Dan Peterman (b. 1960)

October 3 – November 30, 2017

Opening Reception: October 3, 6pm
William Eckhardt Research Center, 5640 S Ellis Ave
Hours: Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat & Sun by appointment

Material: Post-consumer reprocessed plastic
Dimensions: variable
Commissioned by the Arts, Science & Culture Initiative for the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial

Slipping and Jamming is a sculptural installation that explores the tension between structural stability and instability. The work is composed of thousands of “Z-Forms”—post-consumer reprocessed plastic elements each cut in the form of a Z. Assembled into large sculptural forms, the Z-Form sculptures embody a highly counter-intuitive idea: the possibility to create load-bearing, stable forms not by orderly arrangement of the individual elements, but by random, disordered configurations that structurally resemble a liquid with the potential to flow.

The work is based on radically new concepts at the intersection of contemporary sculptural practice and research related to the physics of granular materials. Through a conceptually original and forward-thinking artistic practice, Peterman translates concepts from granular physics, typically researched at a small scale, to a larger, essentially human scale.

From a sculptural perspective, jamming is an evocative concept. Peterman says,

My work as an artist has an ecological focus, and this shifting range of scale is relevant to how I think about the world. For me, jamming behavior carries along with it the companion idea of slippage—a fine line between material conditions of either stability or flow, of useful engagement or abandonment.

In Slipping and Jamming these concepts assume an additional role for Peterman. Fabricating the elements themselves from post-consumer reprocessed plastic material reflects the cycle of jamming and unjamming, the changing forms and states of being, and the complete re-configurability of the structure itself. The dual nature of the particles, both composed of a constituent material and also comprising a greater structure, points toward a cycle of “invention, production, and generation” with echoes in ecological responsibility and petro-chemical dependency. In this way, Peterman’s sculpture is placed prominently into the larger context of a materials life cycle that minimizes waste.

Curated by Julie Marie Lemon. This commission is made possible by the University's Public Art Committee.

Installation participants:

Heinrich Jaeger, faculty in Physics + Dan Peterman, artist
Remington Carey, student in Physics
Jeremy Chizewer, University of Chicago Lab School
Endao Han, student in Physics
Kieran Murphy, student in Physics
Leah Roth, student in Physics


Installation video by Dr. Jim Woodruff
Public Talk: Professor Heinrich Jaeger and artist Dan Peterman