If I hadn’t been an artist….

I have been sorting through my slide collection. I have a small number of slides, beautiful glass ones as well as ones with cardboard surrounds from my grandparents collection. In early retirement they were enthusiastic travellers and in amongst the images are bridges, not so many as to indicate a specific interest but enough to make a small selection. It seems there is perhaps a universal interest in things that bridge.

We appreciate the bridge’s appearance, achievement and construction and if we think further or have a professional interest, the engineering qualities also. I have with my interest in architecture made a needle bridge suggestion. Its an exploration of a process and idea, how things cross over in terms of professions and disciplines. If I hadn’t been an artist I would quite likely have been an architect, but i was put off by the 7 years training as it was then. So I was pleased when I studies my MA a few years back now I explored ideas of conceptual architecture through the vehicle of a white shirt. I was able to explore my interest in structure and space but from a conceptual viewpoint rather than working to a brief. I was not concerned with the engineering of the structures I was proposing then or now with needle bridge – its so obviously under engineered. In terms of cutting edge architects Lebbeus Woods is well worth a look ( http://lebbeuswoods.net/ ).

I hope I’m not over extending the metaphor but see the whole project in this light – the bridge between art and engineering. The language and approaches of the two professions is really engaging and I’m continuing to work on my workpages as a record of this. Am starting to think about the exhibition of the outputs of this project which will be on show from September.


All that structure is reduced to surface and slices

Once the CAD image is complete it needs to be translated into a STL (Stereolithography) file so the RP software and machines can understand it. All the work with planes, parallels and midpoints recorded in the Feature Manager Design Tree is disregarded and the object / idea is reduced to surface. The surface is made up of a matrix of triangles. A larger scale example of this would be Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome http://www.bfi.org/about-bucky/buckys-big-ideas/geodesic-domes. In terms of my needle, there were 11704 triangles, the more triangles the smoother the surface. In addition to mapping the surface with triangles it also separates the object into slices. All RP processes are ‘sliced based’ which you can see most clearly on the plastics RP objects. It’s how the object is made, using layers of material be that plastic or plaster.


Engineering workshop and bridge talk

I started to document Derek’s / the engineering workshop last week where there are mills and lathes – some old some very new. We discussed the transition from traditional towards computer operated processes and the shift from skills to knowledge. The physical manifestation of knowledge is skill, where materials and tools are physically manipulated to create objects. So in terms of what’s happening in contemporary engineering (as in many professions) is the integration of the digital. Knowledge develops in terms of using software’s to create the design work. The work has become more procedural in terms of operating the new Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines. Where as a lathe operator would load the material and use skill to achieve the object, with the CNC machines there could, (especially in larger companies) be a loader – who puts the material into the machine, the setter who loads the information into the computer integrated into the machine, and the programmer who writes the design in computer code which the setter inputs. With CNC processes you can walk away while the part is being tooled (made), obviously differing from traditional lathe work. There are varying degrees of skill in these (CNC) processes, in some smaller companies all the processes could be carried out by one individual. This segmenting reminds me of Adam Smith’s division of labour and Derek talked about the shift from blue collar to white collar which I have explored extensively in my practice.

We also discussed contemporary architecture and how the architect needs to have a working awareness of the capabilities of engineering as that is what will make the building stay standing. Having said that Derek was saying that engineers thrive on a challenge and that’s what we have with this no pointed needle. Working from a video still is problematic (and then also an opportunity) as it has no three dimensional measurements. So the measurements loaded into CAD come from estimation which I image is poor engineering practice. But from an artists perspective estimation and aesthetics is something I often work with. We will get there in the end (get the no pointed needle made) but it’s interesting to consider where the end is. The process of identifying when something is finished is more fluid for artists as work can always be described as being ‘in process’ with the presentation of the work in exhibitions or artists talks acting as a end point so to speak. However as one body of work is presented the things that didn’t quite work or those interesting ideas that started to emerge are the staring point for the next body of work. It’s a constant evolving process, at least it is for me.

I’m wondering if the CAD drawing/design of the no pointed needle will become more interesting to me and I could leave the video still image behind (using it as a departure point only). For an engineer that would be more difficult because from what I’m learning its about finding the solution to the original brief. Paul, the other CAD student himself an engineer, suggested with humour that to abandon the original intention (the translation of the video source material) would be bodging. Art practice as bodging sounds an interesting idea to me.

I left Derek last week with my shire how needles are madebook and in return I was lent a book about the Forth Bridge which I read the other night. We wondered last week if the over engineering of this bridge was due to the first one collapsing during construction but it was another, the Tay bridge. There was also mention of the Forster + Partners Millau viaduct in France. (http://www.fosterandpartners.com/Projects/1158/Default.aspx )

That’s what is so good about residencies, the original aims are explored but it’s all the other subjects and ideas that come alongside that makes it such an interesting way of working.

All this and not so much about the CAD and RP stuff we did, so more about that later.


Research in temperature controlled rooms and a society meeting

Went to Tate archive yesterday to look at some Artist Placement Group’s (APG) documents. http://www.tate.org.uk/learning/artistsinfocus/apg/overview.htm These archives are odd places to visit, everyone seems to speak in hushed tones, but then the door from the archive into the reading room is incredibly noisy each time it bangs shut. I don’t think the staff hear it anymore. I been to quite a few archives and I am always excited before I go at the thought of what I might find, sleepy when I am there due to the subdued lighting, the constant temperature and the almost (!) silence, and then hopefully buzzing with thoughts a day or so later.

The archive took most of the day and then off to the Science Museum to have a quick look around (where I was thinking about what defines a designer and what an engineer). It was only a quick look as I went to the Newcome Society lecture – The History of Computing by Professor Martin Campbell-Kelly. http://www.newcomen.com/index.htm It ame to my attention through one of those evenings of ‘focused Internet research’ which quickly turns into a trawl through lots of ‘interesting stuff’ you would never have found before the days of the Internet. How exactly the Internet has altered the ideas of serendipity I don’t know. There were some good images and diagrams of early offices in the lecture which was what I wanted to know more about: Why did people document, through painting and etching and later photography the work place? More focused research, well browsing really, of the Science and Society Picture Library and found a rather nice example of office life as was – Office Life: Headquarters of Clarks Shoes http://www.scienceandsociety.co.uk/results.asp?image=10250376&wwwflag=3&imagepos=71


Over engineered

Today when faced with the CAD programme I did remember quite a bit from last week (when it felt a totally alien way of working). Today I was able to complete the tasks that Derek set Paul and I, it felt a bit more familiar and accessible.

We had discussions about the Falkirk Wheel http://www.thefalkirkwheel.co.uk/index.html which Derek thought was an excellent example of the cross over between engineering and art and yes it is an impressive piece of architectural design although I haven’t seen it in action only photos. The Millennium Bridge in Newcastle near Baltic http://www.gateshead.gov.uk/Leisure%20and%20Culture/attractions/bridge/Home.aspx also featured in our discussions as did the Grand Canyon Skywalk – I can hardly even watch the video on the website without feeling queasy. http://www.grandcanyonskywalk.com/index.html We moved onto how some structures (and maybe objects also) can be over engineered, possibly the Forth Rail Bridge being an example of this, we thought perhaps because the first one might have collapsed during construction?http://www.forthbridges.org.uk/railbridgemain.htm

When I started thinking about CAD and RP and wanting to be at Hethel it was so I could document the environment, learn CAD and make a ‘no pointed needle’ in RP. The no pointed needle came from a video work I made in 2003, Video Triptych. The work used a real object, manipulated to camera and captured to tape using different camera functions: the result is the no pointed needle which only exists digitally. My aim is to make this object three dimensional (in its new form) using CAD as a translation tool and RP as the making tool. I tired to make the no pointed needle and a needle in CAD today with some success (and help). In CAD the needle becomes an object constructed of parts rather than drawn from a single length of wire which is how they are manufactured.

Quote for the day, well there are two, something being over engineered (but my work being described as under engineered!) and also ‘a straight line is an arc of infinite radius’. There was some discussion between Paul and Derek as to the meaning of this but I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. I imagine that if I launched into art-speak there might be a similar reaction. I like how each job/profession has its own language and how that translates across different disciplines (or not) – all a learning curve or arc perhaps.