Here is an article about my research and artwork that was just published in MCD (Musiques & Cultures Digitale) Volume 6: internet des objects / internet of things entitled Meghan Trainor Tags Art. While the article mainly focuses on my earlier work with RFID, the author also mentions the Solheim Lab and some of the recent Vitraglyphic prints I created here last year, including prints currently on display at the Disseny Hub Barcelona.
This French publication (which also features English translations throughout the issue) is a special report responding specifically to the recently convened Counsel on the Internet of Things, a think tank established by Rob Van Kranenburg late last year, and in general many of the topics we are obsessed with cover here in the Lab, including 3D printing, hacking, make spaces, DIY electronics and the like. While I’ve posted a link to a scan of the article on my blog, I’d highly recommend getting the full issue.
When I first started working with digital tools as an artistic medium in 2003, leaving aside some earlier skirmishes with digital prints, audio soundscapes and a general thematic interest in robots, genetics and time travel, I was certain that I wanted my artworks to inhabit the physical world, rather than sit inside the virtual. I was not interested in making screen based work, rather I wanted all that we came to expect of our digital experiences of the network, the website, the database, to be experienced through our entire sensory system. Also I wanted to become a cyborg…but that’s a story for another post.
Influenced by the Physical Computing and Networked Objects classes taught by Tom Igoe as well as the writings of Bruce Sterling, I saw RFID as direct solution to start building a small scale model of the future: a sort of physicalized audio database that allowed the audience to actually feel information being embedded in their environment, in objects. As Sterling called out these objects as “protagonists of a documented process” I became obsessed with the idea of these “made things” having having unique and growing narratives.
Trouble was I had created what one guest critic during my thesis defense called “an antagonistic database” and I began to realize that the cultural weight of the RFID chip obscured what I was after. I was using RFID as a model to peer into a vaster environment of digital embodiment some years down the road…in other words how do we being to prototype this future in order to come to our own relationship to it? Science Fiction has been doing this for years, giving us built environments that synthesize and anticipate a future that may be upon us all too soon. But I wanted my audience to literally feel the future, not read it, not see it, but to reach out and actually physically experience something. While I did spend many years patiently trying to respond to concerns about privacy, having myself a rather strong sense of ambivalence which I can sum up by saying I essentially felt RFID was a privacy red herring, I realized I had to reengage with my goals without the troublesome identity of RFID (forgive the pun) and sidestepping what looked to be a path of implants and surgical interventions. The chip in my arm is abandonware, it functions more as reminder of the constant obsolescence of our devices than any threat to privacy.
This is what led me to DXARTS and the Solheim Lab. I am now engaged with objects made through digital processes, rather than owning digital identities, and am looking at non-invasive methods to move information in and out of the body. I am interested in using these tools to create my own work, but I am also deeply interested in how the access to these tools and devices for everybody is going to change us.
While DXARTS offers students a well equipped Fab Lab and the Solheim Lab has a remarkable open door policy, having decided several years ago to “let the artists in,” it is places like Metrix and resources like Shapeways that point towards a future in which things are perhaps not protagonists, but we all relate to objects, to the physical world, in much the same way we engage with virtual space today. Customizable, dynamic, interconnected, distributed and dripping with information. And I remain ambivalent, perhaps a chirping networked future will be terrible, claustrophobic and junky, perhaps it will strip down manufacturing to such essential processes that we avoid environmental catastrophe and we live in a world with many fewer screens and blinking lights. But it is important to develop a physical vocabulary, a library of experiences that help us shape the way we understand and form opinions about how this may all unfold.