Burning Man 2013 Honorarium Project / Impossible Triangle Now Made Possible

Release: The Penrose Triangle at First Night Boston

Boston and Somerville-based sculptors bring interactive, geometric art to brighten First Night 2014

For Immediate Release
Boston Common, 1/1/2014 12:00AM.

Sculptors Blake Courter and Blake Courtney will be exhibiting The Penrose Triangle at First Night 2014, for its Boston debut.  The 17′ tall illuminated sculpture appears to be an impossibly constructed triangle from a distance, but, upon closer inspection, reveals a curved, minimalist, three-dimensional structure.  The work received an honorarium for the 2013 Burning Man Art Festival in Black Rock City, NV and was built by the Boston area’s extended artist and maker community.

“I am thrilled that the City asked us to show our work on the Common,” said Courtney. “My roots are in Boston, so I am proud to have the chance to show this piece to all of you, my family.”

“The work illustrates an old illusion that has broad appeal,” added Courter. “Our interpretation is simultaneously colorful and austere, both attracting attention and inspiring contemplation, honoring Boston’s cultural and academic heritages.  The team that united to build this sculpture reflects exactly that diversity and talent.”

The artists delight in showing their work and are open to all offers to display it in the future.  Ultimately, they hope to see the work permanently placed in the Boston area.

GrabCAD Ltd, based in Cambridge, SpaceClaim Corporation, based in Concord, and Autodesk, with offices in Waltham, contributed software used on the project.  It was fabricated at Blake Courtney’s shop and Artisans’ Asylum in Somerville, and it was designed in coordination with the Redtail Collective, based in Fort Point Channel.  The base of the sculpture, which will appear above ground for the first time at First Night, was reclaimed from the Big Dig, originally having served as part of exit 22 in Chinatown.  The work received funding from the Burning Man organization and over one hundred community and international backers, primarily via Kickstarter.  This showing in the common was made possible by First Night in cooperation with Figment Boston.

The Penrose Triangle Blog provides the latest news and more information, including:

Other resources include:

Artistic Statement:

The Penrose triangle is a surprisingly pervasive cultural artifact. Perhaps the simplest way to create a three-dimensional illusion from a simple drawing of straight lines, it has been celebrated in the works of MC Escher, on postage stamps and logos, and a surprising number of tattoos. Those of us who daydreamed during middle school may well have doodled it on the covers of our notebooks, as something in the geometry seems to offer an escape from the rigidity of everyday existence. Its aesthetic simplicity confronts and challenges our innate ability to visualize and navigate space, helps define the boundary of what is and what is not, and perhaps even fosters our own understanding of the underlying nature of reality.  The installation realizes this beautiful shape as a 17-foot tall, illuminated, climbable sculpture.


Photo: Ronny Preciado

Assembling the Penrose Triangle in the City of Boston

Last night, the Penrose Triangle was installed on the Boston Common as part of the city of Boston’s First Night New Years celebration. After it’s round trip from the desert, it definitely needed a lot of work to get it to the point where it was ready to be displayed to the public. The paint had to be touched up to fix damage caused by climbing participants and general wear and tear associated with it’s shipment. Some wiring and lighting had to be repaired and/or redone. Additional measures had to be taken to enable the triangle to seal and protect the electrical systems so that it could sustain display in the unforgiving Boston winter. Surly Blake  spearheaded efforts to get it prepared and by last night, all systems were go.

In order to minimize work done on-site, Surly hauled the triangle to the Common in four parts. The triangle itself was carried in three cube (highlighted here in yellow) and arm assemblies. Additionally, the base was carried partially assembled in one large chunk.

Earlier in the day, John Dill and Jaykob Fenwyck helped get the first two arm/cube assemblies and part of the base in place on the Common. Later on in the evening, it was Hooch and  my turn to help transport parts and complete the assembly. One last arm/cube gets loaded on to the back of the trailer.
A quick stop on our way out of Somerville for some fuel and a few stares and we are on the way.
Apropos of nothing, Surly really knows his way around the Boston area. He managed to get us to and from the site quickly and smoothly.
After arriving on site and getting the keys for the forklift from our First Night contact, the first step was to take the arm/cube that was sitting on the ground and get it hoisted into position.
It was a bit tricky, but we made do without incident. Hooch and I were able to manipulate the second arm/cube and bolt it on to the first arm/cube that was already assembled on the base.  Surly handled fork lift duty.
I encountered my own set of challenges as I was the most apt/willing to climb the structure under on site. Safely secured in the shop ooooooorrr soaking wet in the driving freezing rain, what’s the difference, eh?  I elected to go up. Here I am removing the strap from the fork lift after we’d fastened the second arm/cube into place.
We gave up even trying to stay dry early in the process as we trudged through the inches deep rain and mud that pooled around the area of the park where we were working. I don’t think I’ve been out in that heavy of a downpour in a very long time, let alone spending extended periods of walking and working under those conditions. Next step, tightening and finishing the base assembly.
AND IT’S UP!! Well, almost. Getting the third arm/cube assembly in place was a harrowing experience. Hooch stayed at the bottom securing the arm by a few bolts, Surly operated the fork lift and I stayed at the top of the one assembled arm wrestling the entire third arm as it was lowered into place. The fork lift is not forgiving and after a brief scary dance with that last arm and gravity, I placed all the last bolts securing the arm.
Tightening bolts, trying to keep a steady stance on the wet pipe while getting good leverage.
SUCCESS! Those are two pretty happy Blakes right there.
Surly hooked up the power and after some tense moments with an entire arm not lighting up, the last arm came to life. The work is far from over. There are still a few snags so another visit by the electric team is in order. For now, things are in good shape.
So. Much. Rain. Did I mention, it was 35°?
I’ll never get tired of observing this thing from all angles. There is an added joy being able to see the triangle assembled in the city.
So, so cold.. We’re ready to go home.
So there you have it, The Penrose Triangle now sits on the Boston Common in preparation for a city of revelers.
FIRST NIGHT BOSTON here we come!
It takes a lot of people to get this project going. Engineering, fabrication, electrical and programming teams. We’re all incredibly excited to share this project fully assembled for a home town crowd. I’ve learned a lot in all those disciplines while being involved in this project and I take a lot of pride in my role in the media department as well as doing my part in some of the final stretch grunt work that it’s taken to get see the team’s vision fulfilled. Please come to the Common between now and New Years Day to see our crazy project on display blinking away in the City of Boston!!!

Penrose is in the Commons

One of the exciting parts of a Burning Man project is the challenge of installing the work in the middle of a desert.  This evening, we learned first hand that Boston offers just as exciting challenges.  Surly, Jacob, John Dill, Ronny, and I each spent a few hours today in 37°F heavy rain, fumbling with bolts (and it Ronny’s case climbing).  Now, I am delighted to say that thing is sitting in Boston Common!

When I first moved to town, almost eighteen years ago, I took a long walk through the Common and Garden, and recall being surprised by the lack of modern art.  There are plenty of bronze statues, including adorable ducklings, but nothing that, in my opinion, provokes interpretation.  I never would have dreamed that I would have had a hand in doing something about it.

Here’s about the most pleased or wet you’ll ever see Surly or me.