Neri Oxman - Ecology by Craft
A truly captivating talk, Neri Oxman presented her practice as a designer, maker and researcher that takes into account the latest technological developments in advanced computer aided material analysis. What Oxman calls Fabricology is the practice looking to nature to offer complex and integrated design solutions for 21st century paradigms. I found this paradigm to be quite similar to biomimicry, though Oxman did not use that label in her lecture. Oxman began by explaining that nature knows no disciplines and therefore is not limited by materials in the same way that a modern skyscrapers (by Mies van der Rohe for example) uses steel exclusively for structural support and glass exclusively environmental effects such as light and climate control. In an van der Rohe building the materials are separated by function, while in nature the materials and functions are integrated. In a tree the material provides structure, nutrient disbursement, energy collection, etc.
With this in mind Oxman started finding forms instead of making them. In traditional design, a designer starts with computer aided design (CAD) to derive the form from their creative imagination, then uses computer aided engineering (CAE) to perform simulated stress tests of the design, and finally uses computer aided manufacture (CAM) to create the pieces or actual components of the design. Oxmans process is a departure, and currently she is exploring 4 alternate work flow systems.
Oxmans four movements of Craft Ecology are:
1. Adaptive Components - where she starts parts derived from examples that occur in the natural world, and uses those parts to determine form. The form then grows organically from it own compositional elements.
2. Adaptive Materials - where Oxman writes computer algorithms and plugs them into CAE to test material properties and forces. Oxman then uses the results to determine the most appropriate form for a given material based on its performance in the CAE tests.
3. Adaptive Systems - where Oxman again uses generative algorithms to consider form and function simultaneously, rather than geometry only.
4. Adaptive Material and Environments - Oxmans most recent practice model where she combines CAE analysis to determine appropriate form for materials, generative algorithms, etc. to create projects that react in real time and real life to conditions presented. For example Oxman showed a chair that provides appropriate support for the weight and form of the sitter by intelligently conforming to pressures exerted on it.
Oxman predicted 4 possible applications she sees for her practice which include: Adaptive Artifacts, Rapid Augmentation (as in the chair), Responsive Materials, and Green Fabrication.
If these descriptions are any indication, the talk was a bit thick with design jargon and advanced concepts that I am not entirely familiar with so I hope I represented it accurately. At times it felt more like watching a TED talk than a speaker at a SNAG conference. Kudos to whoever thought to invite her. My only criticism would be that her relevance to traditional goldsmiths may have tenuous. But even if the application is not relevant, the ideas were interesting. If ecology by craft (aka fabricology, aka materialecology) were to become the dominant design and fabrication means for jewelry, the appropriate form and systematic implementation of precious metal use would put us all out of work. That was the unspoken subtext. Ha! Revolutionary Rating: 5 – Raucous riot with guillotines in tow. Hide your monarchs.
The membership meeting saw the executive director's (Dana Singer) report, and a report about Metalsmith magazine which announced that the controversial figure, Garth Clark will be the 2010 Exhibition in Print curator. A motion to return the surplus funds from the Student Exhibition back to students in the form of conference scholarships or an exhibition catalog was defeated 53-25, no doubt because no students were present to vote, and a motion to give the conference organizers the autonomy to determine speaker honorariums provided they stay on budget was passed 62-12. Previously speaker honorariums were set at a mandatory $300, which was embarrassingly low.
Camille Paglia - Art and Sex
True to my prediction for the talk Paglia gave a postmodern, post feminist recitation of her position on objects that spanned the history of art, from central European Venus figures c. 22,000 B.C.E. to Robert Maplethorp c. 1980. She focused on tempering the unabashed militant feminist critique with common sense. As someone who went through art school and art history courses in a post-post feminist climate (or 3rd wave feminist climate), and someone marginally familiar with queer theory (thanks to fiber artists Aaron McIntosh and Lacey Jane Roberts) I found myself saying, "ya...so..." quite a few times. I can't speak for everyone present, but for me the talk rehashed things I deemed to be already settled within contemporary pedagogy. Granted that Paglia contributed to their settlement, but still, nothing revolutionary about saying a fashion photograph of a woman's head protruding from the surface of a pool isn't about decapitation of women. The later part of the talk focused on fashion and Hollywood photography. I kept wondering, "Where was the jewelry? Or at least some objects?" Maybe the $300 honorarium didn't merit doing any actual research so the talk would be relevant to the audience. Overall I enjoyed the talk because Paglia was a dynamic speaker. She talked so fast she was hard to follow at times, but it added to her quirky and dissenting tone. Revolutionary Rating: 3 - A Public Demonstration, but only by virtue of the fact that feminist protest pedagogy is inherently political.
Myra Mimlitsch Gray - anti/icono/clastic
Again I thought this talk varied little from my prediction for it. One of only two artist talks at the conference, it was a great talk from a brilliant, respected, and thoughtful maker. After showing her early work, the bulk of the talk focused on her time spent at the Kohler Arts and Industry residency. Mimlitsch Gray captured the emotive quality of the experience and her work process through words, images, and song. While there she produced two bodies of work: Brat Pans and faceted cast iron and brass sectional pieces. While the Brat pans were humorous and connected to the culture and people of the place she was living, the cast iron pieces are very difficult for me to connect to. What I enjoyed about Mimlitsch Gray's pre-Kohler work was that it attempted to connect to and comment of the canonic discourse of form, technique, and function of metal objects, essentially using tradition as the subject of thematic and conceptual examination. While the Brat Pans (and cornbread pans also) participated in thematic engagement, the cast faceted work, left a gaping hole in her practice (literally and conceptually). And while I do not question the validity of working in a process based mode, Mimlitsch Grey's noticeable absence as a conceptual powerhouse will retard the critical discourse of American Metalsmithing in general. Great talk, though bittersweet (for me at least) when she revealed her new direction. I can't wait to see the work the direction of the work that follows. Revolutionary Rating: 2 – Lively town hall meeting.
Check out the scribd .pdf below. I included an image of my piece William Wintrop Kent no. 4 on the front doors of the gallery at Decorative Resurgence. I didn't have time to see everything, too many galleries, not enough time. Of the shows I saw, my favorites were Neoteric Matter at Wexler Gallery, Stuff: Jewelry for the People at Sub Octo Gallery and Decorative Resurgence at Rowan University.
Gallery Tour Pamphlet
Boring. Not a panel discussion at all. Four speakers exceeded their time limits in their charge to contextualize jewelry in their respective geographical areas from c. 1950- 1970. If you missed the panel read this article about Herman Junger, Messengers of Modernism, and any two European jewellery history books of your choice. The poster child of the conference for the notion that titles don't mean anything. Four mediocre talks about late modern jewelry in Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, and America. The artists whose works were in the talks certainly weren't done justice. P.S. Look at the audience, and talk about the images actually on the screen! Revolutionary Rating: 0 - Yawn
Albert Paley - The Albert Paley Lecture
This talk took us along Big Al's journey from sculpture major, to goldsmith, to blacksmith, to monumental public artist. Perhaps the thing I enjoyed the most about the talk was seeing how a jewelry sensibly was translated in scale and implementation to public art. Of particular interest was his comment about our relationship to the work, specifically how we consider the site. For jewelry the body is site, but in ironworking the architecture becomes the body. Simple and profound. I guess I already knew it, but it is always nice to hear an idea put more articulately. Interesting throughout. A standard artist talk. People tried to bate him at the end by asking questions about his departure from the metalsmithing field. He didn't bite. Revolutionary Rating: 2 – Lively town hall meeting.
The party on the last night saw philly steaks and hogie abound, with SNAG celebrating its 40th anniversary. Not much to speak of, some old timers gave some recollections, necessarily sentimental. I had fun. Cash bar gets expensive!
The birthday cake was not delicious, but overall I would say for myself and my partner Amy Weiks, this was the best conference we have been to. I think it has more to do with being around the field and in the public consciousness through this blog. I met many people, and for the first time had people introducing themselves to me, like I am someone people want to know. That is a harsh contrast to the first conference I attended in Cleveland 4 years ago, when no one knew I existed. I guess what I am trying to say is that SNAG conferences get better the more you go. You meet people, you network, and the bigger your network, the more you enjoy the conference. Young people stick with it! The age gap is embarrassing. SNAG offer more programs for students and young people so you don't have that age gap at the conference. Etsy sponsored the conference, but how many people from Etsy metals were there (an honest question)?
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