Robert James Buchholz: Wish Big

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At JUICE, we believe that size does matters. We’re into the biggest events, biggest artists, biggest parties, and now the biggest dandelions? Seriously, towering at 50 feet at the upcoming Heineken Thirst are 3 contemporary dandelions called Wish. Each stem is covered with LEDs that react to the tempo of the music. Designed by Robert James Buchholz, this mega sculpture is no stranger to EDM festivals (having had been erected at Electric Daisy Carnival among many others). We had a chat with the designer himself on transporting such a huge sculpture and whether anyone’s gonna get stabbed by a piece of it…

Why do you call the sculpture Wish, and what does it represent to you? It looks totally out of this world, like something off Pandora…
The project is actually a figurative sculpture of 3 dandelions losing their seeds in the wind. As a child, I was always told when you held a dry dandelion and blew the seeds off that a wish was to be made. When I was building this project I wanted it to be received well from my audience. I guess that’s my wish and its coming true!

Can you explain to us the interaction aspect of Wish? We read the sculpture will react to the music playing during the event…
Yeah, the project’s seeds are made of polycarbonate glass that glows different colours with the help of 22,000 LED RGB diodes. We control the lights with a remote control and usually walk around in the crowd talking with people and asking them, “What’s your favourite colour?” The project will also be hard wired into the main sound board, so when Justice is dropping their heaviest bass line, Wish will pulse to the beat of their music.

That sounds epic. How did you get the inspiration to design and build it?
I like to build projects that captivated me as a child; I also like to build flowers so while researching and building storyboards for a new project, I kept coming across iconic images of dandelions losing their seeds in the wind. The image and idea is already so powerful to so many people, so by putting a 9 tonne, 50ft tall version in front of them, they will lose their mind.

Your projects are enormous in size; tell us about the difficulties in designing and building something of such scale.
Most artists when designing their upcoming projects don’t require the budget like I do. The hardest part in building on my level is having enough capital to properly finish the project. The steel members that I require are expensive and so is the equipment required to manipulate a 40’ dandelion stem. Also, designing a project that can be moved on highways within certain weight and dimensional limits; all the components of Wish have to break down into small pieces to fit on the back of a code loaded semi-truck – super difficult.

We read that some parts of Wish can be dangerous, having literally stabbed crewmembers during construction, that kinda got us scared for a bit, haha. What are the safety precautions that ensure the sculpture won’t turn an event into a disaster movie?
That’s a good question. My crew members haven’t ever been seriously hurt by my projects. Me on the other hand, oh boy, I’ve taken a beating building these beauties! The glass work during construction can be a little treacherous, the entire surface of the stems are a mirror and blown glass mosaic, so cuts on fingers are common (once the grout has been applied to the mosaic the surface isn’t dangerous to cuts anymore). The leaves of the flowers are sharp as well and quite dangerous, but as they should! The most beautiful flowers always need some sort of defence to the seed they carry, my crew should stop complaining or I’ll design a rose next time and they’ll have thorns to deal with! But seriously, Wish is a very safe piece once all the construction processes have completed. The foundation for the flowers is massive and heavy; this is the key to keeping large scale work in the air.

I also have consultants on board like Architects, Structural Engineers, Lighting Techs, and sometimes Inspectors to ensure quality of work. All this while, fabricating the piece by hand using traditional craftsman means and methods.

We saw in an interview – you said that your mother sketched together with you for another one of your project, Perhaps. Are your parents imperative in shaping you into an artist now?
My parents are the best. They are definitely the reason why I moulded into such a fun, outgoing, creative human. My father and grandfather were carpenters by trade – my mother and grandma…painters and all around creative creatures. My dad taught me how to use a drill and to operate a tractor, while my mom and grandma were giving me lessons on pretty flowers we found in our yard. That’s some easy math right there… tractor + flower = large-scale sculptor.

What’s the sort of feedback you got from people about Wish?
People love taking pictures of their reflection in the mirror mosaic. I like it when people come up to the flowers and give them hugs… you know people like your work when they give it a hug.

Heineken Thirst won’t be the first event to have featured Wish, what are the difficulties of transporting it around and having to reassemble and disassemble it?
Storing the whole project when it’s not in use is a big deal. Most of the materials can’t be lifted with human strength so I need a forklift for everything. Moving heavy-awkward projects across the United States requires special licensing. My fleet of trucks and trailers increase as the scale of my projects increase. Getting my crew from show to show and making sure they are available for the dates is always an issue. Working long hours on the project beforehand and wanting to sleep during the show is a big complaint from my crew.

What’s your next sculpture idea?
I have a new 50’ tall Bonsai sculpture I’m developing right now. The project features a Bonsai pot with a catwalk around the edge of the rim for human performance art and theatre… possibly something to look forward to for Heineken Thirst 2013.

Wish has made its iconic appearance at international music festivals like Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival, Electric Daisy Carnival, Nocturnal Wonderland, Burning Man Festival and now Wish will make its Asian debut at Heineken Thirst 2012.