Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Build Season

Well it's been a little while since I posted, and it's mostly because I am tired and stressed. Building a big new project is a lot of work, a lot of planning, a lot of logistics. And it's doubly challenging when you are doing it in a foreign country with a foreign language, at a new and unfamiliar shop, with an unknown quantity of assistants. And two people who, for months, seemed like they would be helping on the project, recently disappeared. OK, maybe it's triply challenging..?

I'm right in the middle of all that right now.

Last weekend was sort of the end of my time at KAOS, as it was time to move on to the bigger and better equipped BBK. That was bittersweet, as I've really enjoyed working there. Good people, good vibe. But BBK is better suited to this project. Actually, some elements of the project may also end up being built at KAOS... 

The faces of the figure are finally done. This photo

shows them essentially done but before their final coat of paint, which really made them look pretty good. Shoulda taken one more pic! These will be molded in silicone soon, and then the molds will be delivered to a foundry to be cast in aluminum when the first check shows up.

Showing up at BBK, first day...

BBK is really an exceptional facility. This place is only for sculpture, although there is another BBK facility somewhere else in Berlin for Printmakers, and yet another for Media Art. The sculpture facility has a huge hall for metal work, another for wood, another for ceramic, a large multi use hall, and several smaller areas (for plastic, machining, etc.) The metal hall, where I will be working, is very well equipped. There's a seemingly endless array of welders, a plasma cutter, a tube roller, a plate roller, a huge shear, several of the most beautiful fixturing tables I've ever seen, quite a few saws, torches, grinders, drill presses, etc. There's a lathe, but no mill. And curiously, no hydraulic press. Oh, and two overhead cranes, as well as a few forklifts and pallet jacks. 

Here is my first load of steel being delivered.

I will say that things have gotten off to a weird start there, though. I arranged a few weeks ago that I would be starting on March 19, and yet when I arrived on Monday with Christina I was told that the space that had been reserved for me was still occupied as the "previous" tenants were running long on their project, and it's not quite clear when they will be gone. 
So, for the meantime, Christina and I have been cutting steel in the communal walkway, with the power hacksaw.

Also, the tubing roller could not handle the material I bought for it, even though the shop foreman told me weeks earlier that it could... necessitating a redesign. Oh well, new shop, new tools. This stuff will sort itself out.

Christina and I do not necessarily always work together on big projects. In fact, our default mode is that whoever gets the project (me, in this case) typically does most of the work, with the help of assistants and volunteers, while the other one of us basically continues their own life, working on their own unrelated projects, and jumping in to help when necessary. For two highly motivated, self-directed control freaks, this level of autonomy and non-interconnectedness works well, and feels healthy. 

So, it was with great pleasure and appreciativeness that I accepted Christina's carefully considered offer to dive into this project with me. She explained that, with all the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead, her desire to see me succeed outweighed other considerations and she would be willing to put her personal projects largely on hold for the next several months and jump in with me. Shipping this sculpture across the sea at the end of the summer is going to chop about 5 weeks off my build time, compared to all the domestic US-based artists building for Burning Man, and so I'm going to need all the help I can get. I feel very lucky to have the help of such a talented and hard working artist as Christina Sporrong in my corner!

I am continuing to fine-tune the design, making changes for both aesthetic and structural/procedural reasons. The oval shape at the top has become a "flame icon" sort of shape, and the figure and throne continue to evolve. The frieze (the low-relief narrative element near the top of the throne) continues to be a pain in the ass to figure out, from a fabrication/production standpoint. I have worked through concepts of metal casting it, painting it, cutting it out of aluminum with a bandsaw, CNC milling it out of plastic, and CNC milling it out of aluminum. I'm currently leaning towards the latter option, but cost could yet prove to be an issue, possibly sending me down yet another rabbit hole. Time will tell.

This is one of the working drawings. You can see we are up to about 27 feet, 3 inches in height, or 831 cm. And yeah, I'm going to have to side with NASA, the US military, and just about everyone else in the world when I say that the metric system is better. Like, a lot better. It's taken me a while to get used to it, and I'm still stumbling a little, but pretty soon I will be fluent with it. Did I already mention that it's better?

Haven't seen much of Berlin lately, although it's nice to know it's still there. 
And it's too damn cold to ride my motorcycle. 
But it's build season, and that feels good.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

With Open Arms We Welcomed That Which Would Destroy Us

I present below my project for Burning Man 2018.
The following text is a slightly revised version of my original proposal materials.


This project is a sculpture of a seated robot deity. Its throne presents its narrative. From a distance it is beautiful and seductive, yet on closer inspection it reveals its true nature. It is not evil; it's a robot. It has its own directives. And like any god, we created it and gave it its power.

The seated deity will be seductive, shiny, beautiful, contrasting with the throne made of darker materials. It will be of indeterminate gender, much like "Tutankhamun with Harpoon". Like the original people of Aristophanes'speech, the robot deity has four arms, four legs, and two faces. The look of the deity is not intended to represent the way anyone might actually build a robot, rather it is intended as a metaphor for the seductiveness, and horror, of modern technologies. The four arms will terminate in a balance of welcoming hands and menacing machines. Likewise, the two faces will display benevolence and lustful malice. In fact the whole piece plays on the interplay between attraction and repulsion. A frieze on the throne will tell the narratives of the deity's ascension, incorporating absurdity and humor. Lighting effects above the deity call attention and reinforce the absurdity. The interior of the base will be open to the playa, allowing the participants to both see and be seen, becoming a living part of the exterior visual narratives when viewed from outside.

 The essence of this piece is that we humans have been seduced by, and have willingly welcomed into our lives, a force (or cluster of interrelated forces) which we do not necessarily understand, and which does not necessarily have our best interests at heart. 

We fall like dominoes to the promise of “connectedness” that social media enticingly offers, yet social-media users are known to be depressed by the experience, and the algorithms which drive social media vacuum up our personal details and dollars (when they can) voraciously for as-yet unknown purposes. As a species we have enthusiastically embraced the early phases of Artificial Intelligence, even as we are now beginning to understand that these early incarnations will lead inexorably and unstoppably to an Artificial Super Intelligence which might one day decide to wipe us off the planet. Robot evolution continues apace, cheered on by those who see profit, convenience, and even military dominion on the horizon, while a few cautious voices on the sidelines warn of the oncoming end of meaningful work, radically intensified socio-economic inequality, and possibly even enslavement. Sex-bots, eagerly anticipated by certain segments of the male population, and under feverish development by various global entrepreneurs who see a golden opportunity, pose their own special set of problems ranging from oncoming generations of men who cannot relate to human women, to objectification (and worse) of women, to the end of human procreation. 

We are at the point in the evolution of these technologies that we are beginning to see some of their dystopian outcomes, yet we somehow cannot muster the appropriate emotional response necessary to lead to meaningful discussion and safeguards. It seems we are so entranced by the promise these technologies offer of appeasing our basest drives that we cannot act. But it really is time to have these discussions. 

And what if we don’t act? What if we cannot emplace a universal Asimov-style framework within which to advance these technologies? Is it far-fetched to imagine a society in which we must kneel before the robots and ask for their benevolence? When the robot deity arrives, will it be built by us? Or them? Will it listen to us? Will its directives contradict ours? Will it care?

Since the approval, I've been doing some "3D modeling" to work out some issues of fabrication techniques...

The oversized faces I've been sculpting at KAOS for the last month are the two faces of this figure.
That turns out to have been time well-spent. (Thanks Christina!)

I am in the process of nailing down exactly where this will be built. Talk about working outside your comfort zone!
I am grateful to Burning Man, I am excited, and I imagine I might soon be feeling overwhelmed...
But hey, art is the proper task of life.