Some might call it unconventional, but the gallery experience extends into every space under our roof, including the bathroom. There you’ll find a site-specific installation by Charlotte-based artist, Thomas Schmidt, who was commissioned by the gallery to design a contemporary backsplash. Comprised of 248 cast porcelain tiles mounted onto a laser-cut acrylic mirror, the clever design only exposes small sections of the mirror at a time. Each individual tile has a steel plate which both registers its placement onto the mirror, and also holds the tile onto a magnet.
This installation is an evolution of his Sampled Spaces series in which he utilizes methods such as mold-making, scanning, and photography to capture material moments. We connected with Thomas to learn more about his process and to see where his series is going next.
How do digital fabrication and manual construction inform your process?
In my studio process, I have been exploring a push and pull between analog and digital processes. I’m interested in blurring these boundaries as a way to reflect the increasingly virtual experiences in our daily lives.
With every version of the Sampled Spaces series, there are varying degrees of digital tools at work. In some cases, I’ve used tools like 3D scanning to add digital artifacts to the original texture of crumpled paper. However, in this version, I would say the use of digital fabrication was more as a tool that aided the design and installation of the work. For example, for this piece, I created a 3D rendering of the space and the tile composition. From there I could add and remove tiles until the composition had the right balance of porcelain to the exposed mirror. I also 3D printed a couple of specific tools for this project, including a 90-degree square that allowed me to more accurately center a steel plate to the back of each tile, as well as a jig that helped us install the tiles when the spaces were too tight to hang by hand. You can see examples of these in the videos (below).
Can you talk about the functionality of the piece and/or how the act of viewing your piece confronts the viewer with their own reflection?
More and more, I find myself playing in the ambiguous zone between sculpture and design, whereby functionality is linked with the aesthetic and concept. In this case, the function is that of a washroom mirror, but now disrupted by the array of porcelain tile. In this way I hope to re-engage the viewer in an action we perform countless times in a given day. You can still check your hair, but you might need to work for it.
After installing this piece, one of the interesting effects was to see your passing reflection in the grid of the tiles where there would normally be grout.
How has the Sampled Spaces series evolved and where do you see it going?
I made the first version of this series about ten years ago for my MFA thesis, and then the idea sat on the shelf for a while. I was mostly interested in the crumpled paper surface as one which embodies a sense of imperfection and discarded ideas while at the same time echoing the topography of a landscape. So, a kind of link between the personal and geological. Revisiting this process has been exciting because now I am coming at it with a whole bunch of digital tools that I didn’t know back then. The outcome of this project definitely has me wanting to create other variations with mirrors, including some more playful ceramic elements that break away from the paper motif. That said, the crumpled paper motif can be adapted to all kinds of architectural sites. I would love to create a piece that is designed for an interior or exterior corner, or other places that are often overlooked.