Allison Hunter

How do you test a prototype that, in theory, functions as the protector for an invaluable object?

As in, would you feel comfortable attaching a priceless work of two-dimensional art to a prototype of a travel frame? What happens if your prototype fails? What happens if you ruin the artwork?

This conundrum became reality this past week for us. We wanted to test our prototypes for their true function, but we didn’t want to hurt any artwork in the process.

Enter Allison Hunter, an international visual artist who was kind enough to donate a few of her misprinted photography works to us. Allison is celebrated both in the Houston community and the world abroad for her twenty years of experience in multiple art medias, including photography, drawing, video, painting, performance, and installation.

Recently, Allison has been focusing on animal photography and videography. Her larger-than-life prints of animals, ranging from flamingos to frogs to sheep, are awe-inspiring and somewhat playful. Her work reminds us that animals belong on this Earth and, like the rest of humanity, deserve our kindness and respect. Here is her artist statement, which can be found on her website:

I am interested in making people think about how they perceive and respond to elements of the world around them that are often marginalized or overlooked. I approach this problem in my art work by taking things out of context to show their beauty, grace, and uniqueness. My effort is not to add but to remove elements from the original image to allow the viewer to focus more intently on the process of displacement and reinterpretation. For example, when I photograph living creatures in zoo environments, I frame the scene with the camera and later edit out background information in order to create a sense of mystery that evokes questions from the viewer. My interest in non-human animals stems in part from my background in feminist art and feminist theory, where I first understood how sexism is linked to speciesism. I approach my animals and their re-location in virtual environments as a way to exercise a desire for a better world, one where humans treat all living beings with equal care.”

With her generosity, we have had the opportunity to test our prototypes for their true function: holding, protecting, and transporting two-dimensional art. We greatly appreciate her contribution to our project this summer, and we can’t see what she creates next.

To learn more about Allison Hunter, please visit her website: www.allisonhunter.com.

Elevator Pitch for CCE Fellows Presentation

When it comes to conserving art, prevention is key. Rather than focusing on the restoration of art pieces, today’s museums keep damage from happening in the first place by strictly controlling the artwork’s environment and safely handling pieces.

Given the increasing transit of art pieces between different museums and private collections, as well as the typical flow of objects between archive and exhibit spaces, storage within the museum is becoming ever more dynamic. As artwork arrives and departs, conservators and preparators are forced to move pieces within and between storage facilities frequently. Intra-museum transport is of greater concern than ever, since every occasion in which a piece is handled represents a risk of damage.

At the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, preparators protect two-dimensional artwork during short-distance transport through the use of travel frames that follow a basic, universal structure and design: the art object appears to be floating in a shallow wooden box, attached such that nothing touches the surface or edges of the piece.

However, because travel frames must be custom-fabricated for each piece and are made of non-reusable materials, they are effectively single-use objects.  While empty travel frames could be stored for future use, they take up too much of the already limited space at the museum’s storage facilities, so they often have to be discarded. Furthermore, it takes a significant amount of time for museum preparators to build a travel frame and secure an art piece to it. Unfortunately, these factors make for an inefficient and ultimately wasteful system.

Hence the challenge posed to us by the MFAH: how can we redesign travel frames so as to optimize resources, space, labor, and time? Using a multidisciplinary and design-based approach, our team, under the mentorship of Dr. Matthew Wettergreen,  has developed working prototypes of solutions that can be implemented not only at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, but throughout the museum industry.

Prototyping!

We have entered the final two weeks of the EDAAC program, and the third stage of the engineering design process—prototyping. Last Monday, we met with our sponsors from the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and presented our top five designs. The museum preparators and conservators discussed the designs and how they addressed the most pressing concern—protection. In the end, they picked two designs for us to build. We had already formed a shopping list for each design, tweaking our design slightly to be viable with off-the-shelf materials. After deciding on the designs, we quickly placed our order for parts. We ran into some minor problems, such as certain companies not having our parts available at the time. Since we only had two weeks to finish our prototypes, we did not have the luxury of waiting for back orders. Fortunately, most of our parts arrived in a timely manner. We spent the last week building our designs. This has involved a lot of cutting and grinding, since many of the off-the-shelf parts were not exactly the measurements we needed or did not match up as we had hoped. Despite some setbacks, we are making progress and have been able to piece together one of the prototypes. Seeing the design completed, we can better understand the shortcomings and order new parts and return old parts to correct theses issues.

Quantifying Quality: The Pugh Analysis

After many sessions of brainstorming, we have all amassed a mountain of design ideas, and begun to evaluate them. To help sift through our many ideas, we have employed the Pugh analysis. In order to do this, we figured out which attributes we thought were important, such as cost, longevity, ease of assembly and the ability to protect. All designs are different in their own ways, so we needed a base level to compare all things to. As a base, we compared all the designs to current wood frames used in museums. Within each criteria, the new design could receive a +, – or 0, if it was apparently better, worse or the same as the museum’s frame. Although this can simplify things because some designs may be much better than others, we need to further narrow our options with more analysis.

After the first round of analysis, we all had designs that not only had varying scores, but also varying differences. Using these scores, we were able to combine different ideas, so that one design could improve on the shortcomings of another. After a series of revisions, we’ll finally narrow down to ten ideas. From here we’ll be able to further narrow down our designs by the importance of each category.

Brainstorming

Over this past week, we have been focused on the brainstorming stage of our design process. We started off with each member and Dr.Wettergreen getting a hundred index cards. We had an hour to write down any keywords of ideas we could think of that were relevant to the design, no matter how outrageous or impossible. Then we shuffled all the cards together and redistributed them. We did two more rounds of brainstorming, this time writing down additional ideas based off of what was already written on the index cards.

Afterward, we taped all of our cards on the glass walls around the OEDK conference room and started stacking repeated or similar ideas on top of each other. Once the 500 index cards were narrowed down, we started sifting through the cards and putting them into concept groups, such as materials, structures, and, of course, a category for impossible ideas (e.g. magic or the Force) and crazy ideas (too difficult for us to design in the span of 9 weeks). Once we had defined groups, we tried to cut down even more on the number of cards. Finally, we arrived at design blocks, which are the necessary components of our final design, and we were able to put our concepts into these blocks.

Now, rather than brainstorming individual elements or attributes,  it’s time to come up with complete designs. Through four hour-long rounds of brainstorming, during which each of us have to come up with 15 designs, our objective is to use each element listed under our design blocks at least once. Playing off of each other for new ideas, we will ultimately have all the designs that can potentially be included in next week’s Pugh analysis. Our goal will be to quantitatively evaluate the qualitative characteristics of about five designs to determine which one will eventually become our prototype.