Artist talks and where they take you.

I was invited to give a talk to the Norwich 20 Group (www.norwich20group.co.uk) a week or so back. Its always a good opportunity to get ideas clear and assemble images. Beyond that its the questions that cant be anticipated, the connections one cant foresee that make giving artist talks so interesting and as much part of the work for me at the work i produce.

The questions from the 20 Group were expansive and seemed to focus on the role of women within manufacturing and engineering. There was a comment about some of the images i showed where historical factory images featured female workers – which led me to talk about some of the films in the British Documentary Movement made before, during and after the war. There is a great film about women working the night shift in an armaments factory. Someone wanted to know how many female engineers there were at Hethel, to which i replied – non – this led to a conversation about why this might be – perhaps not encouraged into the discipline at school or studying it but unable to find work or progress in the profession? Its not something i have really looked at much although Derek and i have discussed it on occasion. There is such as thing as Young Women Engineer of the Year – http://conferences.theiet.org/ywe/index.htm

These gender questions were brought to the fore again when at the weekend i went to see Made in Dagenham – (which was at times rather funny as well as telling the events of an important story in the fight for equality and equal pay). The film has some interesting footage of car manufacturing and working conditions – which were less than salubrious. What ever the critics view of the film we can’t escape the fact that it represents a seminal moment in women’s history and the move towards a fair days pay for a fair days labour no matter your gender. http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/film/made_in_dagenha…



On Monday i went to Tate Archives to look at some of the many AGP documents they have. It was a good visit and it was fascinating to read not only what was contained within the documents but to see their range in terms of appearance and method of writing (by hand or by typewriter). Artist’s letterheads, many simple in design are interesting social documents, i feel rather sad that with a recent ‘mailbox quote exceeded warning’ i deleted many of my emails to do with the digital making project. Emails are often beautifully perfunctory communications about all manner of subjects giving an insight beyond the press release and official communication surrounding projects in process. We can’t keep all our electronic communications but what will be in the archives of the future?

In the documents i looked at there was repeated mention of APG’s time based theory and the relationship between short and long term interests. As an artist i take a long view, with each project developing into the next, sometimes following some obscure routes but nevertheless being interconnected in someway. How the business world manages short and long term interests is something that i want to look into further, and how the role that privatisation, multinationals and globalised contexts have altered these interests. The Corporation offers interesting and often shocking perspectives on the growth of business and it effects on people and the planet http://www.thecorporation.com . There was also descriptions of the artist as ‘incidental person’, which initially puzzled me as i was thinking about APG wanting artists to be seen as equals to other professional people. But on clarifying my understanding of the word – ‘accompanying but not a major part of something’ it offers the artists the opportunity to observe without having to consider the interests of the company directly, having the freedom to put forward ambitious or simply unexpected suggestions. I’m still very much considering this research and will re-visit to archive to look at further documents.

In contrast to my Tate visit, on Wednesday i went to the Engineering and Advanced Manufacture Exhibition (EAME) held at Hethel. I do admit to feeling rather out of my comfort zone, with it being an engineering trade fair, however Derek and Ben where on hand as guides and once i got going i felt less self conscious about my naivety about engineering. In fact i had a couple of positive comments about my engineering knowledge! I spoke to number of people in some depth, as far as my knowledge and understanding would take me.

I spoke with the sales rep from +GF+ AgieCharmilles, who was very helpful in explaining the basics of a economic ED wire cutter (see images)! which all felt new to me, but Derek had suggested maybe i had seen a smaller version on a Hethel workshop tour earlier in the residency. It was no coincidence that the sales rep had a tie which matched the orange trim on the machine. He gave me a demo of the machine, i struggled a bit to keep up with the technical information but the aesthetics of the thing were striking.

After a look round and a chat with Ben, i talked with the sales engineer from neuteq. Whilst looking at the robot he had brought along we discussed favorite artists (his was Salvador Dali – i couldn’t choose one – never can) and how the robot is changing the shape of manufacturing and production. It’s interesting as these machines can be placed in all manner of contexts, food packaging (including pretzel packaging would you believe), engineering, metalworking industry. It stuck me how each industry might once have had its own machinery to a greater extent and how that diversity is now becoming more homogenised, it could be in time that we see the same machines which are likely to include an increasing number of robots, in all manner of contexts. I couldn’t hep feeling slightly uncomfortable at being told that the robots make the new robots, much like Rapid Prototyping machines being used to make parts for new Rapid Prototyping machines, there seems to be something of mechanical evolution in this scenario.


There is always some loss

I have written about Reverse Engineering before but I’m finding it really interesting. In addition to finishing the installation of the exhibition today I have been doing some more scanning. Derek and Ian (who is on work experience at Hethel) scanned my hand. I wanted to hold the RP object and see how the scan would look. The hand held scanner we used today is expensive £30,000 so pretty inaccessible to artists.

The files that result almost always need additional work to patch up holes and glitches. It is a very interesting area of exploration though especially as I am interested in duplication, copying and the fallible nature of technology (which is so often portrayed as a time saver and reliable – from my experience it’s far from it). So I was asking Derek how widely 3D scanning is used in contemporary engineering and if it can create an exact copy of the object being scanned to which the reply was firstly, it’s not widely used as it is fairly new and expensive and secondly there is always some loss of information. It’s this loss (or rather inability to capture it in the first place) of information that interests me as the scans are patchy and incomplete. It’s not my aim to get a complete object but rather to explore the limitations and creative potential of the technology.

In addition I have a couple of images of the work installed at Hethel. The exhibition is open this weekend:

Saturday 11th & Sunday 12th September between 10 – 1pm

Hethel Engineering Centre, Chapman Way, Hethel, Near Norwich, NR14 8FB

[email protected] Tel: 01953859100

Exhibition continues until 17th December 2010 – by appointment only – please contact Hethel Engineering to arrange your visit.


Reverse Engineering

I have written before about how I feel my investigations fall between being an original design work/object and reverse engineering (copying something that already exists). Reverse engineering was a new concept to me, but it’s a familiar term and practice within contemporary engineering with many types of 3D scanners on the market. Ben, an engineer who is interested in the cross over between art and engineering kindly offered to bring his scanner into Hethel so I could scan the objects I have made using the RP machines.

It was the process and the unpredictability of the images which was the exciting part, these scans can’t go to manufacture as there are too many holes or incomplete sections or as the yellow triangle warns me This Part contains errors! I have had a multitude of error messages but i am unconcerned as I don’t need these objects to go to manufacture. Rather, like the original video footage I have been working from these scans operate as potential objects.

Lots of preparations for the show, I’m thinking back to something I read on Emily Speed’s blog about how she still sometimes underestimates how long things will take – ditto. Installation starts tomorrow and I’ll post some images as a preview. Exhibition is open on the 11 & 12 September. See post # 29 for details.


It’s the everyday things that interest me: Replacing an offside brake light on a Punto

I have never been very interested in cars and I’ve had a few, always second hand and I’ve always done some of the maintenance myself. The H reg Nissan Sunny I had was a great motor which when I got it was 10 years old with 12,000 miles on the clock. It was a great car and because of its age pretty simple, unfortunately it gave up in a major way at a very inconvenient moment and was thus collected by the scrap man who gave me £30 for it. The new (to us) T registration Punto is a different kettle of fish entirely I suddenly feel pretty inept at anything to do with its maintenance and he who deals with the car has now taken over. As it’s a more modern car much more is hidden away in odd and inaccessible places behind plastic panels. To change a rear brake light bulb was more involved than it needed to be (see the images). Is this about styling, about manufacturing processes or about encouraging us to pay for everything to be done?

Car maintenance is becoming less of a DIY activityand more of a service we need to purchase. This puts the emphasis on us to earn the money to pay for someone to carry out the job. Gone are the days of my friend Cath’s dad painting (yes that’s painting) their car every year or so with a brush and tin of gloss paint (and I can admit to that myself also – but I used a roller) but things like that bring a smile to your face, the image of someone painting a car with a brush. The alternative can be compared to wondering how much the coloured coded bumper on your new vehicle is going to cost to replace when it gets a knock.

So is the complicated bulb change about encouraging us to pay for services rather than doing it ourselves? It’s naïve to think its accidental – I’m thinking back to Derek’s information about design intention. I am sure someone at Fiat had the task of carrying out routine car maintenance jobs and timing them before the car went into mass production. What encourages me is the inclusion of a small kit of tools provided with the car which allow for the panelling to be undone, but who did the manufacturer imagine would be doing the undoing.