Our newest Maker in Residence is multidisciplinary artist and researcher Liam Grace-Flood, who is working on a month-long project at Machines Room as part of his hands-on research into makerspaces. We found out a bit more about what he’ll be up to:
Can you tell us a bit about your background as a maker, your practice and areas of interest?
I just graduated from Wheaton College (MA) with a double major in Math and Studio Art and Physics and Computer Science Minors, and I have one year left in my dual degree programme in Engineering with Dartmouth College. In college, my practice as a maker has spanned everything from electric motorcycles to public policy; from fine art to computational models; digital fabrication to grassroots community organising. This year I’m traveling the world as a Watson fellow, exploring my broad interest in different maker cultures. More specifically, I’m looking at spaces and structures that democratise and decentralise education, innovation, fabrication, and facilitate making better things, people, and communities. It’s that work that brought me to Machines Room.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on, and what you will be working on, at Machines Room?
This month at Machines Room, I’m looking into decentralised design & manufacturing with an eye toward a few key ideas:
- The interplay between making useful things and making waste. Making is really the most human thing there is. Making tools and art predates humanity, but no species we know has our propensity for making things. In fact, we’ve come to define cultures and peoples in large part by the things they made. Even when every piece of evidence of our bodies rot, many of our objects remain. And often, even more of our trash. Makerspaces have become shrines to both of these things. They provide tools for people to make (almost anything) but they also generate incredible waste. Complex, expensive tools are often made and bought and then seldom used; plastic and wood offcuts from CNC and laser cutters; discarded prototypes and 3D prints. I’m interested in exploring the actual and aspirational relationship between making and wasting in makerspaces.
- The paradox of purposefully small-batch, customized production’s reliance on mass-produced, standardized materials. I’m interested in ways to rethink the relationship between custom craft and standardized materials. Can we exercise more control over our materials? Or can we better exploit economies of scale in smaller-scale work? Is the status quo dishonest or advantageous?
- The divide between how things are made and how things are used. Many of the items we consume are made in a very different circumstance from how they’re used. Housewares (which I’m interested in making) are made very impersonally en mass, but may be used very intimately. How do we make the process of design and fabrication as intimate as the use of these objects? Is that even a worthwhile aspiration? I’m interested in the spectrum of hand-made to factory made vs the feeling of being hand made/intimately made.
Over the course of my residency, I’ll make a small series of home goods which refer back to these questions, hopefully leaning into the future of each of them. My final product won’t necessarily be the actual things I make, they’ll just be a means of exploring and communicating my ideas on these crucial design topics as they develop.
Does having access to the machines, expertise and community at Machines Room influence your work and practice, if so then how?
Machines Room’s people and projects push the boundaries of what makerspaces could look like. I appreciate working in a space that’s self aware and constantly reconsidering the social implications of open workshops like it. It’s such a part of the culture here that I’m not sure if people realize how special it is to have people successfully leveraging “making” for social change– but it is special, and inspiring!
What is next for you? Are you planning to continue this stream of work or start a new project?
I work very organically – each of those key ideas I cited above could be an entire body of work, but they continue to spark new ideas and directions. Right now, I think they’re leading toward new research into parametric design as a way to allow improved conversation between a designer, the method of design and fabrication, and the end-user. So if I don’t get to fully flesh that out before the end of my residency, I’ll continue my research afterward.