plays a short audio clip explaining the triangle. As much as possible, I use the words of those who were there, including figures like Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Frederick Douglass.
The placement of images on the sphere is not random. Each triangle relates directly to the stories and themes directly adjacent to it. Many more connections exist, but these provide a basic sort of guidance for experiencing the project.
Life is a much richer thing than dots on a timeline or paragraphs in a chronological story. Life doesn't happen independently of itself. In a city like Philadelphia, the actions of one person were not confined to one event or sphere of influence. Furthermore, a single act could be one influence on a multitude of other events and ideas. By presenting this work as a hypertext sphere, I hope to encourage people to read history holistically.
Philadelphia Fullerine is a hypertext. This may seem odd, since it's presented as a sculpture rather than a web-based electronic document. But the WWW is only one small application of the concept of hypertext, which refers to any sort of work that is meant to be read (or experienced) nonlinearly. Hypertext can exist in many forms. It can be used for print works like Ted Nelson's Literary Machines (one of the first conscious hypertexts). It can be used in online literary efforts, such as Dylan Kinnett's fine novella, To Win, Simply Play. Sites like wikipedia rely heavily on hypertext concepts, although not all websites are hypertext.
I may be wrong, but I believe that Philadelphia Fullerine is the first (let's hope of many) hypertext sculptures. Because it's a hypertext, it encourages readers to explore the history and connections for themselves, in whatever order or manner they choose.
The world is not linear, and neither is knowledge. Paper writing and textbooks constrain our thinking to a high degree, making us think in a line, or at best, in hierarchies. There are other, better models for thinking and representing information. While a geodesic sphere is very constraining, it is much much less constraining than, say, a term paper. Logic itself doesn't really go in a line, but actually takes the form of a multiTree or zzStructure.
Thinking outside the constraints of normal hierarchial linearity is a useful too. My talk at the NCHC (on the value of certain types of American Studies courses) touched on the value of teaching honors students the art of making good connections between information. I have already been contacted by a college professor who would like to make a small-scale geodesic sphere an assignment for an honors class.
This project was actually authored in electronic hypertext software, Eastgate Systems' Tinderbox. The sphere is one cross-section of the information, placed into physical space. If you ever have to do complex research or want to write more intelligently, I highly suggest Tinderbox as a writing tool. My methods of research and writing with Tinderbox will be published in an upcoming issue of Tekka, The Journal of New Media and Software Aesthetics.
More information on the role of Tinderbox in making the geodesic sphere can be found on my weblog, The Notebook of Sand.
Philadelphia Fullerine is constructed with a framework of galvanized steel rods, riveted together onto 12 pentagonal and 20 hexagonal connectors. It is a geodesic structure. However, it has 32 vertices, not 60, which is why I haven't named it a Fullerene but have instead changed the spelling slightly.
I obtained most of my mathematical information from the R. Buckminster Fuller FAQ, based on a lot of usenet postings. If you have questions about the math, please go there. Section 4, on Geodesic Domes will be the most helpful page. My sphere is a 2 frequency (what-is-referred-to-in-Domebook II-as) triacon geodesic sphere. It can be thought of as a dodecahedron with each pentagon composed of triangles. Another page, by Maurice Starck, shows a 3d applet of the geometry of Philadelphia Fullerine (the middle one).
The geometry of the steel sphere wrapped with rough jute and hemp cord symbolize the tensions felt between the old, handmade culture and the new, precision-manufacturing working-class that caused economic upheaval in the mid-19th century. At the center of each pentagon is an ornate knob which symbolizes he clash between the refined upper class life and the rougher working-class experience. Note also the choice of jute and hemp. Many of the immigrant workers would have been dockworkers or weavers. They too were losing their jobs to the technologies of cotton mills, railroads, and manufactories.
The triangles are made out of balsa laced onto the structure with hemp cord.
Audio ExcerptsAlthough I can't reproduce the images online (copyright issues), I can put some excerpts of the audio online (in no particular order):
The background audio for these works was generously provided by Magnatune, which is a thoroughly-tremendous non-evil electronic record label. These works were licensed under an Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike CC license. The print/multimedia version of the sculpture contains a full list of artists.
I was privileged to take this sculpture to the National Collegiate Honors Conference '04 in New Orleans. There, I presented the sculpture and also gave a talk (collaborated with Dr. Kevin Scott) on how American Studies courses can help bridge cross-cultural gaps. Here are some photos from the trip (courtesy of Kyle C. Kopko):
Credit where Credit is due
Many people have been very helpful in this project. I could not done it without their help:
Are you interested in geodesics? In hypertext? In narrative sculpture? Drop me a line by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm currently looking for more places to exhibit this work, so if you have any ideas, please let me know.