The residency
The tinkering studio invite one or two artists a year to their space to explore ways to engage their audiences in creative learning. In the past I have worked a lot in shadow puppetry, and between 2011-13 worked on a collaborative performance piece called the “improvised shadow puppetry extravaganza”. I was keen to explore some more in light and shadow at the Exploratorium, and use the space as a testing ground for some new ideas and new ways to engage people in the work. Light is a big part of the museum’s exhibits, and I was inspired by the work of Bob Miller, which I go into more detail in another post.

On the first day of the residency I met with the Tinkering Studio curators Sebastian and Ryoko, who reminded me that I was there to explore, but and didn’t need to have a final outcome. It sounds a little cheesy to write this here, but they reminded me that the “process is the outcome, and that is why you are here”. And they meant it. As an organization they supported authentic experimentation with no strings attached, they encouraged me to test works on the museum floor as early as possible. I found presenting half-baked ideas to be challenging (especially without adding “disclaimers”), but, I got a lot out of the feedback and the failures of making “live” work with participants.

Over the two weeks I made a number of experiments exploring ways to play with light and shadow, and exploring ways of making this a collaborative experience. I had a work-space (a desk) in the tinkering studio I decided to move the desk on the first day, to give me some more space to work in. I always make such small scale work and I wanted to take this opportunity to work on a different scale. Things kind of have to be big in the Exploratorium or they are lost. The great thing about my work-space was that there were windows that looked out into the museum floor, so I could test out ideas while being outward facing. Oh, and almost forgot: I shared a space with a giant cardboard octopus.

Experiment 1
I started the residency by experimenting with mask and costume making to create shadow with the body. It was quite a playful experiment, and I invited visitors of the museum to make too.

Experiment 2
From there I took a different path, exploring more the sensation of space created with light and shadow. I was inspired by some writing from Rebecca Solnit on labyrinths and mazes, and wanted to try to create the sense of disorientation and magic that she described.

“…the labyrinth offers us the possibility of being real creature in symbolic space. I had often though of a children’s books as I walked, and the children’s books that I love the best where full of characters falling in to book ad pictures that because real, wandering through gardens where the statues came to life, most famously, crossing over the other side of the mirror, where the chess pieces, flowers, and animal all were alive and temperamental. These books suggested that the boundary between the real and the represented where not particularly fixed, and magic happened when one crossed over”

I made a series of paper structures to hold the shadows in, and to walk around among and between shadow.

After a day or two of playing with these spaces, I made these long screens, and projected scenes into them, as well as using the OHP to animate objects in the space.

Experiment 3
In the final experiment I iterated on the large mazes of light and shadow, and I explored how making these could be a collaborative process. I designed a simple workshop that visitors could take part in. The whole studio (including the two directors, Karen and Mike) tested the workshop before I tried it out with the public. In the testing event, the studio were playful and curious, and their feedback fed into the live event we made on the museum floor.

We created long screens, using long strips of paper. And participants where invited to hang their creations between the light and projection in the space.

Thinking with paper
Throughout the process I wrote a lot of my thoughts on paper, sometimes this was a space passing ideas, or it gave structure to the day, or it was a place for drawing designs for making.

On the last day the studio bought cake :)

I can’t express enough my appreciation for the open, playful and experimentation nature of the tinkering studio. I learned so much from this approach. They were open in that they invited me to their space and encourage me to make tests (that were highly likely to fail) with the public. They also shared their knowledge and ideas. And they were experimental with their space. There was no sense of things being final, the whole museum felt like it was a work-in-progress -a living and working experiment. And, as a resident, I felt part of this. For example, in order for us to make the public workshop on the final day we needed to spend a day rigging a metal structure to the beams in the space (this was to hang the paper maze onto). The studio were so enthusiastic about this happening, and found ways to make things happen even when it was not so obvious how.