It’s been a while.

It’s not that I’m not interested in writing, or wanting to neglect you, dear Blog, but did I tell you I’m working on my MFA?  My apologies, dear Blog, but I’ve had a hard time fitting you into my schedule.  Anyway, I think I’ve found a free few hours in which to write.

It’s been wild, dear Blog. Wild.  Crazy busy and intense.  I’m learning a lot, not only in my schoolwork, but in my life as well.  This year has been incredibly challenging, but also incredibly wonderful.  I’ve learned a few hard lessons, but I have a new appreciation for the simple things, and have learned to have faith that everything will come together.  I know how lucky I am. I know that it’s okay to let things go that aren’t serving me as well as they could without knowing what’s coming, in order to make room for possibility. You can’t stop change from happening, try your best to enjoy the current moment. You can never go back.

Which leads me to my theme.  Home.  I am currently visiting my parents, in Hanna, Alberta, after having lived two semesters in Waterloo, Ontario.  It is strange to be back here, a place I’ve missed and longed for since I left last July.  I thought my longing would finally be appeased, even if only temporarily.  The funny thing is that now I miss Waterloo.

The idea of home is something that sneaks up on you.  Two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have called Waterloo home, now I call it that almost every day.  When did Waterloo become home?  Will I always long for the place I cannot be?

What exactly is “home”? Is it really even tied to location?  Is it where your family is, your friends, your boyfriend?  Is it a place that only exists within your heart, or (worse), your memory?  Can you ever go home? Can you ever BE home? I’m starting to think that only those who have never left home really have a home. (But even that is problematic.  What about the passing of time?)  Do you only know what home is once you are away?  Do you have to leave for home to even exist?

I’m also preparing for my Shantz Internship, which is coming up VERY soon here, May 15th.  I am going to Cologne, Germany, to work with Alexandra Bircken for six weeks. (Very exciting!) I will have a little more than a week once I get back to Waterloo to get everything ready to go to Germany.  The funny thing, (and I really feel terrible admitting this) is that while I am very excited and really want to go on my internship, I kind of don’t want to leave Waterloo. Go figure.

I am using this summer to study this idea, as it applies to myself.  I have four places I will be this summer, and four ways they relate to home:

  • Waterloo, Ontario, Canada – This is my physical home, where I currently reside. (Although there are things going on here- I just found out that my landlord is selling the house, so I’m evicted- won’t have an apartment to return to when I get back from Europe. But I’ll deal with that later. “Have faith that everything will come together.”)
  • Hanna, Alberta, Canada – My where-I’m-from home, where I grew up and where my parents still live.
  • Cologne, Germany – A completely new place for me. This is a temporary place for me, may never be described as home.
  • the Netherlands – A mythical home for me.  My father’s side of the family is from the Netherlands.  I have roots there, and so have had a mythical idea of this place in my head for all of my life.  I’ve never been there.

I am curious to hear what others think the concept of “Home” is.  Is it a physical location? A country?  A town? A house? A state of mind?  Family? Friends? A lover? Is home familiarity? Routine? Comfort? Longing? Is the word “home” only a way of approaching how we treat a place? Is home in your blood? Can home be a place you’ve never been? Is home your past? Does it only exist within yourself?  Does home even exist at all?

All I know is that you can never really go home (but I will always want to).

Artist: Tom Haney

I saw this artist’s work at the Toronto Art Fair, but have rediscovered it more recently. I love the intricacy of these, as well as the way he uses simple mechanics to make them move and give them a bit of magic and personality.

See more at Tomhaney.com

Tom’s blog is also particularly great- shows a lot of in progress shots so that you can see how he works.

Soft Robots

I’m not sure if I’ve shared this before, but Matthew Borgatti, over at Har.ms has been working on making soft robots. I wish I had the facilities to look into doing something like this for the Animatronics Project, but I think even if I could, the components would take up way too much room to fit inside a Morphoid, even a large one. A girl can dream.

I am making slow progress in my own way, hopefully I’ll have something to post about that soon.  (Essentially right now I’ve got parts of things, mechanics and code, all in pieces all over the place, but not lined up and working properly yet.  I’ll share when I’ve got something that will be easy to see what I’m doing, rather than all this research and pieces of things and code that probably looks like gibberish to most people.)

Contemporary Automata Artists

Here are some artists who are using automata and mechanical principles in their artwork.  I like that these draw from traditional techniques, but each artist has added their own unique twist, to make their own things.

Dug North

Dave Johnson

Gary Schott

Mihai Bonciu

Juan Pablo Cambariere

Research: Jean Painlevé

A friend of mine introduced me to some new work to research, Jean Painlevé.  Jean Painlevé (1902-1989) was a film maker, who made documentaries, the animal documentaries being of particular interest to me.  On first glance, he seems to have enjoyed cropping the scene really closely around the animal (or parts of the animal), which creates a kind of magic and implied personality.

Although the films are in French (and so I don’t understand all the nuance, unfortunately), he seems to have a subtle sense of humour in the narrative, which is especially evident in this line from “The Love Life of the Octopus”:

“There’s no officially sanctioned position for doing that.”

From the Wikipedia article (which must always be taken with some amount of salt): “Advocating the credo ‘science is fiction,’ Painlevé managed to scandalize both the scientific and the cinematographic world with a cinema designed to entertain as well as edify. He portrayed sea horses, vampire bats, skeleton shrimps, and fanworms as endowed with human traits — the erotic, the comical, and the savage. Painlevé single-handedly established a unique kind of cinema, the ‘scientific-poetic cinema’.”

This is the stuff I miss most from school- the sometimes off-hand suggestions from other people, constant conversation, and eyes other than my own.

I need to watch more, I think!

(Be sure to also check out Isabella Rosselini, who I mention in this post, Green Porno.)


Ok, maybe it’s an experimentation and research phase (as it applies to material and technique).

This is Nitinol. Nitinol is a shape memory alloy, which reacts to heat. Let’s start at the beginning.

It works like magic.

Well, no, not really.

(And this one is trying to be dramatic…)

So…. how might this be useful?

See the possibilities?

This is interesting, although probably not very relevant to what I’m doing…

Phases of Practice

I seem to be going into an experimentation phase.

Like a lot of artists, I go through phases with my work.   Productive phases (grooves), where everything seems to roll along smoothly, almost pulling me with it, unproductive phases (ruts, like the one I’m finally seeming to get out of), where I’m stalling, and everything in between.  Experimentation phases, where I’m trying a lot of things, but not actually making any finished work, and research phases, where all I seem to do is read and write about ideas and what’s going on in my head.

As you may know, I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting out of a rut in the last few months.  Now, it feels like I’m at least doing stuff, trying things out, ordering a couple different kinds of supplies to play with (such as Arduinos), and at least moving.  I haven’t been able to make any more “finished work” in a while, but that’s natural, I guess.  Now that I’m playing with things again, that will come.

So what have I been doing?  Lots of experiments with the Arduino Uno I bought. Making things blink, playing with servo motors, and making slow progress.  I am no where near being able to do what I want to do with it, but you’ve gotta start with the basics, and then work from there.  I’ve shared a lot of my research in the last few weeks, but not much of the progress I’m making.

Here’s a video of something I’ve been playing with….

You can see the servo in the box in the middle there, and and the blue thing (plugged in with the USB) is my Arduino. It draws it’s power from the computer for now (I need to get it set up with battery power), but the signals that control the servo are coming from the Arduino. You can also see my notes on the blue mock-up, as to how I’ve threaded each of the four legs, varying the movement. I want to try this again, exploring some more options, as the threading has a direct impact on the type of movement in each leg.

In this example, I have the Arduino controlling the servo by time intervals. I have also been playing with sensors to influence the movement, but that will come later.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some exciting things to come, when I get some of this figured out.  The thing about electronics, is that it’s not like other media- it either works, or it doesn’t, there’s not really any inbetween. It can be really difficult to get things to do what you want, but when you do, it’s SO great!

Arduino Tutorials: Jeremy Blum

Jeremy Blum’s video tutorials on Ardunio/ electronics are great! He explains things in a simple easy to follow format, and has explained a few things that I had seen mentioned but not really discussed, such as how a voltage regular works. I think these videos are really going to help me understand more on how to build my circuitry and arduino to do what I eventually intend to do, which is animate the morphoids.

On another note, I managed to redo and actually solder the Bacteriophage circuit so it works! Previously, it was a breadboard stuffed inside a Bacteriophage (yes, I admit it.)