As Cara and I have been working together on brainstorming ways that we will collaborate on a project we thought it was important to get a sense of each others work/studio spaces. We arranged to do virtual tours of each others spaces and it was my turn to give the tour first this week. I work at California State University Long Beach. While I spent much of my time instructing students in Digital Fabrication Methods (3D printing, Laser cutting, and CNC machining) as well as Kinetics (circuitry and responsive micro controller coding), I also use these facilities for my own work. My office has an attached on-campus studio where I house all of my personal equipment and mini-workshop space. I often joke with students that I should keep a pair of sweatpants in my office for sleeping because this small space has become my second home. I gave Cara a tour through Google Chat while simultaneously carrying my laptop around trying to screen capture our conversation through quicktime (surely there is an easier way to do this that we didn't have time to figure out on our call). Needless to say while the video recorded the audio did not. The somewhat clumsy video is below.
Cara asked me if it is daunting to have tools that can help facilitate the creation of an infinite number of possible projects. I have lingered on this in the past few days since our conversation, and while it is sometimes daunting, it is mostly an exciting challenge.
I toured Brittany’s workspace this week (virtually) and it was dazzling - mills, lathes, drill presses, a circuit board printer, several 3D printers, the aforementioned sewing machine with conductive thread...
“We can make basically anything,” she said.
During the tour she showed me projects in progress and occasionally students wandered by and looked on with curiosity as Brittany explained the tools in her shop to her laptop (me). I waved at them when they peered in at me, her minecraftesque collaborator from 500 miles away.
I asked Brittany what she most wanted to communicate with her art.
“What does it mean that these things [gesturing to her lineup of 3D printers that she thinks will be ubiquitous in the coming years] exist now? And how does this reshape the spaces that we share [with other life on our planet]?”
I wondered whether we could create scaffolds for more positive interactions - using our knowledge of cockroaches’ preference to be in tight spaces to inexpensively print exit tubes out of our homes, for example. Tapping into ways of interacting with these species that are so distinct from us with Brittany’s specialized skills and my knowledge of their biology would make this collaboration really rewarding.
I looked into various insects we could readily order to inhabit a created space. (I would love it if they could be useful after the piece had been displayed, e.g. mason bees).
Over the week I saw a few adverts for expensive jewelry listing the wrong insects as parts of the pieces:
Its extremely common for insect IDs to be incorrect, but it just seemed particularly surprising that for nearly $4,000 USD no one might be interested in the verity of their insect corpse bauble. (Metallic Wood-boring beetle, at left, is the actual beetle “shell” used in the bracelet. Scarabs have much broader bodies, at right.):
I was reminded of Christopher Marley’s exquisite works where the beauty of certain showy insects can be quickly consumed, but with little information about which insects they are or what they do on our planet. (Note that the big, blue-winged damselfly at right is missing its head!):
Why do so many people want to memorize the order of out-of-reach distant planets, but the orders of insects here on Earth are considered arcane? We are reliant on insects for pollination, decomposition, and as natural controllers of pests, however, their widespread, silent labors garner scant little of our appreciation.
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Brittany Ransom is an award-winning artist, technologist, and assistant professor of Sculpture and New Genres at California State University, Long Beach.
Cara Gibson is a graphic designer, director of Science Communications, and Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.