Overview: “1440 Cans” is a sculpture measuring 8 ft. x 15 ft. and constructed out of aluminum cans and an armature (wood, composite board, hot glue, nails). The piece is installed permanently in the university’s Math and Science center which houses the Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics, and Environmental Studies departments.

Role: Creator

1440 Cans

Fig. 1 "1440 Cans" installed in Math/Science building, Emory University, 2007

Process: I decided on the idea for a massive mosaic sculpture early in the project. I had been inspired by a recent exhibit of Chuck Close and wanted to create a modular piece which subverted the original purpose of the units. Cans were chosen for their relative uniformity as well as their bright and varied color. Initially I envisioned a structure that would tower several stories high and would be installed outdoors so that the image could only be seen from a distance. Some quick calculations on how many cans this would require quickly humbled these early aspirations.

I considered using many different characters for the portrait. I knew I wanted to portray an individual (mostly because landscapes do not render well as mosaics because there are too many areas of focus). I initially gravitated toward famous incons—big personalities who were in the spotlight during their time (Maryline Monroe, Jim Morison, Bart Simpson, Angelie Jolie). Major limitations however were copyright issues and the technical challenge of how well the image rendered as a mosaic. I used a software program to convert the image from a photograph into distinct modules.

While I deliberated over this, I was collecting the cans that would serve as the “pigment” for the portrait. I collected a total of about 57 varieties of aluminum cans, photographed them together, then cropped the images separately to be used as input for the software.

two jims

Fig. 2 Early testing of subject for portrait

can stack

Fig. 3 Pigment for the portrait consisted of 57 varieties of aluminum cans.

Finally I settled on an Emory student, and my girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth Trentacost. We organized several photo shoots, one outside and another with a significant amount of make-up to help enhance the saturation of colors. I further saturated the image in Photoshop. The final image rendered well as a mosaic.

Collecting, sanitizing, and sorting the cans was the next big step. The Chair of the Visual Arts Department kindly allowed me to take over the sculpture studio over the summer to complete this phase of the project. Liquid nails was used to mount the cans onto 16 composite boards.

Work in progress

Fig. 5 Portrait beginning to take shape on the floor of the sculpture studio, Visual Arts building, Emory University

Since the curators of the recycling show did not have the resources (nor the permission) to install a piece so large, I coordinated directly with the building supervisors to obtain permission to mount the piece. With the help of facilities staff and a hyrdraulic lift, I mounted the 16 boards onto the wall.


Fig. 5 (left) Detail of apparatus for mounting board onto drywall. (right) Board and outer stabilizing framework for aligning cans.

Installed in Emory University's Math/Science Center

back to work