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Architects who mix the ephemeral and the permanent

August 1, 2009 |  3:45 pm

NoguesblogThough they might be known as masters of the ephemeral, Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues are feverishly working on a number of permanent projects that range from public sculptures to actual buildings. Both Ball and Nogues built permanent forms on their own before they joined forces. But the majority of their recent commissions have lasted only for the run of an exhibition, such as "Feathered Edge" at MOCA's Pacific Design Center space. (Read about that project here.)

Los Angeles will see two Ball-Nogues-designed public art installations in the near future, both of which are designed to last for decades. The first, at the Centinela Area Building and Safety Permit Office on West Imperial Highway, uses a similar approach as “Feathered Edge.” Instead of string as in "Edge," dozens of bead strands, made of brass, will be hung in precise patterns to create an 18-by-18-foot volume composed of hanging arcs. That will produce a similar effect as “Feathered Edge” -- only where “Edge” feels ephemeral and delicate, this projectwill take on a more sculptural form. “We worked on this at the same time as the MOCA project,” says Ball. “We like to do that because it allows them to talk to one another.”

The second is part of Macerish’s revamping of Santa Monica Place, which is being transformed from an interior shopping mall to an exterior one. Artist Christian Moeller is installing a large-scale video sculpture in the heart of the plaza, while Ball-Nogues have designed a hanging piece that will grace the exterior along the street. Early renderings of it suggest a bouquet of flowers, or buds, hanging upside down. Only instead of buds, they’re using stainless-steel, mirrored gazing balls, which are connected by steel poles. As Ball says, “It’s actually like that toy, a Newton’s cradle.”

Lastly, they’re finishing up an observation deck for a park in Woodstock, N.Y. Despite being their first permanent building, they make no distinction between their “permanent” sculptures and the Woodstock project. It follows the same process of repeating forms, except that the owners wanted to play on the idea of a tepee. Thus, they began with a kind of maypole or mast, off which they suspended the circular, tepee form. The latter consists of repeating metal triangles, which will eventually be covered in moss, while a stone base will wrap around the deck area and form a fire pit at the center. 

Each project touches on aesthetic themes of ornament and spatial organization, but always with an almost palpable honesty. They’re labor-intensive, mostly on the research side, which in turn “yields different values,” as Ball says. 

When asked if that’s the real joy of what they do, Ball responds: “Yes, the joy and the stress!”

-- Paul Young 

Photo: Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues install "Feathered Edge." Credit: Stefano Paltera

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