Nature Frame by michaelkautzer

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Michael Kautzer October 2007-April 2008

Exploring the interface between the intentional design of man and the unintentional design resulting from natural processes increases our understanding of the two. Intentional design in its current state has a great disrespect for its unintentional counterpart due to its isolated development and subsequent disregard for it. Designing something in insolation from the natural order fails to make use of the tremendous variety and depth of design material that exists to help inform and in most cases improve upon a design. Each side has a unique set of qualities that it brings to the table and utilizing both of them helps to produce work with greater character that bridges the divide. In order to understand this concept of the intentional-unintentional interface, one needs to understand each set of design concepts. Intentional design consists of decisions that are made to produce results that are entirely predictable and uniform such as determining the shape, size/scale, and surface of an item. An example of this type of design include: producing dimensional lumber or paint that precisely matches an existing surface. Unintentional design consists of processes, that through interaction, produce results that are unpredictable and unique such as weather patterns, movement of limbs, growth/ decay of plants, etc. Examples of this type include the unevenness of tree rings or the patterning of fallen leaves. Although extreme examples of each type of design occur, the reality is that they cannot be separated from each other. The goal is to celebrate this interaction rather than see it as a hindrance. The resulting effect in most cases improves upon the existing situation. Intentionality gives structure and focus and provides a means to showcase natural phenomena. Unintentionality on the other hand provides character and depth to regularity resulting in greater diversity of form. To showcase this interface, a series of frames were constructed and placed in the environment. Each frame attempts to focus the viewer’s attention on various unintentional elements both in space and time (falling leaves, footprints in the snow, ripples in water, etc) as well as improve the visual experience. In addition to literally framing the scene (a border around or next to) they serve as a frame of reference. They provide a reference point upon which to compare and contrast the colors, textures, and other phenomena with the man-made/intentional world. Despite the physical differences, strong visual similarities exist in the way in which the elements interact with each one helping to re-enforce the other. Ultimately, the environment serves as not only a means of inspiration, but as a vital part of the final presentation.


The resulting images can be broken down into three components that are represented in the title. Like the classification of plants and animals, each image is based on a hiearchial ordering of ideas. The first is the unintentional component that represents an environment, concept, or specific plant that gives rise to a need for interpretation or exploration. Image Fall leaves Cage subpr. Foreground tree includes in its title the concept of “falling leaves” that is explored through the conveyance of the second part of the title. The second part is the intentional component or built project that represents an abstract architectural or design typology. This typology references the shape or physical qualities of the project. For example, a frame that stands vertically might be a tower or one that has an elevated horizontal surface might be a platform. Image Fallen bark Grid subpr. Fallen tree includes in its title “grid” due to the use of a grid system to arrange and showcase the irregularities of the bark. The third one is the subproject that is a specific composition of the intentional frame showcasing the unintentional elements and the resulting photographed image. Images Oak tree Tower subpr. Three trees and Oak tree Tower subpr. Bark comparison consist of the same elements “a tower and an oak tree,” but the relationship manifests itself in different ways. Although each image divides into the three component parts listed above, each image is thought of as one intentional design adventure. Exploring the unintentional world itself is an attempt to better understand and make sense of it. These observations translate into design ideas that provide the basis for one’s own addition. For example, a piece of bark riddled with holes translates to a rigid ordering of holes on a pegboard. These ideas are combined with formal design concepts/ principles (asymmetry, contrast, hierarchy, etc) to produce something that when placed back into the setting, not only references it, but helps to improve one’s understanding. The placement of a frame in concert with the original observations that inspired it also results in a multitude of new and previously unknown interactions. For example, one might be aware of a falling leaf, but placing a white-painted box, which you designed and built, behind it reveals the shadow of the tree it fell from as well as additional leaves left on the tree. The goals of each project are finding these unknown or hidden interactions as well as gaining a better understanding of the unintentional or natural world as a whole.


Fall leaves Cage subpr. Green harvest, October 2007 Fall leaves Cage subpr. Foreground tree, October 2007

Time - Rather than just a means of measurement, the passage of time offers an opportunity for change to occur. This change occurs on many different scales from the very brief visible moments to very long and imperceptible ones. Constructing devices to showcase these changes helps provide evidence of their occurrence and progression. These changes also give life to the device by continuously altering its appearance. In Fall leaves Cage the brief process of a tree shedding leaves and the leaves falling to the ground is captured. Although seemingly insignificant, this small change, when combined together with others, leads to more significant changes that occur over longer periods of time.


Fallen bark Grid subpr. Fallen tree, November 2007 Bark Tower subpr. Afternoon shadows, October 2007

Pattern - Placing intentionally and unintentionally designed patterns in concert with each other to produce an image reveals their individual benefits. The intentional one provides a structure from which the other is referenced, which counters by providing it with a greater degree of irregularity. The holes that comprise the pegboard in Fallen bark Grid form a physical as well as a visual structure upon which to organize the bark. The bark ultimately casts shadows and thus break down the grid’s repetitiveness. Despite the physical differences in their creation, some of the same visual properties can be used to describe patterns of each type. Patterns are vertical or horizontal, coarse or fine, complex or simple, etc. What lacks universality is regularity, based on the way in which they are made. A naturally made pattern will always be irregular and a man-made one only aspires to be. The goal of intentional design has always been to reorganize these irregularities into a useful manner.


Oak tree Tower subpr. Three trees, November 2007 Oak tree Tower subpr. Bark comparison, November 2007

Characteristics - Each genus or species of plant has its own genetic traits that provide it with a unique physical form. An oak has qualities (leaf shape, branching structure, insect resistance, etc) that are distinct from that of a pine tree or even other species of oaks. These qualities not only affect the way in which it grows, but also influences its aesthetic appearance. For example, a solitary oak in the middle of a corn field is visually at home with its surroundings whereas a solitary pine tree might appear out of place. Recognizing and utilizing these shapes, whether in an abstract or more representative form, allows one to produce objects or buildings that fit in with their subsequent landscape or environment. The Oak tree Tower flares out at the base and crown and despite the abstraction begins to take on the characteristics of the shape of the trees surrounding it. 5

Unknown - Utilizing a new instrument/technique, whether it is for scientific, artistic, or just personal enjoyment, to explore the landscape provides an opportunity to view it in a completely new way. The Snow Table when placed amid a grouping of trees alters our view of them as individuals into a community with each having a visual connection to the others. Although these connections always existed, viewing them in a new way via a table or some other instrument makes them more evident. Viewing the environment from an altered perspective, one will not only gain a better understanding of that environment but possibly encounter something (plant, relationships, locations, etc) that was previously unknown to them.
Snow Table subpr. Bird nest, December 2007 Snow Table subpr. Gathering of trees, December 2007


Manufactured - An element made by a machine based on designs developed prior to its operation is the clearest expression of intentional design. Not allowing human interference in the creation of the final product denies it from inheriting any personality and uniqueness as an item. Snowflakes on the other hand represent the opposite side of the spectrum due to their uniqueness coming after the development of the initial design. Derived from a simple structure, the eventual product is literally “one of a kind.” Machines can only provide so much personality, mostly in the case of defects, that it has to rely on human or natural modification to provide it with life. In Snow Boxes, the bland results produced by a machine are transformed through modifying their shape and placing them in a new setting.
Snow Boxes subpr. Linear divide, December 2007 Snow Boxes subpr. Right angle, December 2007


Cat-tail Fence subpr. Lag screws, January 2008 Cat-tail Fence subpr. Deep within, January 2008

Beauty - Inserting the simple yet relevantly shaped Cat-tail Fence into a manmade pond recognizes the beauty that all landscapes possess. Despite the absence of physical beauty due to the lack of plant and animal diversity, this landscape and degraded landscapes as a whole still have the potential to be visually beautiful and pleasing to look. The means for its initial unpleasantness, lack of structure/focus/deviation and presence of distracting shapes, provides the cues for improvement. This improvement does not have to be complex but of a noticeable contrast. In introducing something new into the landscape, not only will there be an increase in diversity of forms but some of the emphasis will be diverted away from its inadequacies. In most cases, the greater the visual inadequacies, the easier it is, through human intervention via modifications and additions, to improve it. 8

Thaw Shoes subpr. Entry pebbles, January 2008 Thaw Shoes subpr. Wet leaves, January 2008

Reveal - The transformation brought on by the melting of snow is one of the most vivid that occurs in the natural world. The receding white blanket reveals a ground covered by a diversity of color and texture. However, the differences in color and texture are subtle compared with that of the snow itself. When both these dramatic and subtle changes are present, an image is able to grab your attention as well as keep it occupied over time. In the absence of this natural drama, intentionally designed items often fill this void due to their inherent design differences. Lacking a significant amount of snow to provide enough visual drama, Thaw Shoes employs a shape that is different from its setting yet still allows access to its subtleties.


Pine Truss subpr. Embracing tree, January 2008 Pine Truss subpr. Adopted, January 2008

Specimens - Resulting from a series of natural and human activities, both minor and major in scope, each living organism develops its own personality. These unintentional and intentional activities modify the genetic traits until they become unique specimens with each one distinguishable from the next. Each one provides a story from which one reads about the details of its environment. For example, two specimens of the same species of pine growing in the same forest, one in the center and one on the edge, will provide two completely different stories due to the conditions coupled with that location. Utilizing a neutral object as a reference enables one to uncover the specific conditions exhibited in each environment. The Pine Truss, when placed in the environment, visually showcases the available light, presence of other trees, slope of the ground, etc. Also, through its simplicity in form, it provides greater opportunity to study that of the trees.


Contrast - By placing elements with different shapes, structures, and/or color next to each other helps focus attention on their own distinctiveness. The straight rigid structure of Frozen river Bridge contrasts dramatically with the undulating curves produced by newly fallen snow while at the same time calling attention to them. When two similar elements are placed next to each other they have the potential of being repetitive and detract from the pristine nature of the other. If the bridge was curvilinear, the shape would no longer be unique to neither the bridge nor the mounds of snow. However, if they do not have anything in common, then they will no longer fit together and serve to distract the viewer. For instance, if the shape is the emphasis and allowed to contrast, then a like color/value would be utilized in order to bring the dissimilar elements together.
Frozen river Bridge subpr. Disturbance, February 2008 Frozen river Bridge subpr. River tracks, February 2008


Asymmetry - A complex set of natural processes (weather patterns, movement of limbs, growth/decay of plants, etc) will always produce asymmetrical shapes, patterns, arrangments, etc due to their uneven distribution over a given area. Due to this uneveness, asymmetry has the capacity to draw your eye in any direction and in many cases multiple. On the other hand perfect symmetry, an intentional creation, draws you towards the center due to its even balance and lack of emphasis in any other direction. Utlizing both in Icicle Ladder generates an interplay between structure of balance and spontaneity of imbalance. This interplay creates a dynamic set of visual relationships that prolongs one’s journey through the image.
Icicle Ladder subpr. Daggers, February 2008 Icicle Ladder subpr. Columns, February 2008


Snow horizon Window subpr. Birch trees, February 2008 Snow horizon Window subpr. Drifts, February 2008

Compliment - The addition of a color that is complimentary to a scene’s existing color palette provides a sense of visual completeness. Despite local deviations, each scene breaks down into a few distinct colors. For example a fall scene has a lot of vibrant oranges and yellows where as a winter scene has a lot of muted browns/greens with the addition of whites and blues. When the complimentary colors are added the visual possibilities are expanded without altering the original expression of a scene. However, overuse shifts the composition from one of completeness to one of distraction. In Snow horizon Window the blue of the snow and sky is countered by its compliment orange without altering the understanding that it is a winter scene.


Highlight - Many aspects of both the natural and man-made world are wasted, overlooked, and forgotten without any thought of their true potential. This underappreciated material still has the ability to inspire a design, and be a vital part of it. By adding an intentionally designed object our attention is focused on its potential. The material could provide an interesting texture, color, shape, etc that otherwise we never would have given a second thought. In Snow pile Podium the large piles of snow that are created from plowing a parking lot offer an instant mountain form complete with cliff faces, ridge lines, and rock shapes. The textures produced by the initial creation and subsequent melting are just as interesting with inclusions of dirt and garbage.
Snow pile Podium subpr. Pill Package, March 2008 Snow pile Podium subpr. Sunny ridge, March 2008


Light - Along with the direct physical connection of objects and their surroundings are indirect visual connections that result from various light phenomena: reflection/refraction and shadow. In Culvert Bridge the shadow cast on the water grounds it even though the physical connections are not visible. All objects have the ability to influence their surroundings and vice versa due to the universal phenomena provided by the light of the sun. In the presence of the sun, images are reflected off of mirrored surfaces, colors/brightness are refracted depending on surface conditions, and shapes/profiles and the darkness are transferred through the casting of shadows. The degree to which this occurs is a product of its position and availability. However, man-made sources have the ability to intentionally extend as well as alter them through artificial means.
Rapids Bridge subpr. Glare, March 2008 Culvert Bridge subpr. Sandy snow, March 2008


Setting - The environment in which an object is placed in dramatically influences its visual characteristics. Every setting has inherent qualities resulting from physical dimensions, surface treatments, complexity, etc that are imparted upon anything brought into it. Understanding and allowing for this influence transforms an isolated object into a deeply connected part of the existing setting. This connection subsequently transfers the intentions of the designer to the unintentional environment and influences its own characteristics. Designed properly, its removal will subsequently degrade the visual composition of that setting. A barren grassy ridge transforms the simple Grass Tower into a strong monolith watching over it. In response to the tower’s simplicity the ridge appears more expansive and its gentle slope becomes apparent.
Grass Tower subpr. Two ridges, March 2008 Grass Tower subpr. First green, March 2008


Empty forest Tower subpr. Last opening, April 2008 Forest litter Levels subpr. Saplings, April 2008

Form - An unintentional landscape, and the many forms that comprise it, have distinct intentional counterparts. These common forms are based on dimensional characteristics that result from the acquisition and availability of resources and the subsequent feedback. For example, a typical forest will have its tallest trees in the interior just as a city will have its tallest buildings in the center/downtown. Despite some deficiencies in their comparison, these unintentional and intentional forms, when placed in relation to each other, exhibit strong visual and physical unity. In Forest litter Levels the forest floor is seamlessly extended upward without a strong visual disjunction.


S. foetidus Cage subpr. Gathering, April 2008 Crocus Dividers subpr. Three colors, April 2008

Simplicity - Showcasing the diversity of the natural world requires only simple gestures due to the complexity that already exists. Even the smallest ecosystems contain a large number of living organisms with an even larger number of interactions between them and their physical environment. Adding a simply colored, patterned, and/or shaped reference/divider the complexity breaks down into manageable pieces. However, if it is too complex, the visual and physical diversity has the potential to worsen. The simplicity of the man-made addition allows one to spend more time focusing on the beauty of the natural world while still providing a reference to come back to. In S. foetidus Cage the cage/backdrop helps to separate the background vegetation from the flowers in the foreground as well as highlight their unique shape. 18

Weather - Viewing the intentional world as a relatively permanent entity separated from the unintentional world fails to recognize the opportunities that changing weather patterns provide. In Puddle Platform these changes are clearly seen. As the rain falls, not only does it produce a dynamic pattern of ripples on the puddle but it covers the solid surfaces with a new texture. In addition to rain, the effects of snow, wind, clouds, etc alter their environment in significant ways with each providing different effects. These effects transform the static scene into an animated one. Designing for this change rather then seeing it as a hindrance provides a means upon which this animation can take place. Failing to account for this change will degrade the design due to the inability to avoid the weather’s visual and physical affects.
Puddle Platform subpr. Cloud opening, April 2008 Puddle Platform subpr. Rainy day ripples, April 2008


Flooded Platform subpr. Furthest out, April 2008 Flooded Platform subpr. Deer trail, April 2008

Opportunity - The unintentional world provides a tremendous number of unique opportunities throughout the year that result from the unpredictability of natural and man-made processes. Although the year in general progresses in a very predictable manner within that generality, there is a great degree of variability in both the time and magnitude of specific events. For example, snow melting in Spring generally induces flooding and river levels rise. However, the time and magnitude of that flooding is far less certain. This uncertainty thus demands one to observe and take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves. If one does not grasp these opportunities, the lack of predictability ensures that it may not happen again. The Flooded Platform grasped one of these opportunities, which was the combination of dead grass, the red stems of the dogwood shrubs, and the reflection in the water of the blue sky. 20

Maple Truss subpr. New Group, April 2008 Maple Truss subpr. Repair, April 2008

Scale - Comparing one object to another reveals the diversity in size and age that occurs within an environment. The visual scaling that occurs allows an object to take on multiple personalities. For example, a tree looks older/larger when compared to a younger/smaller one and vice versa. Changing the vantage point increases the potential for these reinterpretations to occur. Inserting a third-party object(s) of known or standard size increases the potential even further through the ability to provide greater range and expression. Although the dimensions may not be known, the regularity of it’s size transfers. The form and surface treatment add an additional point of reference. In Maple Truss the use of different vantage points and a third-party object makes larger trees appear smaller and less monumental and younger trees appear older and more disfigured. 21

Daffodil Platform subpr. Emerging, April 2008 Daffodil Platform subpr. Leaning, April 2008

Exhibit - By moving the frames out of the isolated setting of a museum/ gallery allows them to interact with their subject. It provides viewers with new insight on their form, color, and other aspects of the design. The viewer is also able to develop their own image of the subject without the hindrance of some preconceived idea. The frame is no longer seen as a barrier between the subject and its environment but a reference point in which to explore both. The Daffodil Platform does not just frame a grouping of plants, but provides surfaces, openings, and an interpretation upon which to explore the beauty that is the interface between the intentional design of man and the unintentional design resulting from natural processes.

22 (262) 893-3469 Artist: Michael Kautzer

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