08 November 2006

answering david's question: why wire?

why wire? good question. and i guess one i haven't answered yet quite fully.

i'd be lying if i said that my choice of wire is completely objective. had i not had the experiences with making chainmail and jewelry and little wire figures and helping dad build fences, etc, i probably would not have been as struck to make things after seeing arthur ganson's stuff. but because wire was a material i was already comfortable wtih and had around, somehow it seemed more accessible. i didn't sit around and ponder the plusses and minuses of the material. it was the material i had and was the material i understood. so let me just admit the subjectivity of my decision to begin with.

but, really, nothing in life is truly objective. we, as humans, don't have enough time to sit around and fully think out every possibility. our choices are determined by our past choices and current comforts. that being said, after working with wire as much as i have, i've come to some realizations as to why it's a great material to build mechanisms/sculptures with. although maybe my decision to come to wire wasn't overly objective, perhaps my thoughts as to why it's a good material can be separated from that.

first off, flexibility... physical flexibility. especially when trying to feel out a new idea, flexibility is important. the mechanisms can be tweaked to get the desired result. once you get a feel for the wire, you can prototype new things quickly and see how it works and then work on a more finished version. the flexibility allows for higher tolerances, so less precision is necessary when making a mechanism. this is good because it's not really possible to precision engineer things in some places. the flexibility allows for creating curves. you're not just limited to right angles and straight lines. also, the physical flexibility provides a very material constraint to building structures. if you don't understand the material or think about the geometries, your structure might fail. this provides insight into why triangles might be a good geometry. also, thickness being important to prevent bending. and thinking about things like how much weight can this hold. etc. (that last bit was rambling, but maybe you still get my point?)

second, flexibility in what you can make with it. not just limited to one scale. can make really small delicate things or larger things. in some ways, much less limited than working with legos or k'nex or something of that ilk. but by the fact that you have to make everything, it's limiting in a different way. also it allows for the integration of found/scavenged parts more readily than other building materials. basically, if you have the scaveneged parts, you can find some way with wire to hold them in place. sometimes they're not the most elegant solutions, but it is sufficient and aids in the prototyping/building/design process.

third, cost and availability. it's generally available everywhere for not too much money. places like africa and south america have a rich tradition of making toys and art out of found objects. particularly if an angle for learning is taken, this could be advantageous. here's one place where people in developing nations might have a leg up over developed ones. or rural vs. urban. and if people are connected via computers ($100 laptop?) maybe this will allow for an influx of ideas into places where ideas often just leave? but back to cost... a lot of schools can't afford lego robotics. and instead of sitting around wishing they had these lego kits, maybe a way to get the same ideas across with cheaper materials (at a bit of a time cost) is a worthwhile solution.

other random thoughts: you can't make anything too precise and as a result might be more likely to experiment? (analogous to the thought that sometimes it's good to draw with your wrong hand or without looking at the paper.) drawing in 3-D. actually making the parts vs. using provided parts.

hrm. yeah. those are my thoughts for now. maybe i have more... i'll add them when they come.

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