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October 3, 2017

Dan Peterman
Slipping and Jamming: Variable Installation of Z-Forms

University of Chicago Arts

 Dan Peterman, "Z-Forms Detail", photo by Heinrich Jaeger

This fall, the Arts, Science + Culture Initiative at UChicago presents Slipping and Jamming: Variable Installation of Z-Forms, by Chicago-based artist Dan Peterman. Commissioned for the 2nd Chicago Architecture Biennial, Slipping and Jamming is a sculptural installation that explores the tension between structural stability and instability. The work is composed of thousands of "Z-Forms"—post-consumer reprocessed plastic elements each cut in the form of a Z. Assembled into large sculptural forms, they embody a highly counter-intuitive idea: The possibility to create load-bearing, stable forms not by orderly arrangement of the individual elements, but by random, disordered configurations that structurally resemble a potentially flowing liquid.

This new installation grew out of a 2016 Graham Foundation-funded collaborative project between Peterman and the laboratory of University of Chicago physicist Heinrich Jaeger. The work is based on radically new concepts at the intersection of contemporary sculptural practice and research related to the physics of granular materials. Conceptually original and forward-thinking, Peterman translates concepts from granular physics, typically researched at small scales, to a larger, essentially architectural scale through his artistic practice.

From a sculptural perspective, jamming is an evocative concept. It is applicable on both micro and macro scales; the behavior of a ball of shaving cream in the palm of your hand or that of polar ice sheets. In both cases, the jammed, effectively solid behavior has the possibility to deform like a liquid when forced strongly enough. "My work as an artist has an ecological focus, and this shifting range of scale is relevant to how I think about the world,” says Peterman. “For me, jamming behavior carries along with it the companion idea of slippage—a fine line between material conditions of either stability or flow, useful engagement or abandonment.”

In Slipping and Jamming, these concepts assume an additional role for Peterman. Fabricating the elements themselves from post-consumer reprocessed plastic material reflects the cycle of jamming and unjamming, the changing forms and states of being, and the complete re-configurability of the structure itself. The dual nature of the particles, both composed of a constituent material and also comprising a greater structure, points toward a cycle of “invention, production, and generation” with echoes in ecological responsibility and petro-chemical dependency. In this way, Peterman’s sculpture is placed prominently into the larger context of a materials life cycle that minimizes waste.

About the artist
Dan Peterman is an internationally renowned Chicago-based artist, an alumnus of UChicago, and co-founder of the Experimental Station. He combines innovative strategies of local engagement and activism with national and international exhibitions, projects, and installations. Among his diverse projects, Peterman explores networks of recycled or discarded materials frequently producing starkly minimal works that function interchangeably as stockpiles, sculpture, functional objects, and critiques of environmental oversight and neglect. Peterman is also a Professor in the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He participated in the 2017 Documenta in Germany and Greece and is currently represented by Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.

About the Arts, Science and Culture Initiative
The Arts, Science + Culture Initiative at the University of Chicago cultivates collaboration, active exchange, and sustained dialogue among those engaged in artistic and scientific inquiry within the University and beyond. The Initiative provides opportunities for scholars, students, and arts practitioners, in multiple domains, to pursue original investigations and explore new modes of artistic production and scientific inquiry. Breaking intellectual ground requires transcending disciplinary boundaries and venturing into unfamiliar territory. To that effect, the Initiative’s programs are designed to spark conversations and critically engage faculty, students and the public across a broad spectrum of areas including art history, astronomy and astrophysics, biology, chemistry, cinema and media studies, computer and information science, creative writing, literature, mathematics, medicine, music, molecular engineering, physics, theater, and visual arts.

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