What Does It Do?
It's built for visual enjoyment, and has no other practical purpose. We humans are vision-centric, tool making animals. Our brains like to try to make sense of shapes, forces and motions. So what it does is put shapes, forces and motions out there for you - clear, close and lit so you can see them.
Where Do You Get The Parts?
With the exception of standard components like electric motors and ball bearings, each of the many parts in these projects are "home made" - designed and shaped by me from purchased raw materials. Creating one's own unique parts, though expensive in time and money, gives complete design freedom. This process of making accurate shapes which fit together, once familiar in an industrial America, is mysterious to most people of the digital age, so I'll explain a bit.
Machine tools are the key. They are large contraptions (weighing hundreds or thousands of pounds) which are essentially more accurate and controllable versions of such hand tools as saws, files and knives. Although accurate metalwork can be done with hand tools, like clock-making in the middle ages, prodigious amounts of skill and time were required. With the advent of machine tools in the 19th century, a relatively low-skill person can create very precise work, and it is this precision which allows multiple moving parts to work happily together.
The first of 2 primary machine tools is the milling machine. It allows removal of material in 3 linear axes. At its most basic, it allows creation of rectangular blocks. These blocks may be modified by removing more material: slots, steps, cylindrical holes. Quite complex forms can result.
The second primary machine tool is the lathe. It spins the workpiece and allows material to be removed on 2 axes. This allows creation of cylinders and cones, perhaps several on a single piece of material.
What Is The Inspiration?
Inspiration is a word for subconscious integration. There are lots of weighted factors pushing and pulling. The fountainhead is the mind's collection of impressive natural and man-made things seen, and the desire to capture or modify for display. But just as important are mundane considerations like tricks and techniques gained on past projects, bang versus buck, wanting a change, wanting an improved version of something already built, resources currently available, perceived doability.
Man doesn't truly invent. Rather, he is a combiner and modifier, and when at his best, his new aggregations have net positivity. Embarking on a project is a leap of faith that a hypothetical thing SHOULD physically exist, that it can be made to exist as imagined, and that its positivity will outweigh its cost.
How Long Have You Been Doing This?
Many years. My first primarily aesthetically projects, Slave 0 & 1, date back to the late 90's.
How Did You Learn to Do This?
By doing - working through the many puzzles that make up a project until the whole thing works - using trial and error, information where I could find it, and experimentation. Reality is an excellent, if slow, teacher: always correct in her judgements and never shy about offering criticism. I did receive a technical education touching on biology, engineering and earth science, but (and this may be surprising to some) didn't come with practical skills. so...
Why Doesn't the American Educational System Teach People to Make Things?
Making kinetic art is truly multidisciplinary - involving 5 fields usually handled by separate individuals or teams: 1) mechanical design, 2) physical fabrication, 3) electronic design, 4) electronic fabrication and integration, 5) software integration. In this respect, kinetic art has a lot in common with many other important endeavors like product prototyping, factory automation, robotics, etc. These are primarily INTEGRATIVE: getting very different classes of things to work harmoniously together.
The multidisciplinary maker is not a lesser person than a specialist, just different. He knows a little about a lot of things, and, compared to a specialist, has a good birds-eye view of the situation. He has good judgement about the do-ability of complex things, based on experience with interworkings of real things in the real world. Unfortunately, there are no educational programs to create such people.
Before World War 2, engineering schools did teach people how to make things. Grads, in addition to mathematical analysis, typically had manufacturing courses, project-based shop experience and factory internships under their belts. The postwar infatuation with the atomic bomb project, radar, and all things high-tech transformed the educational system: extreme specialization and math-centric "engineering science" were seen as key to American economic and military supremacy. What seems to have been lost is that while specialization IS crucial to a technically advanced society, it is only fully exploited when sufficient numbers of "generalist makers" exist in parallel on the shop floor, in laboratories and garages. This overemphasis on calculus over physicality has contributed to the decline of American manufacturing, and with it, our standard of living.
After a 50 year pause, the educational establishment has begun to re-appreciate the importance of project-based learning for healthy minds and for a healthy economy. The success of programs such as FIRST Robotics competition and the enthusiasm for the "maker" movement are positive signs. I am heartened that the terms STEM and STEAM (the A is for art) are entering the mainstream.
Do You Sell These Things?
Sometimes, but this is not a commercial venture. When one produces machines for profit, it's more than a full-time job - it's running a business. I don't want to run a business, I want to create new things.
Is there a Market For Kinetic Art?
One-off machines, like paintings or sculptures, can be expensive and time-consuming to produce. But unlike painting and sculpture, they can be quirky to operate over the long run. And, in the worst case, functionality (which contains much of the value of the piece) can be lost. This situation doesn't fit in well with the commercial art paradigm. Private buyers of fine art typically don't want to deal with operations and maintenance issues. Thus the market so far has favored very simple kinetic works, such as Calder's mobiles, or complex works without physically moving parts like the LED arrays of Jim Campbell.
More complex kinetic art works are best suited to dedicated environments where operations and maintenance skill is available if needed. Area 2881 is such a place.
What Do You Want People To Take Away From This?
It is hoped that viewers are intrigued by the movements and forms, and that there is value in seeing the previously unseeable or something that is merely beautiful. A friend with a prestigious education informed me that I'm a "19th century rational positivist". I think that means the work embodies an optimistic view of mankind and his ability to build a better world. And, if one sees possibilities on some level that he didn't know were possibilities, well that's good too.
Is This Art?
Thinking about the definition of art is a surprisingly difficult and profound exercise.
"Art" in the modern English usage is a vague, slippery and overused word. All that can be said for sure is that it denotes the non-practical component of something. It's a broad net of a word which catches such diverse creatures as to have little meaning.
A car is practical, therefore it's not art. But coat it with fur and it's an art-car, the fur having added some non-practicality. Hmmm... are there certain characteristics required of this non practical stuff? Does it have to mean something? Evoke something? Is skilled execution required? Can it be purely accidental? Is honest emotional channeling sufficient?
How about just putting some rocks on the floor or painting a canvas white, is that art? In the 20th / 21st century, it is, provided an officially deified person does the putting.
In renaissance Italy, "arte" had a very different meaning, more akin to refined craftsmanship. Evocative qualities, if any, were emergent properties of a thing done well by a highly skilled person.
A definition I like is that art is a fiction that tells truth better than straight-up fact - like the way a nicely painted cutaway diagram of flowers explains things better than a photo of that flower.
Do You Use CNC?
Occasionally. CNC (computer numeric control) is the preprogrammed automatic movement of a machine tool, laser cutter, etc. It is a powerful technique, especially for repetition and/or complex shapes. I tend to use lots of simple forms, and seldom more than a few of particular type, so CNC doesn't pay off so much. I've used laser CNC laser cutting for Transmutascope platters and shades, and often mill out circular bearing seats by CNC. Philosophically/artistically, things gets murky when CNC makes a large contribution to a form because then the form is "too perfect" and doesn't seem human-crafted anymore. Slight asymmetries and a degree of randomness are the hallmarks of biogenic matter, and subconsciously, we like that.
Where's the Milling Machine?
Unfortunately, my SF studio can't accommodate even a small machine shop. So, the awkward and expensive (in terms of transit time / additional rent / requisite organization / tool redundancy) solution is to have a second shop for the big, heavy, noisy operations. This shop is located in a shared industrial building in Berkeley, CA.
What Is Area 2881?
... a micromuseum of functioning kinetic artwork. It occupies a storefront in San Francisco's Mission district which was originally Mariani's Hardware, dating back to 1877. It is adjacent to my primary workspace. After years of hauling kinetic artwork out, it became clear that bringing viewers to the work was easier and better than bringing the work to viewers. At Area 2881, everything I've kept is on display and functioning, positioned and lit properly, in an appropriately scaled environment. The space is open periodically for free public events.
Area 2881 operated from 2007 until evicted in 2017. It began in 1999 as an inexpensive studio space. The Mission District was, at that time, a lower income neighborhood with a large Latino contingent - a place where teachers, house-keepers, house-scrapers, coffee preppers and creatives could survive. But by 2008, a sickening roller coaster ride ensued as the Mission District morphed into the most expensive rental market in the USA. Rents doubled, and quadrupled. A one-way ratcheting action of displacement was the ominous background painting of life for anyone earning under $150k/yr. One by one the artists, the eccentrics, and the normal-income families disappeared (forced out, priced out, bought out), and no new ones took their places. The diverse human ecosystem of the Mission district fell victim to a coincidence of geography: proximity to freeway ramps leading down to the computer workstations of booming Silicon Valley. After a decade of steady erosion, the free-thinking bohemian DIY experimental culture of San Francisco was largely gone... ironically and inadvertently destroyed by an influx of intelligent young high-income technical workers who refused to live in Silicon Valley because it was "too corporate" and had "no culture".
How can I Help? (not technically a FAQ)
This work is done solo, without institutional support, while working my day job to pay for it all. So it's slow going. And expensive. Any financial support is appreciated: send checks, cash, precious metals, maxon motors and McMaster-Carr gift certificates to Carl Pisaturo, 2881 23rd Street, SF, CA 94110. And, if you attend a free event, please feed the tip jar.
What Will Happen With Automation / AI ?
Humanity is weak and nearly helpless without technology, one need only go camping without supplies to fully understand this. We are the only species dependent on our solidified thoughts - technology - for survival. 500 years of technical progress has seen human lives progress from ignorance and disease-ridden drudgery to a reasonable degree of health, safety and comfort (for most in the developed nations).
Pervasive automation - the automation of nearly ALL work - is on the horizon. It will be technically and economically feasible in few decades. And it has thinking people concerned, even people like me who are technology-positive. Clearly, everyone (except for prostitutes and a handful of technicians) will be layed off. What then... universal poverty? What becomes of millions of newly poor humans? Anger, embrace of fascism, bloody revolution, and mass techno-repression are good possibilities.
But it doesn't have to happen that way. While pervasive automation under the current capitalistic paradigm will indeed create pervasive poverty, if harnessed by a humane state committed to human progress (you may call it socialism or make up a new word) it can create pervasive wealth, health, and cultural progress - a new Golden Age for humanity. At long last: freedom from mental and physical drudgery, insecurity, illness, ignorance. We need a new system of society management before unleashing the awesome powers of automation fortified with robotics and AI.
Can Humans Handle Complete Freedom?
Most people, freed of any need to work, will just stare at their phones all day, while eating their gourmet robot-prepared meals, and getting ever fatter. They will not socialize in person, have sex, or go out in nature because it's easier, less embarrassing, and just better to pretend to do those things via VR headsets.
Is experimental creation possible in (fill in the blank) expensive city?
While there will always be exceptions, the general answer is NO. Creation requires major time and (sometimes major) space. High rent is the enemy of both.
Simply put, paying high rent implies working long hours at demanding tasks. Those work hours obviously subtract from a person's discretionary time, but more importantly, they exhaust the mind and spirit. Significant creative work cannot be done by worn-down people with full-time jobs - they don't have enough time.
While time poverty makes "small space creation" like writing or composing at a keyboard hard enough, "large space creation" like sculpture or theater, requires bigger spaces, and perhaps additional specialized spaces with large equipment, making for a nearly impossible situation. Cash flow from experimental creation is unpredictable, often negative, and unlikely to exceed "moderate" in the best cases, it cannot float multiple expensive rents.
But, really, what's the use of art or "experimental creation" as you call it? Why should anyone care if it disappears?
Culture is the part of us that's not in the DNA, it's the entire human-created world. Law, technology, media and morality are culture - it's not just stuff in art museums. Yes, I'd say culture is pretty important! Continuous efforts to improve culture should be the central goal of humanity.
How does human culture improve? By experimentation: poking around, examining with a critical eye, trying things, then seeing by direct experience what feels right and what doesn't. Keeping the good, chucking the bad. Learning from other experimentors successes and failures (cross-pollination), and learning from one's own (hopefully long and complex) experience.
But, it must be said that experiment is always a messy process, often reeking of narcissism, immaturity and self-indulgence. That's OK, it's the price of progress. When the atmosphere is sufficiently permissive to encourage bold action, lots of failure will result. Silly, loud, foolish crap will flow freely - the failures which don't create imitators/modifiers - but these experiments are instructive in their way.
A world without experimental creation is a dead world - a world where people act and think according to established, unchangable rules - a rigid world without meaningful human agency.
Shouldn't the market take care of experimental creation?
While it's true that private companies engage in the experimental creation of culture and play an important role, they experiment in a tighly constrained manner because of their obligation to create shareholder value.
For example, while the talented creatives of Hollywood are motivated and capable of experimenting with film and creating some great movies, they can't because the boss won't let them... They are CONSTRAINED by the preference for maximum-profit formats like the gun comedy and the revenge fantasy.