Thursday, November 4, 2010

hemp fiber bioresin vacuum infusion display

When asked to create a special display @ Conveyor, Fred Segal for the fall 2010 collection for Pointer, there were several design criteria which needed to highlight the complex, yet simple design of this shoe line... it needed to be unique & original, built of the most durable & highest quality natural materials, mixing traditional craftsmanship with the highest technology.  In essence, it needed to be truly complimentary in every way to the quality of the shoes represented.

A three dimensional Archimedean spiral on a large pedestal was chosen as the form which would showcase the 14 new shoe models.  This involute curve of a circle represents a universal form which is often seen in nature, whether as the shape of a nautilus shell, a pattern of a snowflake or the familiar contour profile of a fluid ocean wave as it rises & breaks as a curling tube.  

The material choice was to use the greenest, best quality materials available:  a bale of over 15 pounds of the world’s strongest & longest raw fibers from the hemp plant (Cannabis Sativa) was combined in equal parts with an epoxy bioresin called SuperSap, formulated by Entropy Resins.  This resin is an extremely strong & sustainable epoxy created from the waste stream of the paper industry (pine trees) & the biofuel industry (rapeseed).

The production method used to create this undulating involute curve shape is called “vacuum resin infusion”.  This technique was chosen as it is the most advanced method for fabricating large composite pieces.  Initially, this technique was used in the aerospace industry, but more recently has been the method of choice to fabricate large-scale windmill turbine blades as well as giant ultralight boat hulls or other applications requiring a state-of-the-art ratio of reinforcement fiber to resin. There is little waste or noxious odors with this process & the efficiency of the saturation is much higher than hand lamination combined with vacuum bagging.  Traditionally, layers of woven cloth are laminated using this technique to provide an even, uniform thickness... for this experimental piece, unwoven, raw fibers were used to create an uneven surface thickness, thus allowing light to penetrate through the back lit object in the thinner areas.

To orchestrate this advanced process, preparation & set up were key to a successful execution.  Initially, a large wooden form was built (originally built as a mold for a vertical axis windmill vane).  This large, curved surface was fit with a custom built bag.  Along the periphery edge of the bag, a branched series of perforated tubes connected to a clamped flow intake line.  Over 15 pounds of dry, raw, hemp fiber were hand stuffed into this giant plastic sack, the fluffy fibers were randomly piled from 2-4” thick.  The sack full of Cannabis Sativa was then completely sealed & connected to a vacuum pump... as more & more air was drawn from the bag & the atmospheric pressure dropped, the uneven mixture of tough fibers was densely compressed to varying thicknesses.  Once the maximum vacuum was fully drawn, batches of the 2-part resin were measured & mixed.  The intake line was inserted into the bucket of mixed resin, unclasped & the low viscosity resin was pulled through the porous fibers towards the powerful vacuum pump.  Once the entire dry part was saturated & infused with resin, the resin distribution lines were clamped shut, the vacuum pump disconnected & the infused hemp was allowed a full day to cure.  Once hardened, the bagging material was removed & the edges trimmed with a circular saw.  Holes were drilled at appropriate locations for random positioning of the shoes.

The small rectangles which support each shoe were made from reclaimed mixed species Brazilian hardwoods... each of the shoes are mechanically suspended off the surface via height-adjustable through-bolts, giving the illusion that the shoes are floating.  Two of these supports also fasten & connect the solidified hemp form with the wooden base.

The creation of the Pointer logo in bas relief was created using analog, hands-on, primitive methods.  Initially, the logo was projected at night onto the reclaimed wooden panel, then traced & stacked with multiple ply sheets.  The letters were milled through the panels, following the letter outlines, making identical cut-outs, which were later off-set & glued to create depth to the graphic logo.

I would like to thank Cheater Five, Pointer, Conveyor & Fred Segal for supporting my use of hemp as the foundation of this work.  The recent development of bio-based epoxy resin has opened an new chapter in resin reinforced fiber composites.  This display visually & physically illustrates a new potential of this historically useful multipurpose plant.  Whether applied towards building & fabrication or general product design, from the fiber of the stalk to the absorbent woody inner hurds, Cannabis Sativa has unmatched characteristics of strength & efficiency.  Cold pressed hemp seed oil is one of the healthiest, most balanced edible oils known (highly nutritional due to its 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids) & it can be used in it’s unrefined state to cleanly run unmodified diesel engines.  Cultivation of hemp offers revitalization of marginal soil, as the plant has the ability to fix nitrogen through its expansive tap roots which also aids in field drainage. The healing flower from this herb has provided inspiration since before recorded history.  It is time to embrace change & legalize it!

Jeff Casper
Malibu, CA

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