Frankie Yu's School of Rock - 2018 SOFA Residency
The SOFA Residency was a pilot program in the Spring of 2018 at the Regis Center for Art that provided two undergraduate students an opportunity to create a Sculptural Object of Furniture Art (SOFA) with the assistance of and funding from the Department of Art, technical staff in the XYZ Lab, and facilities.
One of our SOFA Residency fellows was Frankie Bingxin Yu, in her final semester as an undergraduate, before finishing her degrees in the Spring of 2018, with undergraduate majors in Art and Psychology, and a minor in Design.
Frankie only began working with furniture and pursuing art in her junior year, when she realized that her curiosity about human interaction could be explored through the physical objects that people encounter every day.
Building rocking chairs became a way that Frankie could study the impact of furniture on the psychological state of the sitter, and how ergonomics and physical comfort affect one’s mental state.
Though her first major was (and remains) psychology, she says that she’s not terribly interested in clinical research, or in asking people to fill out surveys. She’s much more inclined to the intuitive and direct work of making her chairs, and observing them in action.
She notes that in modern life, particularly on a college campus, students and professors alike are often absorbed in their phones. When someone sits in one of her unusual rocking chairs, it reminds them that they have a physical body in all of its flesh-and-bone dimensionality, including considerations of weight and balance, muscle and mass.
As a participant in the SOFA Residency at the Regis Center for Art, Frankie submitted a single-seat design that was chosen for the residency, but in conversation with faculty and staff advisors, she decided to expand her initial proposal and create her first rocking chair for two people, rather than a solo rider.
She says that this decision opened up a whole new realm of possibilities: the social aspect of furniture design. She created a number of different mockups of the two-seat rocking chair, trying to find a distance between the two seats that was optimal – not too close and intimate for strangers or acquaintances, but not too far for comfortable conversation.
There were many new considerations for such a public art project, including balancing safety concerns with aesthetics, reinforcing key points in the structure without compromising the pleasing overall shape, and keeping the chairs well-grounded, not in any danger of tipping over.
The SOFA Residency required Frankie to do careful budgeting and scheduling, in order to have the final piece ready in time for an end-of-semester unveiling. She worked closely with Robin Schwartzman, the Department of Art's research technician in the XYZ Lab, who also teaches courses on 3D fabrication, on the concept and execution of the project, including ordering materials and tracking expenses, receiving valuable guidance and feedback throughout the course of the project in these areas. The SOFA Residency provided an opportunity to develop these professional practices, which are crucial for working artists and designers across a range of disciplines.
Local furniture maker Richard Helgeson also assisted with wood lamination in his woodshop. In addition, the fabrication shop in the College of Design has allowed her to use some of their machines to bend the metal.
This project inspired her to continue her furniture experiments in the social dimension, in collaboration with subjects who use their bodies in specific and advanced ways, such as dancers and skateboarders. She is pursuing residencies at The White Page Gallery and other venues around Minnesota, and she’s currently looking for storage for her growing collection of large, sculptural rocking chairs.