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The artful story behind the massive 3-D installation at Facebook's Austin headquarters

By Lauren Jones

Walking into Melissa Borrell’s studio at Canopy is like entering another world, one overflowing with vivid color and eye-catching 3-D interactive works born from paper, steel, and wood.

Though born in Houston, Borrell has quickly garnered a reputation in Austin for her unique work. The artist has been featured on the East Austin Studio Tour, in ArtBeat magazine, and was recently tapped to create a permanent, 40-foot, cosmos-inspired installation at Facebook’s downtown offices. 

While her degree is in studio art, her knack for building optical illusions leave many viewers wondering if she has a background in architecture or engineering. The answer is no, yet her ability to think geometrically (and even dream in geometric patterns) is uncanny.

“I've always had a math and spatial-relationship brain,” Borrell says. "In college, I took a jewelry making class and a 3-D art class and it just clicked. I became obsessed with it.”

During her many years as an artist, Borrell has made pop-out jewelry, micro landscapes, and immersive outdoor sculptures, the latter of which has been her main focus for the last five years.

“I made jewelry before which related as three-dimensional smaller sculptures,” she recalls. “A lot of the ideas transferred. I was always interested in kinetics and transformations like when you pick up a piece of jewelry and it changes and takes a different form.”

Borrell says her inspiration comes from all over, from the beauty of nature to the things she passes on a daily basis. Heading West, part of her color series, uses layers of acrylic to pay homage to the brilliance of the West Texas mountains. Yet another references geological formations, space, and architecture.

The artist's passion lies in creating experiences — art that can live with people and exist without a glass barrier in front of it (one of her dreams is to build a kinetic playground). She approaches each new project with the attention and mindset of a scientist, producing many prototypes using materials like paper or cardboard before building the final rendition. 

Now, Borrell’s latest work is on permanent display at Facebook's Austin offices on West Sixth Street. As artist-in-residence, a program aimed at promoting creativity, innovation, openness, and connectivity, Borrell created Tessellation Constellation, a massive connected sculpture.

“[I feel as if] the Facebook installation was years in the making,” she says. “I had been playing with this tessellation for several years, and when I got the opportunity to do a project with Facebook, they really [gave me] carte blanche ... They said they wanted me to do something new. That is exciting and pushes me to grow as an artist.”

The installation, which spans multiple walls, and took three months to build and install, was inspired by constellations, but is also all about “people connecting through the internet and through Facebook.” It’s also the largest permanent installation Borrell has ever done.

While there are always on-going projects for this artist, Borrell says she's looking forward to diving into 3-D printing and will be hosting a series of upcoming workshops this February at The Contemporary Austin for a local elementary school. For Borrell, when it comes to art, it’s all about the journey of exploration. 

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