Do you make things? Don’t be shy, you’re not alone. Cultural media theorist Neil Postman has much to say about the role of making, humanity and a museum’s role therein, so perhaps it’s not too surprising that most people make at their kitchen tables, their home offices or on a countertop in their already crammed sheds – inside their personal and private spaces, really – and that a fantastic platform for displaying those ideas might be a museum.
When you tinker away at an idea, perhaps refining it over days or weeks or even years, you tend to follow a particular design cycle to bring it to fruition. Some makers are intuitive, happy for whichever form appears. This route is more difficult in regards to producing copies and is better suited for ‘one offs’ or unique works. Other makers prefer to follow a set of rules and regulations, observing with great satisfaction the exact replicas of what they planned in their mind appear before them. These makers tend to write down these rules, making copies and production much easier. What is unified by both types of makers is the design cycle they follow. From primary school through to university, the design process is remarkably similar.
Though there are many ways that makers collaborate, produce and exhibit, the global platform that has provided much inspiration to the tinkerers amongst us since it’s inception in America (2006) is MAKE. Along with the phenomenon of the Maker Faire, which take place every couple of weeks in different world cities, MAKE also produces a print magazine, an online shop called Maker Shed, package starter kits and tools for makers, and hosts a blog site where people can meet and discuss process. The particular focus of Maker Faires around innovating existing technology emulates a DIY culture centred around contemporary computational tools. The Faires are very closely associated with hackerspaces, where cells of specialists band together to share ideas, tools and skill-sets. Think Artist-Run Initiatives or Crafternoons, but with arduinos, raspberry pis, tablets and wifi.
The Maker Faire came to Sydney this year on the 24 November. It has previously popped up in Australia in both Adelaide (2013) and Melbourne (2012) and recently in Sydney. The organisers for Sydney sifted through over 60 applications to accept 53 for exhibit. This is a smaller kind of Faire than it’s counterparts in San Francisco and New York thus earning the title of ‘Mini Maker Faire’. As part of a larger global maker movement this event supports the contemporary inventors and innovators in our society be they the makers of rocket ships, embroidery, performance, cell phones, jewellery, purses or robots.
While the stalls over the four floors of the Powerhouse Museum represented creative and innovative ideas there were some that were my personal favourites.
I first heard about Robots & Dinosaurs a few years ago from an interaction designer. He described high-tech tools, laser cutters, 3D-printers and a key card that swiped in members. It sounded amazingly well organised and intriguing. Located in Gerard Lane in Gladesville they are open from 11am on Saturdays.
Their stall at the Sydney Mini Maker Faire sprawled over many tables and featured more then a few technologically enhanced laser cut wood artefacts. Self described as “….a hackerspace in Sydney: a communal space where geeks and artists brainstorm ideas, play games, work on collaborative projects, and share the cost of some great tools”, they also offer workshops on everything from sewing e-textiles to building children’s dolls to constructing beautiful lamps.
Where I have been intrigued by origami since my sister took it up in high school, I have never seen anything quite so beautiful as Matthew Gardiner’s Oribotics. These are an art form that combines origami and robotics to create sense aware origami flowers that have featured in many exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, and represent a body of research developed by the artist himself. Affiliated with Origami Australia, the Sydney Origami Group who set up their stall at the Sydney Mini Maker Faire, organise events and conferences through Matthew Gardiner’s website, Papercrane. Incidentally, another one of their major projects was The Dino Project, in which a 3m skeleton of a triceratops was recreated for the New Wave festival in Japan in 2002.
Lucas Abela is well known in Sydney for his controversial performances and appropriation of old technology in his installations. Presented by ISEA2013 and displayed as part of the MCA’s Electronic Art pop up exhibitions, Temple of Din is an installation of playable pinball machines fitted with the remnants of guitars and pianos that distribute sound rather then points. It consists of two machines, titled Bells for Cathulu (2013) and Pinball Pianola (2012). Previously exhibited at The Rocks Centre and the old entrance to the MCA, at the Sydney Mini Maker Faire, these works were exhibited in the boiler hall of the Museum where their sound echoed amongst the remnants of steam powered engines.
All these groups have been active for some time and have had time to gain traction and build momentum and attracted a wide group of participants.
The Sydney Mini Maker Faire had all the hallmarks of maker faires – rockets were launched in the parking lot, large scale animal sculptures made from scrap metal, a vegan bake stand, traditional metal and gem based jewellery and performance-inspired making in the form of Maker Presentations. This mixture of traditional, contemporary and futuristic tinkering is what really makes the Maker Faires.
For further information on MAKE and Maker Faires worldwide you can visit the website.