Exciting things have been going on in my studio, but for the moment I am too swamped with the academic year starting and resuming my teaching duties to blog about them here. However, over the next four weeks or so I am hosting two fabulous events perfect for adventurous makers, the first of which is a Smart Materials workshop. Organised again by my friend and fellow PhD candidate Jo Bletcher as part of the 2015 Make Shift Do conference at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee on the 23rd of October, this will be a slightly larger affair than last year and cover a more varied range of materials. There is a nominal participation fee to cover material costs, and a range of other workshops running in the afternoon, from 3D printing to creative electronics. The makings of an excellent day out for digital makers!
A few weeks ago I gave a paper at the XcoaX 2015 conference held at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow and this year organised and hosted by the University of the West of Scotland. When I initially saw the call for papers in January, I was intrigued by the eclectic mix of themes, encompassing computation, communication, aesthetics, human computer interaction, coding, digital installation art and the ominous ‘X’. When my paper on the aesthetics of creating stimulus-responsive jewellery was accepted, I was really excited to be a part of this diverse conference and could barely wait for the end of June to roll around.
This year the conference consisted of four different events, including an evening of digital performances and the eponymous ‘Algorave’ held at the GSA, in addition to the more traditional paper presentations and an exhibition of works. After a delightful evening reception on the Wednesday, the paper presentations were held over two consecutive days and consisted of five sessions, loosely linked by themes and content. I thoroughly enjoyed all the presentations, and was particularly intrigued by the amount of research focusing on sound related installations. This was a field I had been unaware of before XcoaX, and the idea of ‘live coding’ performances, where programmers write freestyle lines of code to create sound building blocks which in turn are assembled as electronic music is absolutely fascinating. Other highlights included Hanna Schraffenberger and Edwin van der Heide’s Sonically Tangible Objects which provided the audience with a brief glimpse into a future augmented reality, whereas Nicole Koltik’s short paper on philosophies of the artificial and Sofia Romulado’s analysis of videogames as an artform struck a particular chord with me.
On Friday evening we were treated to a string of performances, and Thor Magnusson and Pete Furniss gave a wonderful demonstration of how live coding and traditional instruments can be used to create a completely immersive ‘wall of sound’ experience in their piece Fermata. Another highlight was provided by digital artist Jung In Jung, who had brought dancers Dane Lukic and Stefanos Dimoulas to perform in their interactive sound and dance collaboration Thermospheric Station.
Altogether it was an amazing experience, and one I am hoping to repeat next year when the conference will be held in Bergamot. Better come up with some fresh material by then! I will finish this brief report with images from the exhibition. While all of the works on show were absolutely fascinating (and I finally got to try some real VR goggles!), two in particular struck a chord – Andreas Zingerle and Linda Kronman’s 5-channel interactive audio installation called ‘Let’s talk business’, a humorous installation exploring online scam narratives and Raul Pinto, Paul Atkinson, Joaquim Vieira and Miguel Carvalhais’ growth objects, which use mushroom spawn to create objects based on biological generative systems. See you next year in Bergamot!
Last Thursday I attended the 3D printing event held at the Merchiston Campus of Napier University in Edinburgh and organised by the Scottish Plastics and Rubber Association. The speaker was Ralph McNeill, founder of the 3D Print Works based in East Kilbride, a retailer of 3D printers and consumables and manufacturers of their own brand of filament, Elefilament PLA. Ralph had brought an array of 3D printers to the event for demonstration purposes, and it was quite interesting to see some of models I had only been reading about online in the flesh, particularly a RepRap Rostock they had built themselves. While the talk was interesting, it catered to an audience completely unfamiliar with 3D printing, and a lot of it was just a reiteration of familiar facts for me. However, towards the end things became more interesting, when Ralph passed around samples and a prototype of a large scale direct drive extruder printhead they had been developing in their workshops.
Now that FDM, or more precisely, FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) is increasingly moving into the consumer market, thoughts are turning to how to scale this technology to make bigger (read: more immediately useful) things. While everybody loves their ‘Marvin’ keyrings and PLA Iphone cases, these are consumer products of a non-essential nature. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could print tables or chairs with a giant 3D printer, or even whole housing estates as has recently been touted in China? Of the two obvious points of development that are being tackled in relation to FFF – quality of materials used and scale – the latter just has a more monumental, immediately impressive and immensely profitable ring to it. Imagine ramshackle shanty towns replaced by clean, cheap, 3D-printed housing! Imagine constructing structures that were impossible to even imagine a few decades ago in weeks rather than months. Free 3D printed furniture for all!
For anyone who has engaged with the ideas of Le Corbusier and his Urban Utopia, the rhetoric behind these ideas sounds awfully familiar. And the flaws become immediately apparent. While it is wonderful to imagine a world in which we all live in beautifully designed, open-plan housing developments featuring huge communal spaces and walkways in the sky (and anyone who knows me knows that I would love to do nothing more), these lofty ideals always get corrupted by the desire to either save or make money. While a future in which you custom design your own house complete with furniture and then take residence a few short weeks later when it has been beautifully printed by the contractors is immensely appealing, I fear that this approach will more likely lead to aesthetic abominations driven by a desire to cut costs and a race to the bottom. As of yet, scaling up the process of FFF comes with its own, very physical, realities – when increasing the nozzle size, you end up with thicker layers that tend not to blend together so easily.
Scaling resolution to achieve a desirable finish will be a huge issue – one the Chinese appear to have solved by encasing the 3D printed shells in layers of plasterboard in a very traditional fashion. But then, the question arises, what’s the point of 3D printing a house in the first place?
As some of you might have noticed, I am not the greatest at getting posts out quickly. I like the pressure of a looming deadline, hence always plan my projects so that I work right up to the wire. This blog is more about reflecting on past events rather than acting as a news bulletin of my practice.
So, this very exciting event I was asked to be part of happened almost four months ago – on the 21st and 22nd of November 2014. DJCAD in Dundee was hosting a satellite event as part of the Crafts Council’s “Make: Shift: Do” programme, aiming to introduce the general public to new forms of innovation in craft with a series of exciting talks by digital makers and trying to get everybody involved by offering hands-on workshops. In Dundee, my lovely colleague and fellow ESRC PhD scholar Joanne Bletcher curated part of the event and managed to put together an absolutely inspiring exhibition of digital craft in the foyer of the newly refurbished DJCAD Matthew building. The morning session of talks by fellow digital makers included highlights such as a demonstration of Lynsey Calder’s thermochromic tutu, and textile artist Collette Paterson’s amazingly tactile latex and felt creations. Read all about it and more on the Facebook page dedicated to the event!
I was very honored to be asked to lead a workshop on working with thermochromic silicone in the afternoon, as well as take part in the exhibition. Here are some impressions of the opening of the exhibition. Enjoy!
After returning from the very inspiring All Makers Now? Conference in Falmouth, I am buzzing with ideas and projects to add to my research. I met so many interesting researchers, artists and tinkerers in Falmouth, all working around the same themes and problems as me.
One of the most interesting discoveries was that of a website detailing recipes for using alternatives to the expensive materials supplied for the Z-corp 3D printer. While we had long suspected that the special white powder used in these machines is in fact plain plaster powder, research teams at US universities have started to tackle this head on by finding viable alternatives to bring down the cost of printing. As these printers need to be used regularly in order to keep working, this is a very welcome development. Cost is a major deterrent when it comes to creativity and experimentation, so hopefully I will be able to get some gears moving and try some of the recipes in our machine.
More exciting discoveries I made at the conference to follow soon. Now a summer of conferences and site visits is drawing to a close, it’s time to buckle down and finish writing that chapter of my thesis. But first, some impressions from the All Makers Now? Conference…enjoy!
Conference Participants enjoying the Smart Materials Workshop on Friday:
The opening of the All Makers Now? Exhibition at Trelissick House and Gardens on Thursday night:
It’s my SmartLab event this weekend at the Centrespace inside the VRC on the lower floors of the Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre and I hope to see some of you there! On display will be a range of prototypes of my latest interactive jewellery creations, as well as a short film of the Geotronic Brooch in action! There will also be a drop-in workshop for people to try their hand at using commercially available smart materials, and an ongoing demonstration of 3-d printing.
All are welcome, and there are two free talks each day, one at 12.30 and one at 2pm.
Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to present a poster at the CIMTEC 2012 Materials Research Conference in Montecatini Terme, Italy. It was a truly inspiring and sometimes overwhelming experience, and I will be blogging in more detail about the lectures I heard and people I met over the coming weeks as I work my way through some of the material I gathered. For now, I am pleased to present an image of my poster – in situ – at CIMTEC 2012.