Self-proclaimed computer nerd Daniel MacDonald marks his foray into the art world with Shio (or “shio” as MacDonald prefers it visually for balance), a series of glowing, orb-like sculptures covered in intricate fractal patterns of crystalized sodium. Each piece a link back to MacDonald’s childhood visits to Yellowstone, shio—the Japanese word for salt—grow gradually in his studio as salt water flows over structural skeletons made from fabric and translucent plastic. As the salt begins to stick to each frame, tiny nodules form and build upon each other until miniature stalagmites cover the shio in an infinite array of shapes, sizes and combinations—a process that takes around a week to complete. The resulting sculptures are striking and otherworldly, characteristics magnified by the colored LED lights that illuminate them from the inside out.
MacDonald’s artistic process is at once innovative and ancient. Sculptures similar to shio have been formed by the hands of nature for millennia in the proximity of hot springs and geysers, and no one is stranger to the miraculous structures that come to life deep underground in caves. What’s rare is an artist who strives to mimic the forces of nature in a way that’s efficient and original, especially where high-pressure mineral formations are concerned, but MacDonald messed around with sodium chloride for weeks until he could produce objects that were startlingly beautiful.
He describes that process with integrity and humility, betraying both his passion for the project and his unassuming attitude towards the art world and its larger cultural significance. “I don’t feel that shio as art is really about commentary,” says MacDonald. “Its simpler and more pure than that. It is a product of a highly specific, but simple, ethos. Shio is fundamentally about optimism and enthusiasm for the unknown and unexplored, and that is what I want it to bring to people’s lives.”
As for his transition from software designer to artist, MacDonald recounts, “I developed the technique and the process for several months before I finally admitted to myself that what I was doing was what other people call art or design. I remember literally having this identity crisis where I had to come to grips with the fact that I was producing beautiful things, directly from my own aesthetic design sense, with few constraints other than my own taste.” But as his sense of beauty grew out of years spent designing software, that aesthetic was neither culturally nuanced nor highly developed. Instead, his fresh outlook allowed him to translate raw software instincts to the physical realm like letting a “really complicated control system run open-loop.” The feeling, he says, “was awesome.”
Now its time for Shio to officially enter the art world with increased production and a more streamlined manufacturing process. MacDonald created a Kickstarter project page to help his dream become a full-blown reality, one in which he can be free to experiment with different growing techniques in his “nursery” and explore the effects of coloring the sodium mixture. As for future aspirations, he hopes to one day create huge glowing tentacled chandeliers or even 8-foot-high spiny, gourd-like sculptures. To check out the different Shio species and mutants, visit MacDonald’s website.