Where fine art and architecture converge

  • Architect Kai Franz. PHOTO BY JONATHAN GOURLAY

MacDowell Colony
Wednesday, October 03, 2018 12:53PM

Kai Franz is an architect working primarily in the fine arts, creating works that straddle the divide between organic forms and computer code. In 2012 Franz modified a large format printer to produce sculptures and paintings. Franz, in town for his first MacDowell residency, will present slides of his work and discuss his pivot from architecture to visual art at MacDowell Downtown on Friday, October 5th, at The Monadnock Center for History and Culture.

Franz, who was born in Germany, credits a Fulbright Scholarship to Rhode Island School of Design for prompting him to question his methodical use of computer programming for the architectural design process.

“Architecture teaches a very specific methodology and RISD’s fine arts program undid much of that for me,” says Franz, adding that his RISD instructors opened his mind to new levels of experimentation and the value of breaking boundaries. He started to think, in his own words, more like an artist than a German and Swiss-trained architect. He took that new sensibility with him to Princeton where he finished a master’s in architecture and for his thesis project hacked a plotter printer, renaming his creation the Plopper.

After removing the ink-jet printer head and paper tray, Franz replaced the roll of paper with a bed of sand installed a plastic cup of liquid resin where the ink cartridges had been to drop “plops” onto the sand. The movement of the resin-filled cup was still determined by a computer-aided design (CAD) program, but the viscosity of the glue and the looseness of the sand kept an element of random chance at the heart of the process. The resulting works have been compared to netting encrusted with coral growth or archeological relics from an ancient civilization.

“I wanted to push the work more into the realm of abstract expressionism to have a different conversation,” says Franz, “to heighten the sentimental qualities of the work.” The resulting works are sculptures that lend themselves to all sorts of interpretation. It is work that can be viewed through three lenses, says Franz: abstract expressionism, minimalism, and CAD.

The artist, who now teaches spatial dynamics in the Division of Experimental and Foundation Studies at RISD, has experimented with different types of industrial sand and added various colors to his resins. While at MacDowell, Franz is experimenting with a larger device capable of producing works up to 6 feet by 12 feet, plopping fast-curing resin onto sand spread out on the floor of his studio.

Franz has also begun painting large wooden boards, but even his handmade works are based on instructions from a computer, albeit one he has programmed to generate basic cell behaviors, resulting in patterns that change with each repetition. He draws the initial grid on a wooden board and will drop spoons of paint repeatedly, following the grid pattern as though he is the digital device instructed by the code.

Don’t miss this fascinating look into one artist’s mixing of computer programming, hardware, intentional randomness, and aesthetic provocation at tomorrow’s edition of MacDowell Downtown at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. The presentation begins promptly at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m., and light refreshments will be served.