Well, that was exciting! Nervous System attended the 3DPrintShow in New York City last week. Our work was exhibited in the Art Gallery and the Fashion House. We even got to watch several of our Kinematics jewelry designs walk the runway in their 3d-printed fashion show. It was a pleasure to meet all of the other designers and artists who were showing their work. Below you can see a few photos of our work on display.
Three of Nervous System’s Hyphae lamps are currently on display at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in an exhibition called Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital. The show opened on October 16th and continues until July 6th, 2014. The three one-of-a-kind lamps were “grown” specifically for this exhibition and range in size from 18x18x28 cm to 24x24x34 cm. You can read more about our Hyphae Lamps here. Our Cell Cycle design app is also on display in an interactive section of the exhibition.
Out of Hand is the first major museum exhibition to explore the impact of various digital fabrication technologies on human creativity. The exhibition underscores the phenomenon of artists using new technologies to manifest previously intangible digital designs. At the same time, the exhibition illuminates some of the ways digital fabrication is fundamentally altering both the process and the perception of artistic creation. The complexity of many of the pieces on display and the curatorial emphasis on fabrication push questions of manufacture and material to the forefront without offering much commentary on issues of aesthetics, meaning or history.
I found that the show’s focus on final objects and their manufacture had the effect of obscuring the time-consuming, demanding, and original digital design work that went into the pieces on display. Little attention is given to how artists use programming or digital modeling, which may inadvertently lend weight to the common misconception that now, in the age of digital design, computers are doing all the hard work for us.
The Museum of Arts and Design seems well-suited to a show that is primarily focused on manufacture. I found Out of Hand to be well-curated, featuring a broad range of pieces and artists without losing focus. I think many of the pieces included in the show are challenging, evocative, and beautiful. This exhibition makes it clear that the technology used to manufacture an object necessarily guides design choices, even in the world of seemingly endless possibilities ushered in by ubiquitous 3D printing. If the medium is the message, then the message of Out of Hand is clear: humanity is transitioning from a purely physical existence to something between physical and digital that offers us new, exciting, and sometimes unsettling options for how we do everything, including how we create art.
I really, really like LEDs. I’ve spent countless hours building LED controllers, programming them, and incorporating them into my projects. So, naturally, I’ll jump at the opportunity to integrate LEDs into almost anything. Such an opportunity came up when Jesse and Jessica were invited to an innovation event by Nooka and were asked to bring a piece with them. We wanted our piece to be both representative of our normal work, but also a bit more dynamic and eye-catching. So we did the obvious thing: take one of our previously 3d printed pieces, and add some LEDs to it:
The implementation was rather simple. We used 3 Watt ultrabright LEDs with a MOSFET to control them (‘CTRL’ in the schematic) and a series resistor to regulate the current.
The control signal was created with a Leaflabs Maple microcontroller (we used this instead of an Arduino because it has 16-bit PWM outputs rather than Arduino’s 8-bit PWM, meaning that the lights fade much more smoothly), and we programmed about a half-dozen different patterns into the box. The final result:
One of my side projects has been to improve on the LED circuit we used for this project to make a cheap and durable yet multipurpose driver for lighting up our projects. The goal is for it to be powerful enough to drive ultrabright LEDs for lighting up display pieces, yet easily modified to light up smaller pieces (perhaps even jewelry!). My current design is a simple analog circuit that serves as a constant current source:
Why all of the additional parts over the first circuit? Superbright LEDs (like those that we used in The Cave) dissipate quite a bit of heat — and this dissipated heat can be enough to damage the LED itself and shorten its lifespan. Even worse, heating of the resistor lowers its resistance, allowing more current flow, creating a positive feedback loop where the circuit just gets hotter and hotter. Not good at all! The solution shown uses a pair of transistors to switch the LEDs on and off (Q1) and stabilize the current with negative feedback (Q2). The current is entirely determined by R2, so by swapping out one component the board can accomodate virtually any LED we’d like to drive. The best part is the low cost — while dedicated LED driver circuits can cost upwards of $3 per chip, this design costs less than $0.25.