“Superplexus Circles” was the first Giant Superplexus I designed. It was built with foamboard as a working model first, and then as my third accomplished piece. It started off as a 4′-diameter functional model, built in the Spring of 2007, for the Maker Faire in San Mateo, California. The 24″ formalized version was created for a private collector in January, 2010. The design as a whole reflects the nature of the spherical volume it occupies, and was intended to fill the space with unique forms, unlike any previous Superplexus or Perplexus. It was an all-out design and integration fest that tested my capabilities. Since then, the Vortex piece has surpassed it in sheer density of pathways.
Superplexus Circles (#1) was commissioned for a collector who asked for a small enough piece to fit into a specific space and budget. I had plenty of time to build it, and we laid out a schedule, payment method, and a few rules about what was expected. The materials were to be fine birch aircraft plywood, stainless steel, black-stained hardwood, various hardware, and a clear acrylic dome, but in the end, it was agreed that black was not appropriate for the base.
It turned out wonderfully, and in the 24″ version is cute and petite in comparison to the Vortex. This diameter is ideal for a moderate home, though probably too small for a science center or museum, unless well-fitted into the architectural environment. What a joy to play. It is possible to get to the end in an hour if the player is practiced. Perhaps an expert can be much faster.
It all began with foamboard on April 4th, 2007. I had no pre-conceived plan, and no sketches either.
LEFT: the equatorial plane. MIDDLE, an intersecting plane. RIGHT, the resultant intersected plane.
Creating such a complex piece was a difficult process for me, so I began without any drawings, and worked directly in foamboard. The initial element was the equatorial plane, seen behind me (image, above left). The dimensions for the Circles prototype were determined by the available material. ¼″ x 48″ x 96″ foamboard allowed for a 2′ radius, plus support flanges every 120°. My plan was to create an outer ring on the equator as part of the pathway system support structure, plus internal crossings, allowing for further structural support and pathway complexity.
The second plane, placed at 90° to the equator, was cut from the remaining piece of the initial sheet. I had no idea how to integrate it or what to remove, so I began by linking it across the diameter of the equator. This helped me define where to create voids. The difficulty was in maintaining three attributes: structure, function, and aesthetics. As a kinetic sculpture, the form must be visually strong, but as a game, it must also flow as a 3D labyrinth.
The second plane became what I call the “Mosquito”. The “Ankh” was formed at one end of this plane.
As more and more planes became integrated, my daughter Laura discovered how
light the model was, and my son Sam posed for a photo to demonstrate scale.
Each new plane added form to the structure. The names were growing: “Dogbone”, “Enterprise”, “Double-Donut”, “Steps”, “Tight Rope”, and “Non-Planar Spiral”. It began to take shape as a spherical volume, but this was still at the beginning stages. Other processes were still necessary to make it an interactive piece.
During this stage, I received a visit from my pal, John Watrous. He took one look at what I was building, and out of concern for my well being, suggested that it needn't be so complex. John has been my great friend and mentor ever since 1981, when I took his seminal sculpture class. As a pure art object, he had a point. It would have been formally strong even in much simpler arrangements. But since it was my first Giant Superplexus, I felt the need to produce a seriously involved piece.
These sculptures don't fit into a typical category of work, so it is difficult to make a comparison to other works. As Louis Sullivan said, “form ever follows function”. The shape of Superplexus is intimately guided by its use as both a sculpture and an interactive spatial problem-solving game. And at the heart of the creation of any of these pieces is my desire to make every surface, top and bottom, a part of the path.
It was a difficult task to figure out if the pathway had continuity. Arrows of many colors were added to
determine interconnectivity. LEFT TO RIGHT: the Ankh, Gantry, Multi-Ring, and Non-Planar Spiral.
After building the initial structure, pathway continuity had to be worked out. I made a collection of colored arrows on white tape, cut into rectangles. Beginning with red, I placed the arrows along the progressing path leading from the START position. At one point, the pathway simply ended, and I discovered an entirely non-integrated section which I arrowed in green. Ultimately, there turned out to be a third non-integrated section which became covered with blue arrows. This one formed a continuous loop with no beginning or end, which explains why it was difficult to discover early on; it had no dead-ends to start from. As I created new turn-arounds and linkages, many arrows had to change direction, and even change colors, sometimes hundreds of them at a time.
Posterboard and cardstock rails were added after the basic structure was completed. This gave the Superplexus near-functionality as well as much greater strength. Each pathway became an H-Beam or T-Beam. The combination of interconnected paths and rails made the sculptural aspect more volumetric. Of course, railings were necessary to allow the ball to travel the path, but they also acted as a visual element giving the piece its curvilinear qualities.
The railings were glued in place using tacky glue, which, as the name implies, is very sticky. This kind of glue bonds paper and foamboard very well. The other benefits: it dries clear and needs very little clamping. Unfortunately, it cannot be used on my aircraft plywood pieces. Since clamping was next to impossible on the rails, they were secured with sewing pins while the glue set.
It took well over 100 hours to construct the foamboard model. And then it was time to make the gimbal.