How to Go to Maker Heaven
You are a place like no other, and I’m so glad you came into my life.
I was a full time Artist in Residence at the Pier for 4 months, and I doubt I have ever been so simultaneously intellectually stimulated, inspired and intimidated at any other point. When I came to the Pier I had been living in New York for 8 years, and I had just decided to make a permanent migration back to my homeland on the West Coast. I’d heard rumors about the rampant culture of innovation in the Bay Area, but I was still totally unprepared for the explosion of creative energy and excitement that is the nerdy artist heaven called Pier 9.
Maybe I’m just getting older and less jaded… but in the last few years, I have felt a change in the world, a shift in attitude from angst to optimism, from critique to creation, and I think places like the Pier exemplify this new positive force. The fact that a multinational corporation like Autodesk has allocated a significant amount of resources to giving the imaginations of a bunch of madcap inventors, artists, engineers and other creatives free reign in a beautiful lab with a bunch of cutting edge machines… well, to me that says good things about the direction of the world.
But what really makes the Pier special, I think, is the fact that all the creativity taking place there is fundamentally motivated by the philosophy of Instructables; by the idea that knowledge should be shared. I have never encountered a group of people so willing to share their ideas and skills, and so excited to help make other people’s dreams a reality. And the feeling was really infectious! Everyone was so ridiculously helpful, that on the rare occasion I had the opportunity to teach someone else a skill, it felt like a treat.
That’s not to say that my experience at the Pier was all sunshine and roses. It was exhausting and draining, and very ego challenging. When I first arrived I was incredibly overwhelmed by all the new information I was intaking. I had projects in mind, but those ideas were quickly swept away in the tide of new ideas that arose with every fascinating technology, and possibility I encountered. Having nearly unlimited options can be paralyzing, and I fell pray to this paralysis many times at the Pier. One of the pitfalls of having so many amazing minds in one place is that someone always has a new idea that will either revolutionize the project you are working on, or cause you to completely change direction and start working on something new. That can be great, but if you aren’t careful it can cause acute artistic ADD.
I think most creative journeys have a similar arc. When you are learning new skills, it can take a while for the quality of the work you are producing to catch up with your creative vision. I definitely felt that way at the Pier. During my time there, my work ended up going on a journey from two dimensions to three dimensions. I started out by experimenting with laser cutting. I am a costume designer, and was interested in creating a wearable mechanical flower that would illuminate and open and close in response to its environment. My first attempts to create this form felt very flat and lifeless to me, so I stepped away from the flower project and focused on figuring out how to create something much more three dimensional with the two dimensional process of laser cutting. The result was a costume constructed from laser cut leather and el wire.
After that I decided I was ready to tackle 3D modeling and 3D printing, so I went back to my flower idea, and spent the rest of my time at the Pier testing and developing this form. It was a really new and interesting process, 3D modeling and prototyping with the amazing Objet printers. It also gave me the chance to work closely with two other awesome Artists in Residence, Paolo Salvagione and JoeJoe Martin. It really underlined for me that the most important resource at the Pier is the people. No matter how many incredible machines you have under one roof, they are only as good as the minds running them. Noah Weinstein and the other amazing innovators who run the Pier have done such an incredible job of gathering together a diverse, brilliant, exciting, and truly kind-hearted group of people… the place practically buzzes with welcoming creative energy as soon as you walk through the door.
Also, putting relatively self-actualized creators in an environment where there are so many options and resources results in some incredibly interesting glimpses into individual human passion and curiosity. I might not have fully understood why some of my fellow AiRs were so fascinated by stacking tetrahedrons, drawing graphically detailed pictures of intestinal parasites, or creating physical bodies for virtual bots, but witnessing each artist’s commitment to their singular pursuit was in itself a fascinating and beautiful experience.
So much of our lives are spent trying to make practical things happen, it’s an rare opportunity to get to spend a dedicated amount of time just exploring the potential of creative ideas. I really think that is what Pier 9 is about, providing a place that nurtures our human desire to create, explore and learn… with a kick ass set of resources to facilitate that exploration. Honestly, during my time there I wish I had been able to let go and enjoy that process more. It’s not always easy to escape the concepts of deadlines and expectations, but sometimes freeing yourself from those constraints is the only way to create anything truly new.
I very much believe that what is growing at Pier 9 is a new and exciting kind of creative ecosystem, and I hope it will inspire the creation of many more similar environments. I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten a chance to be an explorer on the frontiers of Maker Land.
Thank you so much Noah and Vanessa.