Rise like the Phoenix…

It has been exactly one year since my last post on this Blog, and a lot has happened in the meantime. The good news first:  I handed in my PhD at the University of Dundee earlier this month. Writing up my research over the last year has been a great experience, but now I feel I have come to the end of a long marathon.

The bad news: there are many posts I half-started and never actually published on the blog, relating to events and things I have seen over the last year. I will be pushing them out one by one now that I have a bit more time, and hope that some of you are still interested to read about not-so-current events and ongoings in the world of Interactive Craft.

To jump-start this blog a little bit after my self-enforced hiatus, I have finally succumbed and joined twitter. This will hopefully be an easier way to keep the blog right up to the minute when I don’t have the time to write longer posts, and give you a chance to engage more directly. So if you want to comment, just use my twitter handle @FutureJewels to send me a message!

I have also given the theme a bit of an overhaul, and added image galleries of my work here, updated on a more or less constant basis. Feel free to visit my Jewellery portfolio website as well, but it is here I intend to publish my latest creations. I have also decided to finally show some of my Macro Photography, which has provided the visual inspiration for much of my work. I hope you enjoy the facelift and continue to read my rambling posts.

Hinterland

Last night I was fortunate to be able to go to the Hinterland event at the derelict St.Peter’s seminary in Cardross. As some of you know, my love and fascination with Brutalist architecture goes back a long time, and my years of living at the Barbican centre in London will forever be enshrined in my memory as perfect architectural bliss. The site of the abandoned St.Peter’s seminary has been on my architectural radar for a while, but I had always hesitated to make the trip there for fear of unexpectedly bumping into some of the vandals that have been steadily dismantling the site. I am not talking about some of the absolutely stunning graffiti that has happened there over the years, but rather the smashing of the fairly sizeable altar stone (how???) and other such random acts of destruction. So when the Hinterland event was announced as part of the opening event of the Festival of Architecture 2016, my tickets to go were booked immediately.

Arriving at the site by shuttle bus, we were handed illuminated walking sticks to navigate through the dense woodlands along a footpath that featured a rather spooky sound installation on some sections and led to the small back door of the sacristy. The outer wall of the sacristy immediately reminded me very strongly of Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, with its incredible thickness and tiny square windows set deep into the wall. The highly regarded chapel was completed in 1955, a mere eleven years before the seminary opened in 1966. Le Corbusier was reportedly a significant influence on architects Gillespie, Kidd & Coia, and this is evident in many of the features of this beautiful Scottish Brutalist masterpiece, such as the long columnar walkways, the open layout of the main spaces and the tiny dimensions of the novice’s individual cells.

Following a sloped, spiral walkway into the main hall of the seminary to the broken altar, the light installation staged by NVA created a surreal and fantastical colourful landscape on the graffitied walls and pillars of the seminary. In what used to be the central area of the knave, an oversized ceremonial pendulum was suspended over a shallow pool of water and occasionally set in motion by two priest-like protagonists, spewing forth thick white smoke. This was accompanied by eerie abstract choral singing and a ritual of welding steel inside a cage situated on the far side of the pool, creating an incredible interplay of shadow and bright white light on the ceiling, columnar wall and surface of the water. Progressing through the seminary, it became obvious what a tranquil and meditative space it used to be, and this struck me most when coming out of the recreation block into a secluded inner courtyard. The seminary is much more compact in scale than I expected and from ground level a warren of complementary geometries opened up like a darkly lit multistorey labyrinth. We spent about two hours at the site itself, and even though photography was not permitted inside the building, I managed to take a few of the outside as seen from the garden, although many more beautiful professional images have been released online since the event opened last week, and there is also some video footage  by others on Youtube.

Hinterland7 Hinterland5

Hinterland3

Hinterland1

Arts organisation NVA have recently taken on the site, with an exceptional vision to turn it into a venue where experimental art and community engagement events can take place – head over to their website to watch the beautifully shot promotional video that explains their plans better than I could, and maybe make a small donation? Further funding of £4.2 million has just been announced and it now looks like all the pieces are in place to go ahead with the building plans and hopefully re-open in 2017/18. I was particularly pleased to hear that they want to remake the large lantern skylight that was lost over the years, and which was a particularly stunning feature of the original building. For a glimpse of what the seminary was like when initially built and used by the Catholic church to train priests, have a look at this fascinating footage from the 1972 architectural documentary “Space and Light” by Murray Grigor. In 2009, Grigor also released the shot-by-shot re-make companion piece “Space and Light Revisited”, visually contrasting the current decaying state of the seminary with its pristine original condition. I am already very excited about seeing the restored building in the near future, hopefully to return and take some more competent photographs.

The Arts Foundation Jewellery Awards 2016

Happy New Year to all of you Smart Jewellers out there! With 2016 only a few days old, I suddenly realised how terribly I am lagging behind with my blogging and there are a few long posts about my research activities still in the works – hopefully to be found on here soon!

But first I wanted to share some excellent news I received last November – I have been shortlisted for the prestigious Arts Foundation Jewellery Award 2016. With the awards ceremony at the end of the month fast approaching, I thought this was the perfect time to remind everyone to cross their fingers on my behalf on the 28th of January! You can read all about the awards and the other nominees in the Jewellery category in this recent Press Release or on the Arts Foundation website, where you can also find all the other categories and past award holders- for all you material enthusiasts out there the Material Innovation Category will be particularly exciting!

Arts Foundation STDI am absolutely delighted to be on the shortlist with so many talented and forward thinking practitioners and I am looking forward already to meet all of them in person on the 28th.

Make Shift Do 2015 – Smart Materials Workshop bookings now live!

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!

All workshops are bookable through this Eventbrite Listing – See you on the 23rd!

M3D – my tiny blue Mini Micro has arrived…

After backing the M3D Micro campaign on Kickstarter last year – one of the most successful ones ever to be launched with nearly 12.000 backers pledging around 3.4 million dollars – it has been a long wait and an even longer journey through 3D printing wonderland for me, most of which has been documented in this blog. When I decided to back the Micro, I did so mostly because of my very tight budget at the time – the $299 price tag was very attractive, even with an additional £120 factored in for shipping and import duties. Then the long wait began (the success of the campaign meant mounting delays and revised delivery schedules) and eventually the pressure of getting my PhD finished motivated me into diving into my savings and getting the UMO+ kit (which also took nearly 3 months to arrive from ordering – 3D printing is apparently for the patient). I have learnt a lot since then, and clocked up many hours reading forums, adjusting Cura settings and tweaking models to get that perfect print out of my UM.

So when I finally got the email to say that my Micro was ready to be shipped out in June, I was excited to scale up my operations with the addition of the tiny blue cube, but also wondering if I still really needed it now that I was churning out top quality prints in all sorts of materials with my UM. But then I saw the Mini Micro!!! I think I had not initially realised quite how tiny it would be, so when the box arrived (including some extra rolls of filament) I was quite taken aback both by its size and weight. This little printer has to put a new meaning to the phrase ‘portable’ – with a slick little body injection-moulded out of thermoplastic (available in blue, green, orange, black and silver I think), and the potential for an internal spool and filament path (I prefer to mount mine externally on the back to see what’s going on) this is the perfect printer to take on holiday, your mum’s house, college, your nearest Makerspace…anywhere really. While I know of a few people who claim the UM to be very portable, and who do take it along to events, I would never consider that as an option – even the UP! felt heavy to me when I lugged it around Dundee for an event, and that is a lot smaller than an UM. The Micro however, would be very easy to take anywhere – it weighs next to nothing and there are very few external parts to contend with. Box it up, stick it in your handbag, off you go! It is also very easy to move around different rooms of the house – as I type this, it is sitting next to me on the arm of my sofa, printing away happily and reasonably quietly. It looks and feels almost like a toy – a very advanced toy, but a toy nevertheless.

Now for the more technical aspects of the Micro. Its design reminds me a lot of the Rapman – a Z axis in each corner, with a central double y axis supporting the printhead and sliding along two x axes. All axes are direct drive, with the Y axes being rotated by a long metal rod connected to a motor and a double belt system (the belts look tiny and somewhat vulnerable). The platform is static and unheated, which will make printing ABS practically impossible if my experiences with the UM are anything to go by. Printing PLA seems to work like a charm, and I have had no problems with platform adhesion so far. The extruder is of the direct drive variety, and I can hear the small fan inside the enclosure whirring away busily when it’s printing – there are no external fans like on the UM. The extruder has an automatic filament drive, with a shielded bowden tube connecting to the internal spool holder (located underneath the printbed), and a tiny hole for feeding in filament externally. The Micro takes 1.75mm filament – handy for me, as it will now allow me to use any filament in my setup, and I love that they have enabled their customers to use ANY filament rather than just the one sold by them. The trend of companies and re-sellers trying to push the proprietary filament model is worrying and needs to be opposed vehemently by consumers. Altogether, I really like the way the printer looks and its handy size, but of course the proof will be in the pudding and the prints it manages to turn out.

So far on that front my experiences have been mixed. When I first got the UM, trying to print my Cocoon shape was a nightmare, figuring out the settings, raft, temperature, z-hop, retraction and speed. However, slowly but surely I was starting to get great results, with the help from many people on the UM forum and by trial and error. The Micro is far more consumer oriented than the UM – it comes with its own proprietary software, which uses the Cura engine to slice the model and then a spooler to translate the Gcode to the printer. It is meant to be truly Plug-and-Play – upload your model into the software, drop it on the virtual platform, choose from a few quality and infill settings, tell the printer what filament you’re using (the M3D filament even has a ‘cheat code’ with preset optimum temperatures) and press print. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, especially if you manage to find a setting that gets good results with your model. And I think the average user, who wants to download and print something from Thingiverse or Youmagine, will find that the Micro produces very decent prints. But I am already getting the feeling (and the jury’s still out – so far I have only printed two models on the Micro) that this printer would be capable of so much more in terms of speed and quality if there was an option to tweak the setting in Cura and then send the file directly to the printer, or if the proprietary software had many more adjustment options. I really hope that in the future this will be possible – the original Kickstarter campaign promised open-source software compatibility, and for me this is an important aspect of optimising print quality. Another tiny bugbear is the fact that is needs to be plugged into my computer at all times – quite annoying on longer prints, and not as handy as having an SD card to save models on, although I think opinions are generally divided on this matter.

Altogether I am pleased with my pledge – for a product to arrive on my doorstep at all is quite good, considering the many failed Kickstarter campaigns out there. I can see this printer producing good results with simple models as it is, and coming in really handy for taking to workshops because of its size. Whether it will eventually be able to match the fantastic quality of my UM remains to be seen – watch this space! Would I back it again, knowing everything I know now and with the market having moved on considerably in the last year to give us affordable, high-quality printers like the Printrbot Play? Who knows – we’ll see how capable and handy it is in the next few months, and whether its great portability outweighs other drawbacks. For now I am really enjoying my tiny blue cube…

 

xCoAx 2015 Glasgow

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!

Spam 1
Andreas Zingerle and Linda Kronman: ‘Let’s Talk Business’ Installation with Spam can telephones
Mushrooms 1
Pinto, Atkinson, Vieira and Calvahais: ‘Growth Objects – Biological Generative Systems’
Mushroom 2
Detail of a ‘Growth Object’

 

 

Filastruder Build … Electronics

After receiving my hotly anticipated Filastruder kit, I couldn’t wait to put it together. Starting with the mechanical build, completed over the course of a few afternoons, things seemed to be going smoothly. I had ordered the enclosure kit to go along with the Filastruder, and after a slight hickup with the interior fit of the upgraded v1.6 motor that Filastruder creator Tim Elmore helped me sort out quickly and efficiently via email, my small-scale home extruder was ready to be imbued with electronic life.

This was the part I had been nervous about from the beginning, and even more so as I read the sparse instructions included with the kit. While I have accumulated some experience with soldering PCB assemblies over the last year, and my Arduino skills are improving all the time, doing wiring on a much larger scale is not something I am totally comfortable with yet. I think mostly I struggled with visualising what the end product was supposed to look like – how the wires are held together (soldering or crimping?), how long the wires are supposed to be, how everything fits in the case with the motor. I found very little on this subject on the Solidoodle Forum, the first point of call for any Filastruder owner, and what I did find looked positively lethal and not something I would want to run unattended in my studio. I read on the forum that the extrusion process takes between 8-12 hours or even longer, depending on how much material you are extruding, and I felt that I needed to be completely comfortable with running the extruder for that length of time without worrying about electrical fires. So what to do?

The first clue I found when I finally had the time to get stuck into the electronics assembly were a few large crimp connectors that had been included to wire up the various switches. If you have been following my blog you will know that I have recently developed a bit of a thing for electronics crimping – albeit on a much smaller scale. Crimps are a great and very reliable way to form an electrical connection, and my interest in the huge variety of colourful larger crimp connectors had been stirred already during a previous visit to Maplin. Learning from my previous forays into crimping, I decided to make another trip to pick up some more connectors as well as the appropriate crimping pliers. If you are going to get involved with crimping larger style connectors, a pair of ratcheted pliers is absolutely essential – and not the right place to skimp; your wrists will thank you for using a decent pair that exerts enough pressure to form a secure connection the first time round. Armed with my new tools and an excellent YouTube tutorial on electrical crimping, I decided to tackle the switch connectors first:

Filatronics04After a few unsuccessful attempts and failed connections, the results of my crimping efforts were starting to improve and the wiring was beginning to take shape. The Sestos controller has screw terminals, so I attached ring terminal crimps on the ends of the wires to create a better connection than I would have by just simply attaching the bare wires. After a few more hours and some wasted crimps, this is what I ended up with:

Filatronics01The thermocouple posed another challenge – its two large prongs did not fit well into the screw terminals, and leaving it sticking out straight would have interfered with the case. I resolved this issue by attaching two more ring terminal crimps on one end and two small spade crimps on the other (hidden underneath badly applied heatshrink in the image):

Filatronics02The final adjustments I made was to use a JST connector terminal soldered to a small bit of stripboard to attach the fan and add female header crimps with housings (taped together with their male counterparts with electrical tape for a secure connection) on the heater wires, as I wanted these two elements to be easily detachable if needed.

Filatronics03I also made the decision not to ‘hack’ the original 12V power supply cable as suggested in the instructions but to use a screw terminal barrel jack instead as it seemed neater and more flexible should I ever need to replace the power supply.

At this point I would like to add that all of these modifications and build strategies were my own and should in no way be taken as gospel – if you do things in a similar way as described here when building your kit it is entirely at your own risk. I am still feeling my way around electronics and figuring out the best way to do things. Similarly, if you feel I made a mistake or want to suggest an improvement, please get in touch as I would welcome any constructive advice!

That’s my Filastruder fully assembled now, including cramming the finished electronics into the case. I have not had a chance to try it out yet, but I can safely say that I have finished the job to the best of my abilities. The Filastruder kit was certainly one of the more challenging things I have done so far, despite great email support from Tim. Can’t wait to get going now!!!