Conchita, the Flying Woman

The original idea dates back to 2006 when, on holiday in Mallorca, we visited an art gallery where sculptures of women, probably made of papier-mâché, were hanging in a diving position, dressed in colourful swimming costumes.

Unable to afford one of these expensive art objects, a few photos were taken with the idea of one day making something in the workshop in the same style, but as a radio-controlled flying model. The project remained in gestation for a long time until a friend of ours at the time helped us to materialise it in chicken wire covered with papier-mâché, as you can see in the background of the third photo, behind the extruded polystyrene sketch.

Then, the project fell into oblivion again for a few years until a young art school student, Claire, contacted us to ask if she could do an internship of a few weeks in the studio, requested by her school to validate the end of her school year. As we had no particular idea to propose to her, our eyes fell on this polystyrene sketch, hanging from the ceiling of the studio and covered with a thick layer of dust…

We explained the project to him, namely to make a “master” form intended to be moulded in several parts so that they could then be reproduced in small series. Another ceramic artist was then asked to come and “give a course” in moulding this particular project. Isabelle came and the two girls, later joined by Claire’s older sister, Coraline, formed this voluntarily pulpy body, inspired by the works of the Colombian artist Botero. The form was first covered with plaster, reinforced with steel bars, then covered with clay in order to refine the shapes on a material that remained malleable from week to week, as it was kept under a damp cloth and covered with a tarpaulin.

The moulding then began, with 5 layers of release wax, followed by the black mould resin. The moulds were produced in this way with separations whenever necessary, i.e. 4 parts for the arms (top and bottom, right and left), the back and top of the legs up to the shoulders, the bottom of the feet up to the neck passing through rather prominent breasts, then the head in 3 pieces. These moulds take a long time to make because, after the first layer of black resin, which will be the inner layer of the mould, the sharp angles have to be “broken” with a kind of thickened resin mash so that several layers of glass cloth can be applied without creating bubbles. This is a very long and tedious job, especially for large volumes like this one.

A few days later comes the most beautiful moment, that of demoulding, which can sometimes be laborious and reserve good or bad surprises. The master is then destroyed at this time because separating the moulds from each other generally damages the clay or the material that served as the initial shape. After cleaning the clay residues, sanding off the rough edges (which are very hard and hurtful) and polishing the inner surfaces, the moulds are ready to be used.

They are then re-coated with a release agent and gelcoat, a thickened resin tinted to the desired colour. Here we mixed and matched until we found something that looked like human skin. For the swimming costume, we used a standard colour, but any creativity could be expressed here. The advantage of painting in the mould is that the colour will be integrated into the mass of the moulded object with much greater resistance than if we had painted the shape after demoulding.

Then comes the actual moulding with the choice of fabrics and reinforcements needed in some places and not in others… Fiberglass from 120 to 165 gr/m2 for the standard parts, carbon fiber 160 gr/m2 or kevlar/carbon 96 gr/m2 for the legs in order to stiffen and solidify as much as possible with a minimum of thickness. As this object is intended to fly, a reduced weight must be kept. The use of a tear-off and absorption cloth before passing through a vacuum bag to recover the excess resin during the drying process is desirable here, as the impregnated surfaces are large, and therefore the risk of overweight is obvious.

 

Once all the parts have been moulded separately, it is time to assemble them by repositioning each part in its mould before partially closing the moulds on top of each other for perfect alignment. The parts are then glued together by a strip of fibreglass impregnated with slightly thickened liquid resin.

Here, the first two realisations were used as tests because several problems appeared, with mainly a non-symmetrical alignment of the arms in relation to the body. It was therefore necessary to partially saw off one arm to reposition it at right angles to the other. It is very likely that dozens of hours of work could have been saved by calculating these symmetries better in advance or by adopting another way of making the master (e.g. 3D printer).

The moulded and assembled parts from the inside, forming the complete body, were then sanded, masked and painted, taking care to limit the weight. At the same time, the wing was designed by Michel Demonsant, a retired architect, who came to help us on a voluntary basis. He made life-size plans for us as well as files of parts to be assembled ready to be cut with a laser.

Photo or video of the laser cutter in operation Photo of the cut parts The parts were then assembled on the plan to form a complete wing in 3 parts with a 3.5 metres wingspan. The electrical and electronic wiring was included and the wing was then covered with heat-shrink polyester film. Final assembly and finishing touches are underway with first flights planned for spring 2022.

Association Meuh

Rue de Chêne-Bougeries 17   

1224 CHÊNE-BOUGERIES CH

Tél.: +41 76 384 77 91