Spinning Paper Brain

This is not a robot.

blurry detail of the paper brain kinetic sculpture in mid-spin

In the end, the paper-brain has become the reliable bastard sibling of the humo, leche y miel robots. It never aspired to autonomy. It's happy to live plugged into an A/C socket, mute, blind, with nowhere to go.

For me,

"robot"== "autonomous", "free-moving" (not attached to a wall), internal rule to:"explore", "communicate".

I know that there's many people that would disagree with that definition.

in any case... NOT A ROBOT

spinning paper brain at the Robotis Personae exhibition

But... part of the reason that I'm obsessed with robots is that I'm obsessed with motion. I have that dog-like-instinct to give chase. And also that animal-instinct to instantly notice shifts in patterns: leaves rippling, fish mating (I kid you not, I have hilarious video footage lying around in my archives of a giant fish orgy on the shores of Lower Kananaskis lake), birds flocking, pebbles and dead-fall changing how water flows along streams. I studied animation for a year just to focus on motion without physics.

So... this fascination always leads me back to intricate pattern-loop-based drawing structures and of course, kinetic sculpture.

This piece was born in speed. I was sitting in my studio one morning. Stuck. I knew I should be re-designing the power supplies and adding battery protection circuits on Walker, Porcupine and Rocker to make them more efficient. Switching power supplies are expensive. I was looking down a vista of weeks of trying to figure out how to do something I don't know how to do. This is normal of course.
But I wanted to jump into something and get my hands dirty. I was broke. I didn't have money to start a big drawing or painting.

Usually, I would've paced around, calmed down, figured out how to afford the components I needed and said goodbye to a few weeks. But suddenly, I was totally disgusted with myself.
Is that it? If I don't have money I can't make something?

I have a studio! Tools! Supposedly a brain, even though it works in unreliable ways!

I decided to make a sculpture in a day, using only whatever I could get my hands on. This meant left-over scraps from my other projects, bits of metal from the robots, paper and graphite sticks from the paper-ship sculptural drawing. I found a bunch of cut-up bicycle tires on the street, and a piece of flexible wood left by the previous studio's owner.

12 hours later I had the bare skeleton of the paper brain.

It was joy. It was stupid. In a nutshell, this is why I keep failing to build working pieces. By speedily putting together the exoskeleton of a moving piece I'm setting up a series of limitations that overwhelm the working process. But its also my way of feeling space and seeing what it has to say?

In this case: The base was flexible! Everything stretched and bounced, great! BUT it meant that every time I tried to level a motor shaft, pulley shaft, or wheel everything changed by a fraction of an inch. Impossible to get anything mounted on this thing. The "one day" project turned into months of mechanical fiddling. When I finally finished mounting the first set of large legs I realized I didn't like how they looked. So, even though it worked I ripped them off and started again.

When I started trying to think about this website I wanted a way to show my process in a section dedicated to studio production and thoughtful rambling. I imagined linking my datasheets, components, books, and favorite articles to show how each piece is put together, in case anyone might be able to learn from what I've been researching. But I'm finding that my methodology and processes are generally so ridiculous that my urge is to keep them private. No one needs to know the idiotic ways that my hours, weeks and months get swallowed up. I know this is counter-productive.

Two interesting tests:

This piece was always going to plug in to the wall. This was the first time I tried wiring my motors through a slip-ring. I'd thought they were far beyond my price range. Industrial ones are. But the cheap hobby slip-rings are great, and can still take up to 2 Amps of current. They are physically a little delicate. The wires are thin, so I soldered them together to increase the gauge and reduce resistance. I somehow managed to destroy the first one. It created a short that would've fried everything if there was any circuitry to fry... but still the 2nd one has been working, no problem for months now.

Audio: I used a small surface transducer and a simple audio amp built around the TEA 2025 chip (now discontinued I think? I still have a few kicking around) to turn the whole sculpture into a speaker. Endless fun to play with. I never found a combination that felt like it fit when it came time to exhibit the piece though... Definitely something to try again with different types of audio.

half-shell of the blob in my studio, January 2015.

The piece was finished during the Summer of 2014. I exhibited it at the BCA in Vermont and later in the Robotis Personae exhibit at the Eastern Bloc. Originally I was going to vary the motor speed and direction. In the end, I decided to let this be bare-bones. I have to replace the legs now... I think... Actually, originally I slated this piece for destruction. I never intended to show it.

For many years, before I tried to be an 'artist', I would fill sketchbooks up with drawings and writing. When they were full, I would set them on fire. I'd thought of doing something similar with this... except I haven't found a practical safe pit where I could drag it.

Maybe it's because I originally trained as a potter, but destruction seems firmly embedded in creation. Especially fire.If I do, I'll try to shoot some nice video. As I found out when the giant Matryoshka sculpture was stolen off my back porch, or when I destroyed the Tunnel book and the Nautilus, I'm getting attached to these ridiculous objects. I'm a bit sorry when they disappear?

blurry detail of the paper brain kinetic sculpture in mid-spin