Systems in General are Based on a Set of Parts that Function Together to Create a Network. Interview with Ezra Satok-Wolman by Nichka Marobin and Hannah Gallery

Published: 20.07.2021
Ezra Satok-Wolman Ezra Satok-Wolman
Nichka Marobin, Hannah Gallery
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Satok-Wolman is invited to the 2021 edition of the Biennale and presents a collection of jewellery, rooted in space-age principles and technology, intended to adorn the AI (Artificial Intelligence) sex robots that will serve as astronaut companions in his dystopian vision of the future.

Coinciding with his exhibition Space XXX by Ezra Satok-Wolman at the XIII Florence Biennale, the art historian and curator Nichka Marobin had a conversation about his patented modular design system, geometrical structures and the concept behind the artworks.

What are the implications of patenting a constructive model or design?
A patent is a form of legal protection that is granted to the ornamental design of a functional item. In the case of my design patent, the patent was granted not to a specific object, but rather to the system itself that is used to create the objects. One of the aspects of receiving the patent that I took most pleasure in was the fact that it was a confirmation or affirmation that what I had invented was something “new”, and as an artist or designer that is often one of the biggest challenges we face.
One of the other reasons I was motivated to apply for a patent is that this system has the potential for other applications that are not related to jewellery. The scalability of the system enables it to be used from the nano-scale to an architectural scale without altering the functionality of the system.

Architectural “Torus Pavilion” rendering, Ezra Satok-Wolman and Javid JAH, 2021.

What kind of production possibilities can you employ to maximize the profitability of this patent?
The design is based on a nodal connector that can be produced in a wide range of materials and sizes. With regards to jewellery, the connectors can be produced by various methods of fabrication including 3D printing, CNC machining, casting, stamping and fabricating by hand. My initial instinct is to always try to build something myself, and the first connectors I made were fabricated using tubing. But with the requirement for hundreds of parts, if not thousands, I started researching manufacturing options because I wanted to spend more time exploring what I could do with the system, rather than spending that time making the parts themselves.
Seven or eight years ago, when I was working on building the very first flexible torus bracelet, I approached both 3D printing companies and casting companies. At the time, the 3D printing companies all told me that my part was too small to print, so in the end I began working with an excellent casting company. Producing the parts by casting had major limitations however, and the production costs were extremely high. Because of casting tolerances the parts could not be produced hollow like I needed them to be, and would have to be drilled afterwards. But each part consisted of three intersecting tubes that each needed to house a stainless steel spring with a 1.60 mm diameter. The tubes had to be drilled to size, gradually increasing the drill size incrementally from one size to the next. It was extremely laborious.

Drilling a cast palladium component with tungsten carbide bit.

Roughly five years later I finally found a company that could print my parts, directly in metal using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) 3D printing. The parts could be produced exactly as I needed them, no drilling, and ready to assemble when they arrived. It was revolutionary. And while it took time for technology to catch up to my project’s needs, it ultimately did. Being able to produce my parts directly in metal has not only saved me time and money, but it is actually an extremely efficient way of manufacturing, and produces the least amount of waste when compared to other production or manufacturing processes like casting or milling.

How did you develop the concept and design for this modular system?
The concept was inspired by R. Buckminster Fuller, Antoni Gaudí and my love of toys, particularly sets for geometric modelling. The system is essentially based on the geometry of carbon fullerenes, which are an allotrope of carbon consisting of carbon atoms connected by single and double bonds that form closed or partially closed meshes. I especially enjoyed studying crystallography during my training as a gemologist, and we often used models for studying the complex geometries of crystals and minerals. There are plenty of toys and educational kits for building fullerenes or stereochemical models. Those kits date back to the early 1900’s, which I learned through the process of applying for my patent because I was challenged by the Patent Office with the patents for those early educational instruments. What I wanted to create however was something flexible, not rigid and static.

American architect, systems theorist, author, designer and inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller with a tensegrity structure.

In 2011 I became interested in Buckminster Fuller’s “Tensegrity” structures and even produced jewellery sized “Tensegrity” structures (pictured). I liked the flexibility of the structures, and that they had a degree of “structural memory”, so when deformed, they would return to their native shape or state. I felt that those characteristics would be excellent for jewellery which is often rigid and static, much like the stereochemical models. So when I started looking at building these fullerene-like structures, I began exploring how I could create them in a way that would result in flexible objects that would retain their shape, even when deformed, or even take on the shape of the body when worn.
Tensegrity Icosahedron, kinetic pendant, 19k gold, carbon fibre, stainless steel springs, Tahitian pearls, Ezra Satok-Wolman 2011.

One can think that also geometry has a sort of inner rigidity: can you explain the “flexibility” of geometry related to your patent project?
It’s a great question. Geometry does seem to be rigid, in that there is no room for error. A pentagon is either a pentagon or it isn’t. There is no in between. However, that is the beauty of this system. The design is based on one universal nodal connector that can adapt itself to be a part of any geometric arrangement.  The connector is essentially comprised of three tubes, intersecting at a central point, and disposed at 120 degrees from one another. When arranging six connectors to create a hexagonal array, those angles are perfect. But if I wanted to create a different geometric array, like a pentagon or heptagon, then those angles won’t work. By using springs to join the connectors I not only give the structure flexibility, but I can also allow for those angles to adjust to 108 (pentagon) or 128.57 (heptagon) degrees, and so on, depending on the geometry required. In order to build the torus bracelet, pentagons, hexagons, and heptagons are all required.

Patent drawing from U.S. Patent 10,905,967, Component Based System For Assembling Flexible Geometric Structures.

How long does it take – in terms of attempt and work – to obtain the perfect adaptability of every single geometrical structure?
This is a difficult question to answer. I started this project roughly ten years ago, and so much time went into the initial research and development, so it’s hard to quantify “time spent” and assign it to individual pieces. Even after figuring out how to manufacture the components themselves, there were still parts of the puzzle to solve, like the design of the springs, which had to be custom made for the system. Finding a company to make thousands of tiny little springs was a challenge in itself. Determining how long the springs should be, and how to work with a fixed set of lengths so I could make bracelets in small, medium, and large sizes, in a controlled way. Deciding what was too much flex, and what was not enough. It took time to figure all of those things out, but it enabled me to streamline production of the manufacturing aspects so I can now spend more time playing around. Now that all of those things have been figured out it’s really just a matter of determining the form and figuring out how to get there. That was certainly the case when I was building the T310 “Glovelet” hand piece, because there was no pattern to follow like with geometric or symmetrical forms.
T310 “Glovelet” hand piece, DMLS 3D printed titanium, stainless steel springs, 750 (18k) gold, hand assembled and riveted, Ezra Satok-Wolman 2019. U.S. Patent No. 10,905,967
Foreign Patents Pending

In the exhibition catalogue “SpaceXXX. Mission to Mars” the text refers about “the tensional integrity” of the constructive elements which allow the “structural memory” of your pieces: can you explain this concept?
Tensional integrity” also referred to as “tensile integrity”, “floating compression”, or simply as “tensegrity” is a structural principle that describes an assembly or system of isolated components that are suspended within a network of tendons and under continuous tension. It is exactly that tension that enables the flexible structures produced using my system to both retain their shape and have structural memory, in that they return to that shape after being deformed. While my structures are not true “tensegrity” structures, the principles are the same.

“Rainbow Arch”, Tensegrity sculpture by Kenneth Snelson, 2001.

Once assembled, the springs and the hubs as well as the connective elements of your patent project create a sort of “microcosmos”. Visually speaking, to me, the entire structure recalls the fascinating neural system: how is this microcosmos related to the macrocosmos?
Systems in general are based on a set of parts that function together to create a network as in the case of the neural system, or a mechanism as in the case of our solar system or my flexible structures. The beauty of a system is that every part or component of the system plays an integral role in maintaining the stability of the system. If we were to remove a planet from our solar system, the stability of the system as we know it would very likely change dramatically. The same would happen if you removed one of the nodal connectors from my torus bracelet. I see the system of components much like a “social fabric”, where each member provides support to its neighbouring members, while at the same time receiving support from its neighbouring members.

In his essay “Pensées” (Thoughts, 1670), the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) argued that there are two ways to experience the world: one is through the “ésprit de géométrie” (the geometric spirit) that studies mathematics and moves forward through demonstrations; the other is the “ésprit de finesse” which is mainly based on intuitiveness, on feelings and on the heart. Based on the dualism we can assume the “ésprit de géométrie” thinks with intellect while the “ésprit de finesse” understands intuitively: where does your practice as an artist-jeweller imbued with mathematical and geometry theories lie?
In many ways I think I can answer this by relating back to your previous question, in that I can’t necessarily separate the two from one another. Being someone who is not just stimulated by geometry and mathematics, but actually emotionally stirred and inspired by the inherent wonders that those concepts possess, there is a duality in the way that I channel that into my work that is both of the logical mind and the heart, and a need for the left and right side of my brain. To do the work that I do requires a system of functioning parts, emotions, and feelings.

About the Interviewee

Over the last decade, Canadian jewelry artist and goldsmith Ezra Satok-Wolman has been active in the jewelry world, establishing a presence in North America, Europe, and Asia.  Having studied extensively in Canada and Italy, learning from the masters of the trade, he continues to preserve the practice of classical goldsmithing in his work.  Combining his passion for traditional techniques and contemporary art, Ezra has managed to successfully create a unique and identifiable style. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his work and participated in international exhibitions and competitions over the years, including Beijing, Milan, and Shanghai Design Week events, The Friedrich Becker Prize, The Niche Awards, and The A’ Design Award.

About the author

Nichka Marobin
is an Italian art historian specialized in Dutch and Flemish art history. She graduated from the faculty of letters of Padova (Italy) with a dissertation on Renaissance ornament prints from 1500 to 1550 in Germany and the Low Lands, focusing on the migration of forms, themes, and styles on the engravings of Cornelis Bos, Cornelis Floris II, Lucas van Leyden and the German Little Masters. In 2011, she founded “The Morning Bark”, a bloGazette on arts and humanities, where she posts about arts with a multidisciplinary path, including fine arts, books, fashion, and contemporary jewellery.

Ezra Satok-Wolman presents SpaceXXX: The Mars Hotel Film
Ezra Satok-Wolman
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