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.

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’

 

 

All Makers Now?

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.

The recipes can be found at http://open3dp.me.washington.edu/, alongside lots and lots of other cool hardware and software projects all things 3D.

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:

Makers 1Makers 2The opening of the All Makers Now? Exhibition at Trelissick House and Gardens on Thursday night:

Makers-Now-Web04-resavedMakers-Now-Web03-resaved

SmartLaB event this weekend!

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.

Want Want Want!! MakerBot Replicator 2 or UP!Plus V1.3?

After the recent pause in posting on this Blog mainly due to my crazy exhibition/teaching schedule, I am now picking up the pieces and emerging from the rubble which used to be my studio (left as it was after another all-night jewellery making session in October). Thoughts are turning to Christmas…and what could potentially be put into my stocking by Santa (or more likely myself – high tech gadgets at this price are a hard sell for the nearest and dearest).

Enter the MakerBot Replicator 2. Now, in my enthusiasm to learn all about microcontrollers, electronics, lasers and ‘how things work’ (culminating in the addition of the label ‘tinkerer’ after the much-contemplated ‘jewellery artist’), I was all up for downloading the plans for one of the weird and wonderful RP machines off Thingiverse, or even getting myself a kit of the pre-cut parts and assembling it myself. In fact, I was quite excited by the prospect of doing so – I even looked into booking myself into a workshop run at Manchester University to take the edge off risking potentially disasterous RP results and for a bit of guidance. And I may still pursue this avenue one day – a girl can never have too many cool machines to play with, right? After all, the philosophy behind open-source technology is that it’s self-replicating – meaning that if you have one to do the donkey’s work of printing all the parts, you could theoretically make as many others as you like from it.

Yet, the array of choices and potential hacks seems daunting at this stage, and my research schedule is not going to magically grind to a halt while I learn all about the available RepRaps in the world. Two printers are up for consideration, the UP!Plus V1.3 and the brand new MakerBot Replicator 2. I have had a go at using the UP!Plus at University, with actually really great results (compared to rather messier ones I have seen done on other RepRap machines). I print mostly very fragile structures, with diameters of 1mm and 2mm pushing the machine to the limit, and the UP!Plus deals with those beautifully. Prising them off the heated bed after printing with a pallette knife is actually a lot harder than it sounds and has resulted in some breakages, which I would rather avoid in the future. The UP!Plus Printer I have used at uni uses mostly ABS plastic. Whilst it’s cheap (great for the pockets) it’s not super environmentally friendly, and I actually do care about these things. I think we should be moving towards a cleaner future, and in my mind making objects out of plastic, no matter how fantastic they are, concerns me a bit. PLA has been touted as the greener alternative, being made from corn starch and sugar (although I am a bit sceptical about that myself, just as I am still doubting the green credentials of Biofuel), it also has the advantage of having a lower melting point than ABS, thus using less energy in the printing process. The lower working temperature means it’s easier to get off the bed, but also has the disadvantage of sometimes causing edge-curl on finished prints. Ideally I want ot get my hands on a machine that prints both, and the UP!Plus V1.3 now can do so.

So what do I like about the MakerBot Replicator 2? The allegedly wafer-thin layers are a huge draw, especially considering the scale of my work. Having seen videos of the machine in action, the print speed seems incredible. I also like it’s sturdy construction, no-fuss out of the box setup and removable print platform (a point of irritation with the UP!Plus). I am not going to mention the funky integral LED lighting at this point, as a true tinkerer and budding geek should not be concerned with such trivialities (LOVE it!!). Price-wise the two machines seem pretty equally pitched, with the MakerBot having a slightly larger print area. But before making a decision, it would be good to see it ‘in the flesh’ and maybe do a test print or two to compare the results side by side. Also, the MakerBot can only print PLA, so I would have to test the material for my application before deciding. Most home RPs need to be tuned to get the best possible results, a task I am not sure I am capable of yet. But as they say, you grow with the challenges thrown your way.

Altogether I am undecided – at this point having either one in my studio would make me ecstatic…are you listening Santa???

Learning Arduino…the long journey

Since starting my research at Dundee I have become more and more aware of the wonder that constitues the world of Arduino, also known as ‘Microcontroller Programming that Artists can understand”.

After an introductory lesson on the very basics of connecting and programming by our resident tech-whizz Ally in March (breadboard anyone?), my first self-devised project was to wow fellow materials researchers at the CIMTEC Conference with a fully interactive Poster that lights up on touch. Armed with this essential starter guide and a box full of semi-familiar components I set to work to teach myself Arduino. My initial plan – to fashion a switch out of conductive ink – failed due to the intricacies of the Royal Mail Postal Service, but after using a simple push switch and a sleepless night I got the poster to light up on demand as planned…

…for about 2 hours after which the battery (LiPo 110ma) was flat. As the conference organisers were opposed to me taking the poster down every two hours to re-charge the battery I finally had to admit defeat, but fortunately the poster with its silicone shapes and colourful visuals made enough of an impact as it was (and the non-functioning electronic components were well hidden, so no explanations were necessary). Power supply is a serious concern for the wearable electronics practitioner though, and unfortunately one for which there are currently no truly satisfactory answers. Not that that’s going to stop me from looking for them….

Anyway, on to my next Arduino venture. Heartened by the fact that I managed to set up and program a fully functional LED touch switch Arduino circuit (without blowing up the board – a Lilypad incidentally – or the LEDs) I have become more ambitious and want to greatly improve on my trial run. The opportunity presented itself in the shape of the Goldsmiths’ Fair 30 Year Anniversary exhibition, for which I am currently creating a piece that will respond to light changes by activating different groups of LEDs with differing levels of intensity according to ambient conditions. I am planning to use the Arduino Pro Mini 5V micro controller this time (for size reasons) to power about 10 LEDs, but only five at any one time. I am also thinking about using this color light sensor which can not only sense brightness levels but also the colour of light. There’s an extensive tutorial on how to program the device on this Blog, but to be fair I was already out of my depth after the first paragraph, so we’ll see how that goes, especially considering the deadline for handing the piece in. If all else fails, I will just use a bog-standard on/off light sensor and practice a bit more until deploying the other one in a different project.

Power supply is as per usual a great concern, and due to the nature of the exhibition I have decided that I will have to plump for the inelegant solution of a mains powered adaptor – there is no way I will be able to persuade anybody to change the battery once or twice a day and re-charge it when the piece is in situ at the exhibition.

So, that’s it on the Arduino front at the moment – I often think that the mountain I have to climb in terms of mastering microelectronics is still a large one, but at least I have started the ascent…

NiTiNol

Nickel Titanium Shape Memory Alloy is one of the more well-known smart materials, being used in all sorts from medical instruments to bendy spectacle frames. Shape Memory Alloys (or SMAs as I will be calling them henceforth) were the material that got me interested in my research area in the first place, back in 2006, when their use was still in its infancy within the Visual and Applied Arts community and the only textbook I could find was so scientifically written that I had only a vague notion of how these materials might be useful in my quest to make Jewellery come alive. When I subsequently arrived at the RCA, full of dreams of exploring these wondrous metals, I was told they would be utterly unsuitable for jewellery use in the way I imagined, and that I shouldn’t waste my time. Disheartened but unconvinced my creative path digressed, but in the back of my mind I always knew I would return to the world of ‘Smart’ eventually.

At the University of Dundee we have the fascinating department of Imaging and Technology at the Ninewells Medical Research centre, where a group of extremely talented researchers spend their days developing new surgical tools for use at the hospital. Needless to say, shape memory alloys play an important part in this task, coiled into tiny springs inside long laproscopes, which in turn are used to get into what were previously thought inaccessible areas of the human body.

On a less serious note, Shape Memory Alloys  have been used in a variety of applied arts projects, a few fun examples of which I came across on youtube recently (more fun to be had here,here and here). At CIMTEC I met the charming Dr Patrick Dyer of the University of Brighton, who has done quite a bit of research into combining SMAs with textile applications – a field that has been far more encouraging in finding a use for SMAs. Having seen the shape-shifting clothes created by Hussein Chalayan in 2007 at his retrospective at the London Design Museum, I think SMAs are as exciting as they come but have been seriously overlooked by jewellery artists thus far. It is time this changed, and hopefully I will be able to contribute to that through my research.