The Artist in Residence Experience: My Introduction to the 21st Century

Introduction: The Artist in Residence Experience: My Introduction to the 21st Century

About: John is a San Francisco-based sculptor specializing in creating geometric, tactile wall installations.

As an artist who creates dimensional wall installations, I had a solid foundation in traditional methods of sculpture - mold making, casting, welding, woodworking, etc - but I had done very little designing with software, and I had definitely not used computer aided machines to execute any of my ideas. The AiR Program at Pier 9 became ground zero for my exploration into this unknown territory. Here's a few words about my three month stay there:


The building itself is pretty inspiring - a high tech fabrication facility perched on an industrial pier with views of the city skyline and Bay Bridge. What a beautiful sight it was to watch the waterjet machine working away in front of a huge window facing the downtown waterfront. I had to pinch myself that I was actually using machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build whatever my heart desired. (I also have to mention how great it was to have an on demand coffee machine in the kitchen.)


Everyone working at Instructables is stoked about making things and there's definitely a bit of a 'mad scientist' vibe. Being described as 'unhinged' is a high compliment. Whenever I'd explain my plans for using one of the machines, especially one that might challenge the limits of the machine, I initially expected a bit of resistance, but instead I got encouragement (along with a few words about not committing any egregious, easily avoidable errors.) I did end up starting a small fire on the Metabeam laser, but I got a slap on the wrist and never did it again.


Getting trained on all the machines can take a bit of time, but I was able to start taking classes before my residency officially began. I took almost every class I could, even if I didn't have any immediate plans for using it. Booking and attending the classes was the easy part, but actually going back and using them on my own took a bit of effort. There's definitely a learning curve with every machine, but there was always someone around to help if I ran into roadblocks.


There were about a dozen artists and designers in total, all working in close proximity to one another. The kinds of projects people were working on were all the hot areas of design that you read about - parametric design, data visualization, biomimicry, wearable technology, etc. It was really cool to be around people with a wide range of backgrounds and methodologies doing such cutting edge things. Everyone is super friendly and there is a strong culture of sharing information. If you had a question, no matter how technical or esoteric, there'd be someone around who knew the answer. Being around such talent made me want to be at my best.


I was really glad to have completed several projects that I'd been wanting to make for years, and for being introduced to new methods of designing and building. I wish I had delved more into 3D design and prototyping, but that was by choice. Most of what I did was 2.5D work on the waterjet and ShopBot, but it was completely new for me. There was so much new information to process and execute that I didn't want to go in to many directions. But the resources are there to go as far as you want, i.e., the sky's the limit.

Special thanks to Noah and Vanessa for creating an inspiring environment full of creativity and diversity. I learned so much while I was there and it was such a privilege to be part of the AiR Program. Thank you!

John Whitmarsh

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    7 years ago

    Had a great time! :) And where did u stay there temporarily??