The Greyscale Cabinet
Designed and conceived by Adam Lowe
Made by Francesco Cigognetti and many craftsmen, in Factum and at other workshops in Madrid
Alabaster, cast salt, wood, acrylic, brass
100 x 50 x 50 cm
On 14 September 2018, the Fondazione Giorgio Cini opened its doors for the premiere of the event Homo Faber: Crafting a more human future. Until 30 September 2018, the Venetian building's galleries, library and cloisters hosted masterpieces, exhibitions, installations and workshops presenting the work of several of the finest European artisans.
Among those works was Factum Arte's the Greyscale Cabinet, a purpose-built specimen cabinet to hold greyscale samples that are part of the conversion of photographic images to 3D surfaces. The cabinet houses a collection of objects and images celebrating the relationship between tone and form, on critical importance in an age of digital topography.
Homo Faber is the first event organised by the Michelangelo Foundation, an international non-profit organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland, which was set up to celebrate and preserve master craftsmanship around the world and strengthen its connection to design. The exhibits showcase a vast array of materials and expertise, from rare traditional skills on the brink of being lost to the most cutting-edge contemporary techniques.
Video © Óscar Fernández Rodríguez for Factum Arte
Production process of the Greyscale cabinet
Using a three-axis CNC milling machine, the pieces of alabaster were cut to an internal dimension. The precision of the CNC routing machine is highly accurate and repeatable, resulting in the internal dimensions of each piece being identical. The ‘saw cut’ external dimensions have far greater tolerance and human action, resulting in an approximate dimension that was not hand finished to ensure uniformity. Each layer has an average thickness of 15mm and a wall thickness of 30mm. They are stacked one on top of the other and capped with an uncut sheet of alabaster.
Balls of alabaster
Cut blocks of alabaster
Each square of alabaster is very fragile. The front face of each piece was then cut to allow the opening for the drawers and to provide the alabaster facing for each drawer. An internal structure was then made of 5mm Perspex that was glued together and used as the former for the assembled stack of alabaster layers. Each layer was bonded together using UV cured glue.
Internal acrylic structure © Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte
It is necessary to reinforce the alabaster and connect them together. The external surface of the alabaster was lightly sanded and then alabaster is polished and then painted with a greyscale by Jordi Pons using an airbrush.
The wooden frame inside that houses the drawers is hand-crafted from Mahogany. It was made by La Navarra and then fitted into the alabaster frame by Javier Barreno. This carcass contains 7 drawers made under the direction of David Cerdeño that can open and close with a touch sensitive mechanism. The front of the drawer is finished this alabaster and trimmed with a thin plate of brushed brass.
The alabaster cabinet sits on top of a base covered with four panels of cast salt. In an age of rising sea levels and a shortage of drinking water, salt is fast becoming a readily available waste material that is being generated in vast quantities – approximately 3% of all sea water is salt. With increasing levels of desalination, it cannot be simply put back into the sea. Casting salt offers a possible use but it comes with dangers – as it is melted it gives off highly toxic chlorine gasses.
All the panels were cast at Fademesa, a fine art foundry in Torrejon, Madrid. With Álvaro Menor and, the team in the foundry working under the direction of Sebastian Beyro.
Cast salt is very brittle. It has both its own qualities and those of the mould release. For the Greyscale Cabinet, an aluminium silicate was used as a mould release producing a pale grey crystalline surface. The sheets have natural faults from the casting and have a tendency to crack as they lack the strength to exist unsupported. Each sheet was resin bonded to a precision cut 3 mm thick aluminium sheet. These were then printed with a greyscale using a UV printer by Julio Cano at Clorofila, Madrid. As in the alabaster section, the greyscale is composed of 16 colours.
These printed panels are fitted to an internal wooden structure with strong magnets and have corner details of brushed steel. The salt section and the alabaster section are aligned using 6 mm male/female fittings. The cabinet is designed to house prints objects and samples that reflect the relationship between tone and form.
The top part of the Greyscale Cabinet is made of alabaster frames that were cut with CNC router machines and UV-glued to an acrylic support. The cabinet was then airbrush-painted with a greyscale colour. The piece has a Mahogany wood core with a push-pull structure for the drawers. The bottom part has a wood structure with adjustable feet. The exterior is made of 4 cast salt panels with a regular square shape, UV printed in greyscale with 16 different tonalities. The corners are made in steel.
The drawers contain the following samples:
- Greyscale stucco sample
- 3D printed shade of grey sample
- Digital print colour sample of the tomb of Seti I
- 3D printed relief from different scanned paints surfaces
- Painted alabaster sample
- Woodburytype print, gelatin on paper
- Woodburytype mould in aluminium CNC engraved
- Greyscale printed bones
- 3D CNC routed aluminium with a mould of Terra-forming map sample for paper embossed
- 3D CNC routed Corian
Factum Arte’s Team
Adam Lowe - Design
Francesco Cigognetti - Production’s coordination and internal design
Carlos Alonso - Milling and detail fnishing
Javier Barreno - Assembly and Finishing
Jacinto de Manuel - UV glueing
Jordi García Pons - Airbrush painting
Silvia Alvarez - Detail retouching
Sebastian Beyro - Salt Casting
Carpinteria La Navarra - Mohoghany’s core and drawers structure
Cloroflla Digital - UV print
Fademesa Fundición Artistica - Salt Cast
Fredo Metacrilato - Acrylic’s Laser cut