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Remember that time you went to Artisphere and it was filled with balloons? Were you thinking, “All these ovoid shapes are cool and all, but I could really use something… edgier”?

Well this Saturday, you’ll get your chance when the collaborative duo of Lia Halloran and Sarah Strauss officially unveil their installation Folding Unfolding: COLLIDER. The opening starts off with live burlesque-figure drawing, and kicks into high gear ’round 11pm when perennial DC favorites Natty Boom and DJ Matt Bailer join the Brooklyn-based electro-pop duo RAD PONY for the after-party (conveniently, Sarah Strauss is the percussion half of said duo).

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BYT was invited to a 3D modeling workshop that the artists held prior to the big opening to preview the installation and learn more about the crystalline origins of COLLIDER. They were awesome, engaging and fantastic teachers (and also obliging models). Here is what we learned:

Lia and Sarah met in grad school at Yale where Lia was studying painting and Sarah architecture. Though both art students (a discipline typically associated with the more creative, free-flowing right side of the brain), the two shared an affinity for and an interest in science as a means of exploring the world around them.

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They now tend to occupy opposite coasts. Lia spends most of her time teaching in southern California at Chapman University, though she is also represented by DCKT Contemporary in New York. Sarah’s design and fabrication firm, BigPrototype, is located in Brooklyn.

During a stint in NY, Lia became fascinated with the discovery of giant crystals in a cave in Naica, Mexico. These suckers are freaking enormous – some as long as 35 feet. Case in point:

What started as Lia’s exploration of the crystals through paintings (and growing them in her bathtub) quickly evolved into  a cooperative 3D journey aided by Sarah’s structural and technological expertise.

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Using actual precipitates, drawings, books, and artistic imagination, the two began a labor-intensive process of building crystals based on the distinctive patterns of quartz, gypsum, borax, you name it. They began by mapping the shapes in two different rendering programs (for you design geeks out there, those would be Maya and Rhino), and then “unwinding” them. It worked a little bit like this… you know what happens when you unfold your standard, generic cardboard box all the way? It lays flat as a cross. Well that’s what they did with crystals. And because of all the complex joints, angles and points jutting out, the “flat” crystal starts to resemble a square-edged Rorschach blot.

Once the “flat” crystal pattern was achieved, a finely calibrated laser cutter was used to actually excise the patterns from whatever material they were working with (paper, vinyl, wood). After some more complicated calculations to figure out the beveled angle they would need to shave off the edges to successfully join the pieces together (is this sounding like a math test nightmare to you yet?), the crystal skeletons were ready for assembly.

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The thing about crystals is they need the right conditions to form – temperature, pressure, chemical compounds. For a time, COLLIDER didn’t have a place to truly take shape. As luck would have it, Artisphere curator Lisa Marie Thalhammer had seen Lia’s Dark Skate photographs, which are part of the center’s current Skateboarding Side Effects exhibit, and offered up the Works In Progress (WIP) gallery.

For the past several days, Lia and Sarah have been cutting, gluing and lighting their new crystal-filled “cave.” On Saturday night, the coffee cups, ladders and rollers will be cleared away leaving only massive crystal structures and their small molecular companions for Artisphere patrons to see. What began as a single prototype for a crystal chandelier has now been given the chance to grow organically, like its real-life counterpart in the Naica caves, thanks in part to Artisphere’s WIP gallery.  So head to Arlington Saturday night to chat with the artists, check out the rocks in all their glory… oh and, of course, stay to rock out.

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For more about the show: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=163005540398602

For more about Lia Halloran: http://liahalloran.com/

And RAD PONY: http://www.myspace.com/radpony

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