In our second collaboration with Untitled Queen, we were asked to create another wearable performance sculpture. This time, Untitled approached us with a clear vision: a crystal-shaped headpiece that could be manually opened and closed over the course of her performance to Crystalline by Stevie Nicks, a song she had chosen for the 28 year of New York's "Night of 1000 Stevies" event. After many iterations of the form, along with intensive material and mechanics testing, we created CRYSTALLINE, an iridescent plexiglass wearable that through absorption and redistribution of light transformed to an iconic yet ephemeral performance piece. As the piece has been used for subsequent performances we have helped evolved the lighting design to best highlight all relationships it has to the crystal, which can emit a natural glow or decorate the wearer and the surrounding space with its refracted patterns.
1 | Client Concept
Unlike DAYSTAR, this time Untitled came to us with a clear vision for the piece. She sent us a series of sketches that roughed out what she imagined to be the general shape, along with the desired stages of the opening / closing process. In addition to this, she sent us a series of inspiration images to drag from for the aesthetic and energy of the piece, and it quickly became clear that the challenge of this project was in designing something that appeared fragile but was structurally sound enough to support its changing states.
2 | Design
To begin our design process, we started with a rough massing of the headpiece's form. After attempting several different methods of developing the geometry, we finally settled on starting with a symmetrical reduced geometry of a crystal geometry in high density form, and sanding away parts until it started to look like an organic evolution. Once we had figured out a an organized method of developing the shape, we recreated it as a 3D model and mathematically altered sections to create the seemingly naturally grown form. We then mocked up this shape in cardboard, and used that to inform several tweaks to the massing to best accommodate Untitled's head, neck, and shoulders. The finalized form was broken into four main components, a collar to be build as an foundation, supporting the taller pieces attached to it, two openable panels which would could expose or conceal Untitled's face, and a solid back piece that would anchor the moving components as they closed.
3 | Material Testing
Since the crystal had to be both transparent and responsive to light, our natural instinct was to fabricate the majority of the piece out of plexiglass. We tested a series of differently combined plexi types and applied films, finally settling on 1/8" clear acrylic with two types of dichroic iridescent film attached. While the geometry of the piece was strong, we felt that it wasn't maximizing its interactivity with stage lighting, so we developed a randomized shatter pattern as a secondary skin.
This pattern was then broken down into two additional iterations to the transparent shatter unit: those that were filled in solid gradated from back to front, minimized around Untitled's face and maximized in the back anchor. Units that had their iridesecent film feels away gradated in the opposite direction, allowing the most transparency at the front and most iridescence in the back. Once this patterning was applied to the profiles of our form panels we laser-cut all the pieces so that they alternated between the two types of iridescent films, the solid shatter units becoming a translucent white as they were laser-etched into the acrylic.
4 | Build & Mechanics
While the plexiglass work perfectly to achieve the visual effects we were looking for, it posed a clear challenge when it came to the best assembly method. The piece needed a solid mechanical system that could be manipulated without threatening to damage or distort our desired shape, but also minimal enough so as not to interfere with the appeared fragility of the plexiglass. Our final solution was relatively simple, the collar and back sections of the crystal were bolted together with the help of hand-bent miniature brackets to match the angles of the geometry.
The hinged sections and panels within them were attached with small hinges, also screwed into place. To help the piece take and hold its shape as it was closed, magnets were added to the connecting seam lines which would connect to additionally added brackets which would catch and help register the panels to take the correct shape. A neoprene trim was added to edge of the collar to help soften the weight of the piece on Untitled and better brace it to her body.
As a final element to help deliver this piece to Untitled on show day, we created our first handmade bag, the QuSac. A simple two tone neoprene sack, this carried the piece safely to our client and serves as its current protective covering.
5 | Optical Effects
What we believe makes this piece so power, and so visually stimulating, is its nuanced relationship to whatever light conditions it is subjected to. With a general overhead lighting source, the crystal's iridescence defines each panel of the piece with a different color but mostly perfect transparency. If the light is changed to an angled spot, that transparency decreases while reflectivity and saturation increase. The color spectrum can be controlled by color lighting, the piece absorbing and reflecting a singular hue.
In addition to the piece emitting a responsive glow, the crystal acts as a prism, refracting its shatter pattern and projecting it onto Untitled and context around her. Different settings and creative direction allow for greater or less visibility of this effect, as it can be enhanced and minimized by the direction and distance of the light source. Regardless of how the crystal is responding to its surrounding, it never loses the grounding relationship to Untitled whose face can always be seen either through transparency or translucency as the core of the piece.