Los Angeles, California
The undisputed kings of West Coast installation architecture are Ball-Nogues, an LA-based firm that merges art, architecture, and a keen sense of how to make things.
The firm was formed in 2004 by Ben Ball and Gaston Nogues, who met as students at SCI-Arc and, much to their advantage, had both worked in several other fields outside architecture. Ball designed film and television sets including work on “Matrix”; Nogues was a fine art printer who then worked for Gehry Partners.
In an age where many young firms are relegated to the virtual realm, the two have opted to make highly crafted, “messy” pieces that merge high-tech fabrication with low-tech construction. Installations usually consist of small material units that are then painstakingly woven into a larger mosaic; some are featured in galleries, others act as shading devices on the sides of buildings.
Working with teams that range from three to 12 people depending on the scope and complexity of the work, Ball-Nogues has created installations across LA and the globe, including for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Modern Art’s MoMA PS1, Rice Gallery in Houston and the Venice Biennale in Italy.
Their first installation, Maximilian’s Schell in 2005 at Materials & Applications in LA, was a sophisticated, layered quilt of colorful, reinforced mylar created with modeling software and hung to resemble a vortex. The firm named the project after the protagonist of a Disney sci-fi film from the 1970s. Their main interest, said Ball, was just “figuring out how to do it.”
Benny Chan and Hadley Fruits
Much of Ball and Nogues work is based on solving material challenges and then furthering their material potential. For their 2007 canopy installation Liquid Sky at PS1, the firm worked with a manufacturer to develop a more robust version of Maximilian’s mylar to withstand higher wind loads and more abuse from visitors. Using computer algorithms and digital cutting machines, they fabricated 1,300 unique pieces that were then put together by hand.
Other series have investigated polished stainless steel spheres (Cradle at Santa Monica Place and a much larger upcoming installation for the city of Edmonton in Canada) and even the cardboard-like polymer used in fast-food-to-go containers. Upcoming work includes a gel-based window mosaic for Mercy Housing’s 10th and Mission Teen Center in San Francisco, and, possibly, a paper pulp installation for the experimental Andrea Zittel gallery and showroom near Joshua Tree.
The pair do not want to be pegged as artists. “We want to effect space, and we’re also interested in social dynamics and the types of activities and interaction of people,” said Nogues. Designing full-scale architecture might even come into play. “Building something that lasts for 50 years versus something that lasts for six months are two sides of the same coin,” said Ball. “I think eventually it will happen,” added Nogues. “I think we’re more than capable of stepping up to that.”