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Floating Forest

May 1, 2024 - August 4, 2024

The UMLAUF is honored to premiere the grand scale sound-responsive light installation, Floating Forest, in our gallery. This site-specific exhibition marked the first project that this team of talented artists, designers, and architects has ever created together.  

Floating Forest was conceived of and built by four Texas-based women: Kate Dibble, Judy Labib, Nicole Mwei, and Fatima Carbajal-Betts. The UMLAUF first learned about the team when they applied for the 2023 Design Shine competition–our longtime partnership with AIA-Austin that allows us to present the work of emerging professionals in the garden. The team’s proposal, originally titled Light Pulse Boogie, piqued the jury’s curiosity but would have required considerable modifications to be outdoors. Because the team had such a strong concept, we invited them to propose a new, more ambitious interior installation. The resulting project aligns with the Museum’s goal of supporting emerging local artists, in keeping with the way Charles Umlauf himself spent decades mentoring young artists at the University of Texas in the last century.  

The Floating Forest team’s guiding vision was to create an installation that is truly accessible to all people, constructed from materials that have a small carbon footprint. The installation brings the UMLAUF garden into the gallery, with an audio-visual twist. The Forest consists of 24 twelve-foot tall 100% recyclable wool felt hovering light-filled “trees,” assembled with sewing machines and hung from the copper frame. The felt was sourced and CNC cut with catenary curves by Sutherland Felt in Michigan. The parabolic holes reveal lights inside that are programmed to respond to sounds in the gallery.   

The team intends for this immersive encounter to serve as a medium for communication, sharing, and the pursuit of knowledge, urging visitors to uncover commonalities and grow in the process. Within this dynamic environment, every voice finds resonance, each presence is lauded, and every interaction ignites a symphony of luminescence. Floating Forest epitomizes inclusivity, where engagement amplifies response, fostering wonder, unity, and collaboration beyond conventional boundaries. 

Each team member brought individual skills to the project. Kate created the copper armature, managed the audio-visual and technical specs, and installed the trees. Judy sourced the felt, refined the design through multiple prototypes and, with help, converted the flat felt into giant trees. Nicole’s interest in the harmony of body, spirit, mind, and place influenced the entire project. Fatima worked on the conceptual renderings and design. For the final installation, the entire team and their volunteer assistants spent weeks together building the grid, installing the AV elements, and hanging each of the circular “trees.”  

Kate Dibble  

Kate Dibble is the owner and principal designer of Kate Dibble Studio, an interior design and architecture firm located in Austin, Texas. With a background in economics, Kate spent many years at a large local architecture before starting her journey as an independent designer. Recently, she earned a Master's degree from the University of Texas School of Architecture. 

In addition to her practice, Kate also founded July Properties, a micro-development company that aims to create flexible, innovative housing solutions to keep families in place in a growing city. Throughout her career, Kate has been involved in numerous projects that have garnered both local and national recognition, including multiple awards from the UT School of Architecture for Design Excellence. 

Passionate about creating spaces that are both timeless and authentic, Kate Dibble Studio prides itself on collaboration and exceptional craftsmanship. With a dedication to honoring historical relevance and fostering emotional connections, Kate and her team deliver thoughtful design solutions that stand the test of time. 

Driven by her commitment to her craft and community, Kate continues shaping Austin's architectural landscape, fostering innovation and a sense of belonging.  

Judy Labib  

Judy holds a bachelor's degree in architecture from UT Austin. She previously worked as an architectural designer at Steinberg Hart, Michael Hsu in Austin, and JAJA Architects in Copenhagen. She specializes in medium format color film photography, focusing on capturing humanity at the intersection of architectural heritage and contemporary visions. She has exhibited her work at the Houston Center for Photography, Parsons School of Design, and the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities in Washington D.C. In October 2024, Judy will pursue a Master's in Sustainable Development at Cambridge University in England. She plans to return to contribute to the advancement of sustainable design in Austin and contribute to the stewardship of our Earth. 

Nicole Mwei  

Nicole is a designer at Steinberg Hart in Austin. Her varied interests always point back to a passion for holistic wellbeing. Her work often explores how people and places pursue these values individually and communally at the micro and macro scale. Nicole’s commitment to the city and placemaking is evidenced by her current and past volunteer work with organizations like Austin Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels Central Texas, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and RBI Austin. 

She received her Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of New Mexico and spent seven years working in affordable housing development before returning to school to complete her Master of Architecture from the UT Austin. She currently serves on the City of Austin's Bicycle Advisory Council, and when she's not working, you'll find her exploring Austin by bike or foot. 

Fatima Betts  

Fatima is a local filmmaker and architect currently working at Chioco Design with past experience at Studio Gang Architects in NYC and Michael Hsu Office of Architecture in Austin. 

Her work focuses on creating sustainable spaces that connect people to each other and nature. She draws inspiration from the stories that live within a place and explores space's ability to communicate narratives from a diversity of voices. She has been the recipient of the Texas Architects Magazine Studio Award, the Douglass Haskell Award, the Clinton Global Initiative Grant, and the UT School of Architecture's Design Excellence Award. 

She earned her Bachelor of Science in Radio-Television-Film and her Master of Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. 

 

This exhibition would not have been possible without the support of Asterisk Design, Chioco Design, Davey McEathron Architecture, Furman + Keil Architects, Groovy Hues, Love, Tito’s, Miró Rivera Architects, Momentum Textiles and Wallcovering, and Steinberg Hart. Thank you to our friends Johnna S. Robinson and John Dibble for their efforts.  

A special thanks to John Messenger from Sycamore Services who generously volunteered his time, equipment, and energy to this project.  

Thank you to our volunteers and all friends of the designers who gave of their time including Andy Beaudoin, Dulce Carbajal, Olivia Cepaite, Brandon DeFlon, Krishnan Lal Mistry, Whitney Moore, Lena Page, Michelle and Jo Shirley, Ashley Vajentic, Nicole Vice, Lawler Watkins, Kelly Williams, and the youth of the Holy Cross Coptic Orthodox Church. 

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