Over the summer 2014, the Office of Diversity, Equity & Sustainability Initiatives worked with OCAD U Students Rouzbeh Akhbari and Behrad, to create wood sculptures to share with incoming students and faculty during Fall Orientation. They were tasked with a challenging project: to come up with an object that conveyed the concepts of sustainability, diversity & equity through its structure or function, could be scaled to 1000 hand-crafted pieces, and was different from the usual orientation week ‘promo’ item. We reached out to Rouzbeh and Behrad to tell us more about the project.
[Image Description: photo of wooden sculptures that also function as tea-light holders]
“New ways of retelling an already established narrative, of course, is precisely the intersection of political resistance and social allegories that we explore in these objects.”
SITE-SPECIFIC: How did you come up with the concept for the wooden cubes and how does that narrative connect to concepts of equity, diversity and sustainability?
ROUZBEH AKHBARI: The idea of re-purposing scrap wood came from a constant exposure to a culture of recycling and reusing that is prominently exercised in our studio in OCAD U. Lisa Hampton, the class assistant in the wood shop, has formed a fascinating practice that revolves closely around the obsessive acquisition of wooden off cuts and creating meticulously designed furniture and objects of art that contain a collective narrative. Her continuous encouragement for all the students, including both of us, to think more critically about issues around sustainability and waste management resulted in a form of awareness that positively informed our individual practices. When we were tasked to create a series of objects that could potentially be fabricated in large quantities, tie the notions of diversity and sustainability together and hold some sort of functional value we immediately thought of the common point in our practices, which is essentially the notion of handling disregarded or rejected materials in ways that facilitate the production of objects that tell new narratives by re-contextualizing old ones.
“To bring all these pieces together again in new compositional forms allows for a fresh way of looking at the “unwanted” and the “unseen” as they rearrange and historicize their original referent (that being the original project/piece they came from) within a totally separate context.”
New ways of retelling an already established narrative, of course, is precisely the intersection of political resistance and social allegories that we explore in these objects. Metaphorically speaking, when one looks at a pile of various species of wooden off cuts, it is quite easy to respond to it as simply put “just a pile of scraps,” which instantly subjects all these materials to a certain set of value systems and assumptions about their significance in the bigger economic scheme. They are almost always overlooked and thought of as an alternative option with complete disregard for the conceptual significance they carry, especially as rejected parts of other individual’s art pieces. To bring all these pieces together again in new compositional forms allows for a fresh way of looking at the “unwanted” and the “unseen” as they rearrange and historicize their original referent (that being the original project/piece they came from) within a totally separate context. That conceptual approach of analyzing and interpreting materials in connection to the way knowledge, narratives and histories are constructed is mainly what we intend the audience to receive from looking at these objects.
[Image Description: Photograph of three students in the OCAD U Wood Shop creating wooden sculptural pieces. Right to left: Behrad, Rouzbeh Akhbari, and a friend assisting with inlay work]
S: How did you create 1000 individual hand-crafted pieces within less than two weeks?
A: To be frank, that required a tremendous amount of time dedicated to planning and figuring out the logistics before we began with even touching any physical material. After all the details were laid out in front of us we spent couple of hours constructing a few jigs, which functioned mostly as moulds for gluing up smaller pieces to fabricate bigger chunks that were more easily workable on heavy machinery. After the lamination process was actualized, all the pieces were mitered and prepared for a series of glue ups that took about 5 days to finish. To put it briefly, the whole process was a time-consuming repetition of cuttings and gluing back that allowed us to move from small off cuts to larger lumber and back to small cubes that were very close to the final results that we envisioned. After the structural construction of the cubes, we spent a few days working on the decorative inlays and sanding that lead us to the last step, which was finishing.