The 9th Floor Case

Welcome to the website for the 9th floor case. Located on the 9th floor of the Schermerhorn Extension at Columbia University, this case provides a space for rotating exhibitions, sponsored by the Columbia Center for Archaeology.

Our 2019 exhibit Urban Residue by artists Sonia Khan and Rosaline Qi opened on April 26th 2019. It is curated by Tracy Molis and Zoe Crossland. Event details.

We inaugurated the 9th floor case in 2018 with an exhibit by artist Lucy Mitchell, called Still Life with Questions. The exhibit, and associated text and discussion panel were curated by Zoe Crossland, Briana Parker, and Alaina Wibberly. Still Life with Questions was in place from March 2018 to March 2019. More details below

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Urban Residue – Artists’ statement

The 9th Floor Case Project addresses themes of history, archaeology, archiving and collection. Urban Residue, the 2019-20 installation, is a documentation of Columbia’s urban ecosystem by artists Sonia Kahn and Rosaline Qi. 

Urban Residue is a project of contemporary visual archaeology. This blue and white cabinet of curiosities presents the curiosities of our time. It acts in part as an homage to Anna Atkins, who pioneered the use of the cyanotype photographic process for scientific illustration. The juxtaposition of this 19th century imaging technology with 21st century 3-D printed sculptures encourages reflection upon the changes and continuities between the work of women scientists and artists in the 19th and 21st centuries, and also on the rapidly changing environmental conditions that we inhabit today.

Sonia Kahn (Columbia College, 2022) is an Art History and Visual Arts major. Her art practice incorporates various types of media ranging from printmaking to photography, weaving and projection. Often making use of found material, Sonia visually explores her environment and uses image manipulation as a means of examining and understanding the world. 

Rosaline Qi (Columbia College, 2022) is double majoring in English Literature and Visual Arts. Her creations exist primarily in virtual space in the form of .obj, .psd, and .jpg files so this installation offers an opportunity to transport her work into the material realm. Rosaline uses computerized means to capture nature, describing the geometric and curvilinear patterns found in the organic with a digital visual vocabulary. 

Urban Residue

Assembled in the 9th floor case for the 2019-20 exhibit are various objects collected from New York City. Both biotic and abiotic ‘inhabitants’ are recorded: plastic packaging, leaves, ‘fast fashion’ fabrics, bones, face masks. New York comprises an environment in which the natural world has been urbanized and industrialized. Its urban residue is domestic and corporate, fleeting and lasting, visible and invisible, as our proliferating material culture leaves a mass of unwanted objects detectable at different scales. The discarded and forgotten becomes part of the fabric of what we are left to document, whether in rivers, and oceans, on land, or in the air. 

Alongside contemporary manufactured materials, we juxtapose unmodified and 3-D printed bones from animals local to New York, although from disparate time periods. These merge past and present, acting as a reminder of what is lost and what remains. This project encourages us to consider our and others’ impact upon the world and its various life forms. The installation reflects on the interaction between individuals and their environments, using the careful recording and documentation of transient objects to do this. It is an ode to the practice of Archaeology. 

Sculpting Artifice

These 3-D sculptures serve as a record of the past using a modern medium. Just as the cyanotypes pay homage to the scientific cataloging of botanical specimens pioneered by Anna Atkins, these 3D prints are inspired by the paleontologists and technicians at institutions such as the American Natural History Museum, who use the same technology to create artificial replicas of certain missing pieces whilst reconstructing whole skeletons of prehistoric animals. These sculptures recognize the artistry necessary to presenting a compelling picture of the past to the public, as well as the guesswork and conjecture that goes into what is put on display.

3-D Sculpture Process

The 3-D prints of the installation came to be through two distinct processes. The large, central piece of the installation is a replica model of the skull of a woolly mammoth. It was manually sculpted using ZBrush, a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. img_5574.jpg

The smaller assortment of 3D prints are made from scans of bones from now-extinct animals that lived in the New York City area during the Pleistocene (colloquially known as the Ice Age). They include the molar and humerus of a mastodon and skull fragments from a species of peccary. 

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 10.17.53 PMThe digital meshes were obtained by scanning the fossils using a structure censor, then altering the scans with CAD software. The sculptures were printed in a warehouse, using a stereolithography 3D printer. This technology creates 3D objects using an additive process: successively ‘printing’ thin layers of an object using a medium curable by ultraviolet light – in this case, resin – from the bottom of the model to the top.

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Light and Shadow

Cyanotype prints offer an organic record of the assembled specimens. Using U-V radiation, the process exposes the paper using ‘sun-waves’ to leave a deep blue shade. It is a documentation of negative space, as the objects leave blank-white shadows. In this way the process throws into literal relief that which is absent. It evokes the ‘bringing to light’ of social and material issues — concerns that need to be ‘dug out’ and examined.

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Cyanotype process

Cyanotypes are an early form of photography, first developed by John Herschel in 1842 and subsequently used widely in engineering and architecture as blueprints. Within the world of scientific illustration, cyanotypes are probably best known through the work of Anna Atkins (1799-1871) who used them to make images of seaweed, published in installments as Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions from late 1843. A copy of Atkins’ book is held at the New York Public Library. This installation evokes the work of Anna Atkins within the context of the archaeology of the contemporary. 

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These cyanotypes were produced in the darkroom using a U-V radiation unit. Initially the paper for the prints was primed with UV sensitive solution. Once dry, the sheets were individually placed on the machine, layered over with the various specimens. With a test sheet, the machine was calibrated to a set exposure time and radiation strength. For each exposure a vacuum suctioned the objects to the paper, allowing for a precise outline. After the process was complete the prints were rinsed with cold water, revealing the blue print.

Still Life with Questions, An Artist Statement by Lucy Mitchell, 2018

An old museum cabinet like this one already has the power to suggest what will be put inside. As an artist with various interests and an amassment of found things, the idea of a curiosity cabinet, of a collection of real, invented, and manufactured objects seems a natural response. Some things in it are known entities, some aren’t.

Continue reading “Still Life with Questions, An Artist Statement by Lucy Mitchell, 2018”

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