Makers Using Technology

The past year has been about residencies. Ones I have participated in myself and ones I have created for other people.

Last year for expedient reasons, mainly to make my day job more challenging, I developed an artist residency programme within a product design research centre Makers Using Technology

Inspired by Medical Design
The centre has a strong medical design team who specialise in the reconstruction of the body. This involves a lot of maxillio facial reconstruction projects. Surgeons send them CT data of head traumas which they materialise through 3D prints (SLA). The printed skulls are sent to the surgeon who then uses the 3D printed skull to decide on how to operate on the patient. Once this is ascertained, the design team then develop metal plates used to cover the trauma areas during surgery. The team were pioneers of using a haptic modelling software, Freeform for medical projects. 

Freeform is a CAD system through which you model a piece of clay in the virtual environment, that you can feel in the real world via an omni arm. Its a very strange sensation. You can feel with your hand the contours and textures you can see on the screen. The tools within the system mirror clay modelling and stone carving tools used by hand makers. 

The team to do amazing work which helps repair the identities and dignity of the patients. I saw that the tools that the team use (Freeform, 3D printing) could open amazing making opportunities for artists. 

Peter Dorrington sharing his knowledge of Freeform with Anna Lewis

Residency Model
I developed a model for artist residencies using the technologies. I realised that the residencies would have to incorporate training on the technologies in order for the artists to get the most of the technologies and the residencies. The first two weeks of the Makers Using Technology residencies are spent learning how to use Freeform to a workable basic level. After that for the duration of the residency, the artists' learning is supported according to how they want to use the software. They are helped to understand the advantages and constraints of using SLA, Projet and Makerbot technologies (the centre also has a ZCorp which was out of action through the 2013/14 residencies).

Diana Oliveira shares her photography knowledge with Beate Gegenwart

Two Way Learning Exchange
The researchers and designers at PDR don't get time to play or experiment… they are usually using the technologies in the same way because of time and project constraints. PDR were happy to support the artist residencies as they were perceived as a two way learning exchange. PDR staff train and support the artists using the technologies, the artists (potentially) use the technologies in ways different from the staff.

Lloyd Stoker holds Beate Gegenwart's prints fresh out of the Projet

Following a successful funding bid to the Arts Council Wales, we made a call out to select the artists for the residencies. We were amazed at the response with artists from all over the world… particularly many based in New York… After a two stage selection process we selected: Jessica Lloyd Jones, Anne Gibbs, Beate Gegenwart and Anna Lewis. The progress of the residencies has been documented on  so I am not going to repeat that stuff here.

Makerbots can give you arm ache!

10 Things I Learnt Through Makers Using Technology
What I wanted to blog about was what I learnt by setting this project up. I haven't had an outlet as yet for my own insights of the project. So what did I learn?

01. I really enjoyed having an insider insight of how other artists work. Unless you share a studio with someone you don't normally see up close how they work through ideas. I am ever curious about how other people go about things, so it has been particularly fascinating to watch how the artists have reacted differently to the residencies.

02. You need a good team around you do a project like this. On the face of it four people work on this project (Peter Dorrington (training) Lloyd Stoker (fabrication) Diana Oliveira (project assistant) and myself)… but in-house at least another ten people share their expertise.

03. People's preconceptions of 3D printing are perplexing. Through doing these residencies I have found myself talking about 3D printing (additive manufacturing) a subject I previously (and still to a large extent) had no knowledge. I am amazed that people I would consider reasonable and rational, talk about 3D printing as a kind of space age magic… but instant, easy and perfect every time it isn't.

04. Time. 3D prints takes much longer than I ever realised. To be honest I have been walking past the 3D printers for seven years without paying them much attention. Through the residencies I have come to realise that a relatively modest sized object can take days to print…. and regularly fail which means that they have to be reset to reprint… all time consuming. Sometimes it feels like it would be quicker to have someone whittling the prints out of wood…

05. Hand finishing. Hands are very much part of the 3D printing process. They create the CAD files, set up the machines, push the buttons, put the finished prints through cooking, curing, degreasing processes. They remove support structures, file, smooth and spray the prints. The debates within the applied arts about hand making versus digital technologies seem to over look much of this.

06. Making the impossible. The combination of Freeform and Projet means that some of the artists have been able to make things they never could with hand tools due to the intricacy of the forms. This is the massive plus of using the technology. The substrates are usually not desirable in themselves, but the forms that can be produced over ride the poor aesthetic surface quality.

07. It hasn't all been plain sailing, but through difficulties and issues you learn and develop better ways of doing things...

08. Do something well and other opportunities arise. As a result of the success of the residencies, I wrote a business plan and expanded the project. Currently we run R&D residencies for artists and  fabricate work for artists using the same technologies.

09. Research opportunities. Just to make my life a bit more complicated, in the next few months my colleague Peter Dorrington and I will be writing about Makers Using Technology and its two way learning exchanges through an academic lens...

10. Has it impacted my own practice? In fabrication terms, not really as I am not so concerned with materiality as the moment. That said, it could change. As my own work is about how people connect through participation, yes I think I have learnt a lot I can use in my own work. Exactly how, I will share in a future blog post.

What next?
Hopefully more of the same!


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