One of the general fears with digital fabrication and robotics is that they will wipe away human artistry. But that will never happen as long as people like Stefanie Pender exist. Pender, who has degrees from both RISD and Cornell, gained proficiency in glassmaking through traditional apprenticeships; she’s also well-versed in industrial robotics, programming and all things CNC. After becoming an Artist in Residence at the digital fabrication playground that is Autodesk’s Pier 9, she had the opportunity to combine her specialties in a novel way.
Here’s what happens when you have a curiosity-driven, manually-skilled, technical-minded, boundary-pushing artist that has been granted the resources to create her own digital tools:
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Pender has an Instructable on her Glass Fused Filament Deposition Modeling Process here. (You have to love any Instructable that begins with “Warning! This project uses a oxygen/propane welding torch mounted to an industrial robot.”) I liked reading her description of the project, as it reads like a manifesto for how to reconcile handwork with digital fabrication:
Tacit knowledge of craft processes has immense potential to enhance emerging technologies. The sensibilities gained through hands-on experience provide sophisticated comprehension of material behavior, physical properties and responsiveness to environmental conditions. These insights have led me to pursue merging traditional craft proficiency with contemporary technology in an effort to expand the boundaries of material processes.
I have developed additive manufacturing processes and subtractive molding processes to integrate glass-forming techniques with robotic technology. Some of my projects are here. My embodied knowledge of material processes is essential to forging innovation with collaborative human/machine fabrication.
My past efforts have demonstrated that collaborative robotic fabrication shares elements of acquired skill, similar to analogue fabrication. For complex processes, the human operator must adjust the various environmental and material parameters continually as a participant within the collaboration. These adjustments are refined with repetition, experience and accumulated skill.
The feedback loop between operator, robot, tool and material is continually adjusting and adapting; observations made by the operator are nuanced, sensitive and complex. This sequence of observation, analysis, and action is tacit or embodied by its nature.
As both an artist and a researcher, my objective is to develop technological systems to support the integration of embodied human knowledge: how can the nuanced behaviors of a human operator be translated to data for the purpose of designing customized hardware and software? At Pier 9, I pursued these lines of inquiry and developed novel fabrication strategies that exploit inherent physical phenomena accessed through the digital automation of process.
Coincidentally, this week we saw another designer with a background in glassmaking pushing the boundaries of her chosen material. Check out Rebecca Erde’s Traditional Japanese Wood Joinery Cast in Glass.