Embracing Innovation Volume 3

 18 July to 24 August 2013

  • Eleanor Gates Stuart (CSIRO/ANU)
  • Leane Zilka (RMIT)
  • Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen (Australian National University)
  • Stephen Barrass (University of Canberra)
  • Jonathan Duckworth (RMIT)
  • Cinnamon Lee (can’t find details) – independent?
  • Sam Cameron (University of Canberra, Emerging Contemporary Exhibition Award recipient award winner)
  • Tamara Kyd (University of Canberra, Emerging Contemporary Exhibition Award recipient award winner)
Tamara KydHex, 2012, Image courtesy of the artist.

Embracing Innovation Volume 3 by Dr Patsy Hely

Digital Magickery

All of the research projects given visual form in Embracing Innovation utilise digital technology in some way. Once, the use of the digital ensured the tag 'innovation' but such is its ubiquity in modern life, this is no longer the case. What does distinguish the works in this exhibition is the way curiosity and intelligence is brought together in putting the digital to use. Jonathan Duckworth's poetically named Embracelet is a case in point. Developed to help brain injury patients recuperate, the questions he asked in generating the prototype were important ones: how do muscles recover from injury? Is feedback helpful during retraining? What form should that take? Can an aesthetic dimension in medical devices help to bridge the divide between therapeutic and daily environments?

Working relationships where small teams are assembled to realise an idea are a common thread in many of the projects here. Often not collaborations in a traditional sense, they take the form required by the individual project. Wanting to produce lightweight side tables using a boatbuilding technique of laminating thin strips of veneer over an internal former/mold, Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen, head of furniture at the ANU School of Art, teamed up with designer and 3D CAD/CAM expert Chad Carpenter. Together, they worked from drawings of her Sway tables, using computer volume and surface modelling software to calculate the complex curve and exact surface area of each veneer strip. This way, waste of the rare Black Palm timber used in the work could be minimised and the resulting tables are a lovely amalgam of material, form and technique. In the gallery we see images of the finished tables and the production techniques alongside the former over which the tables were built. It is fascinating to see this insight into process, to see the nuts and bolts so to speak; it acts as a reminder of the temporal dimension of making, of the trajectory between idea and product.

Eleanor Gates-Stuart has worked as part of a team also, with scientists and computer experts at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) providing specific expertise. As part of her Canberra Centenary science art commission StellrScopE, the team used a 3D scanner to map weevils and other bugs and insects, and enlarge them with detail intact. Such art and science collaborations are increasingly common, for instance the Synapse initiative of the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australian Network for Technology2 has facilitated collaborations between artists and scientists on a variety of projects over the last ten years. An exciting example taking place locally is the collaborative research being undertaken by artist Erica Seccombe from the ANU School of Art with the ANU Department of Applied Mathematics and Vizlab, the ANU Computer Centre.

Artworks produced during Gates-Stuart's collaboration include two dimensional images and a group of three dimensional bugs printed in titanium and patinated in strong bright colour. The 're-birthed' bugs, enlarged beyond their true size, are strange hybrids; neither toy nor specimen, props perhaps in a science fiction film or animation. Spot lit in the gallery this sense of the filmic is amplified.

Also made with titanium and likewise utilising current additive manufacturing processes, Cinammon Lee's finely wrought rings are the product of extensive exploration and considerable expertise. Not just beautiful and highly functional objects, her rings are responses to particular sets of questions made concrete. The increasingly sophisticated designs she produces bear witness to Lee's ability to find material, formal and aesthetic potentials by combining research into traditional jewellery techniques and contemporary selective laser melting (SLM) technologies. Lee gives a very clear explanation of her process in an artist statement but still, to see the prototypes is to marvel – digital magickery at its best.

A similar technology, selective laser sintering (SLS) is used to produce Sam Cameron's Bo Glasses. Made out of a strong and highly flexible nylon, these have been tested and refined through a number of research cycles into their current cool, sharp and highly functional form. Cameron studied in the University of Canberra Design program, as did Tamara Kyd. Like Kyd, he is a Craft ACT Emerging Contemporary; that is, a recent graduate whose work has been identified as showing great promise. The sunglasses can be made to order in a variety of colours; they are comfortable to wear and they look great.

Tamara Kyd, who is now Melbourne-based, employs Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology in her multifunctional light works. Made in hexagonal modules these can be constructed by the purchaser into myriad 2D or 3D configurations according to individual space and taste, and, unlike the flat pack furniture they are based on, can be reconfigured at will. Enabling users to customise and personalise objects may not be new but Kyd cleverly takes advantage of developing technologies to move this to a different level. Now that the modules are developed to prototype stage, Kyd's task is to find funding to proceed to the manufacturing stage. With such an innovative and versatile product, hopefully backers will beat a path to her door.

With the aim of reducing energy use in the lighting of public space, Leanne Zilka, along with colleague Dr Jenny Underwood, has been working with fabric capable of lighting space passively for up to eight hours. To this end, fibre-based long life phosphorescent glow material [familiar from glow in the dark toys] and nylon are knitted into fabric tubes using industrial knitting machines. These can then be installed in various arrangements in the urban landscape. Zilka thus draws on current research for her community purposes and knitting seems an appropriate process, even if its high tech form here is a long way from the usual domestic product. Associated with warmth and comfort, and of late much connected with social concern through craft activism, knitting and private and public benefit already have a history.

There is a similar purpose - of doing good, albeit aimed at the individual - in the Hypertension singing bowl of Stephen Barrass. 'Singing bowls', Barrass notes, 'have been associated with stress reduction and wellbeing for centuries.' Rubbed with a wooden stick, a 'puja', they produce sound. In their traditional hand beaten form the bowls have a unique tone determined by their specific shape and metal composition. Barrass has devised a way to collate data from an individual's blood pressure reading over time and use it to customise the shape of a digitally fabricated stainless steel bowl. In this way, each person's unique data set produces a tone specific to them.

The bowl then becomes a very personal mnemonic device, a visual and aural reminder, as he says, 'to monitor your well-being.' The bowl in the exhibition has been developed from a twelve month mapping of Barrass' own blood pressure data, and they can be custom produced for others. In this, they show how innovative design and manufacturing processes, as Jonathan Duckworth's Embracelet does, might be used for therapeutic effect.

It was Malcolm McCullough who popularised the idea that processes of crafting are as fundamental to the digital and machine made arenas as they are to handmaking. While his arguments were lengthy, it is possible to point to a few parallels suggested in his work and evident in the work exhibited here. Practice – repetitive and incremental, curious and playful – has bought these works into being and it has been a questioning of the particularities of tools and material that has allowed nuance to be recognised and engaged with in each.

Conjuring Acts

Making objects is a conjuring act and objects produced via digital means or with new and unfamiliar materials can seem to have appeared inexplicably. But they don't; the works in Embracing Innovation Volume 3 are the outcomes of sustained and serious practice-led research and they demonstrate the capacity of creative arts practitioners to engage with industry and machines in new and exciting ways.