09 January 2007

why wire v.10

another section of my proposal based off of the why wire post from before. edited many times.

From a young age, I have been surrounded by wire. At first, I used wire for practical things around the farm, which led me to make wire jewelry and even small sculptures. When I was in my second undergraduate year at MIT, I saw Arthur Ganson's exhibit at the MIT Museum and was fascinated by the machines I saw there: here were materials I knew and understood being used in novel ways. I was so inspired by seeing this that I decided to start building mechanical wire sculptures of my own. I found that it was a great way to merge wire and the machines in which I was interested. As a result of this exposure, I constructed a gyroscopic kinetic sculpture for my undergraduate thesis in mechanical engineering as a way to build up my own physical intuition. With the Future of Learning Group, I decided to explore the use of wire as a construction material, for I believe it has many benefits that other materials or building kits may not have, especially for people who might otherwise not find these means accessible.
Fixed materials such as LEGO are useful because they are standard, clasp together well, and have spacing that facilitates gearing. They are popular because one does not have to think deeply to use them; their shape informs the builder how to construct with them. The thinking on the part of the designer is limited to how to brace structures and how to incorporate the gear spacings and parts provided in the kit. The size and shape of what one can build with LEGO is for the most part limited to small and rectangular objects. Moreover, the cost of LEGO is prohibitive in most school settings, particularly in the developing world. Working with wire not only loosens the cost constraint but, more importantly, removes the constraints on size and shape, while adding an opportunity for the builder to explore mechanical and structural design in a new and more creative way.
Flexibility is wire's primary advantage as a material; wire provides physical flexibility, flexibility of the final form and scale, and flexibility in terms of the imagination of the designer to be free build what he or she can imagine. The physical flexibility of wire provides limitations for the designer to work around, which results in every aspect of the machine being considered and constructed by the designer, from gears to connections to axles to size to the more purely aesthetic considerations. This includes incorporation of found objects and craft materials. If the builder does not understand the material's limitations and take them into consideration when designing, the structure might fail. Wire's physical flexibility is also important because of the trial and error of mechanism design it allows: the final design can be tweaked until the mechanism functions (at least, within limits of bending the wire to fatigue). Another affordance of the flexibility is that the resulting kit can also be used in places where it is not easy to afford LEGOs or to precision-engineer machines, such as developing nations, rural areas, or even just regular schools anywhere in the world.
The physical flexibility of wire allows for creating curves, a large range of scale, and the inclusion of found and scavenged objects, thus resulting in flexibility of the final design. Such flexibility gives the builder freedom to come up with a project that they personally care about and expressed in terms they select themselves. Rather than being forced into particular expressions by the limitations of the material, wire provides an underlying syntax adaptable to the epistemological and aesthetic stance of the designer. This connection provides an entry point for people who may not otherwise be interested in using and thus acquiring these concepts. As a feel for the wire is developed, prototyping a new design becomes more like, as Alexander Calder put it, “three-dimensional line drawing.”1 In the end, to make a sculpture work and to make it aesthetically pleasing, one must learn and apply principles of mechanical engineering, physics, and mathematics. The proof of learning is in successful design and construction as well as in the ability to articulate the ideas in artifacts and ideas.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! I love wire too.
    Besides Calder, my favorite wire artists are Elizabeth Berrien, Thomas Hill, Ruth Asawa, and Gego.

    Since we also share common interests in books and movies, I also have to recommend "PopCo" and "The End of Mr. Y" by Scarlett Thomas.

    ~ unigami