The can is a ubiquitous piece of garbage — most of us have held one more times than we can count. In the backseat of a Tampa-Orlando road trip in 2004, artist Noah Deledda finished a Red Bull and started fiddling with the can. “I noticed there was a degree of control that could be exerted over the shapes,” he says. Over the past 20 years, he has nurtured that glimmer of an idea into a full-blown sculpture technique.
Deledda quickly discovered that he could shape intricate patterns into the aluminum, wrapping the can with impeccably symmetrical and increasingly complex geometries. “I did it as a meditation,” he says. “I would take a break, drink a Red Bull, and sit there and dent the can. It was almost therapeutic.”
The ambidextrous practice put Deledda into a flow state; he uses his thumbs to scratch out a grid and coax a pattern from the can.
In 2010, six years after the road trip, Deledda won Red Bull’s Art of Can, an annual exhibition of, you guessed it, art made from Red Bull cans. His submission featured a floral motif with a radiating petal shape and foliage decorating the top and bottom of the can. At the time, Deledda had been growing frustrated with the nagging feeling that something was missing. He was excited to have Red Bull support his practice, but the relationship never materialized. So he sanded the printed layer off his next empty and got back to sculpting without Red Bull’s branding in the way.
"When I dented the blank can, it was like a light shone from behind it,” Deledda says. "I could hear classical music." He knew immediately he had reached a turning point, and he felt an undeniable calling. He quit his 15-year oil painting practice on the spot and devoted his whole studio life to denting polished cans. “I questioned my sanity,” he says. “I thought I would be more attached, but it was a full 180 with no second thought.”
Deledda sees his art as conceptual. An empty aluminum can is not just an everyday object, it’s a piece of trash. Crushing is part of its natural lifecycle. “The dent happens by accident", Deledda says. “It almost wants to happen. It’s a thing that would happen anyway, if you let it.” Using nothing but his hands to introduce the scratch and the dent, simultaneously accidental and inevitable elements, he highlights the value of the creative process.
Deledda has captured some of that process in video content that both catapulted him to virality and put some controversy to rest. Commenters on the internet regularly accuse Deledda of lying — he couldn’t possibly be using just his hands. Where’s the hydraulic press? What’s hidden inside the can? Where’s the trick? Unedited footage of his thumbs digging into the aluminum and photos of failed practice cans serve as a kind of creative evidence.
Many of Deledda’s internet skeptics, convinced there must be more tools involved, are professional engineers. Investigating the physics of cylindrical deformation led Deledda from sculptural art to product design; in 2019, he founded CRUSHMETRIC, a company that sells functional applications of the dented can concept.
In CRUSHMETRIC’s first two products, a retractable pen and a stool-shaped chair, the cylindrical body compresses down into a perfect geometrical pattern and then snaps back to smooth shiny metal. (Deledda has patented both the internal mechanism and the individual products.)
This year, Deledda is excited to devote more time to sculpture. To date, he has discovered over 50 distinct techniques that combine the dent and the scratch in innovative ways. He plays with pattern, depth, and frequency to identify new techniques, but the most important variable is the order of operations; Deledda completes a series of passes that compound to take the pattern deeper step by step. Each dent and scratch supports the next, like a layer cake of deconstruction.
"The can won’t let you do whatever you want,” Deledda explains. “If you try to force it, the can will split, crumple, or bind. It’ll fail. The secret is to discover what the can will allow.”
Photos courtesy of Noah Deledda
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