by Jimmy Gorham

As artists continually seek to find new methods of eliciting emotional responses in viewers of their work, art critics continuously define new terms for the artists’ new creations and larger movements. Since the 1960s, these movement definitions have been characterized not just by the creative output, but also by the process used by the artist in the creation of the piece. From the drip painting of Jackson Pollock to the sheet metal sculpting of Richard Serra, process art has begun to be evaluated as a performance, with the artist’s creative actions as important as the final product.

The Autodesk Pier 9 Artists in Residence Exhibition has extended this trend to the Maker age by combining art with instruction to bring the process to anyone willing to do it themselves. In an exhibition of over 70 works by 40 artists, the Pier 9 showcase required that each piece be made available via Instructables and a Creative Commons license, inviting anyone to build the piece at their local maker space. This one of a kind exhibition suggests a new future artistic movement where works are open source and artists compete to not only create wonderful art but clear, step-by-step instruction for consumers to replicate their creations.

John Edmark, one of the artists showcased in the Pier 9 Artists in Residence Exhibition, is an artist, designer, and inventor who teaches at Stanford University. For the Pier 9 show John created Blooms, unique zoetrope sculptures designed to animate when spun and lit by a strobe light. Inspired by the placement of appendages on botanical forms such as pinecones, pineapples, sunflowers, and succulents, John designed each leaf of the bloom to move by the golden angle, based on the golden ratio; an angle found repeatedly in nature in the formation of natural spiral patterns in flowers, pinecones, galaxies, hurricanes and more.


Beautiful in its own right, this sculpture comes to life when placed on a rotating disk and lit by a strobe light. This setup creates the illusion of an object in bloom, allowing the viewer to see each new leaf grow from the top of the sculpture before descending as it ages, until it is swallowed up under the object. This illusion teaches the natural growth and decay cycle of many plants, engaging the viewer with the artistic piece as well as with its inspiration in nature and the Fibonacci number.

Coby Unger is an artist with a focus on practical forms, who worked with nine year-old Aidan Robinson at a summer camp to create a unique and fun prosthetic arm. Following an original design by Aidan, Coby worked to incorporate fun, functional, and playful ideas into a prosthetic that would truly reflect Aidan’s young interests, featuring attachments for videogames (Wii Nunchuk), toys (LEGO builder), and food (fork and spoon).


In addition to achieving Aidan’s goals, Coby also had to take into consideration the request of Aidan’s parents that the prosthetic be something that could be reshaped and grow as Aidan does. Considering the expense of new clothes and shoes as children age, parents are unable to pay thousands for a new prosthetic every time their child goes through a growth spurt. Fortunately Coby was able to hit this goal as well by using PLA plastic printed through a 3d printer which can be reshaped by exposing it to hot water. PLA plastic is the same component used in Maker Bots and other consumer accessible 3d printers.


String Fountain by Paolo Salvagione is another striking piece from the Pier 9 exhibition. Using servo motors and a microcontroller, Paolo was able to create an automated and interactive installation modeled after water performances such as the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, but without the water. Each string is independently controlled and allows the artist to create a detailed performance for viewers to enjoy.


String Fountain was presented to viewers alongside an Instructable containing all 20 steps required to create the installation. From pieces to tools and software, everything a maker needs to recreate the installation is listed in exhaustive detail, inviting copying rather than attempting to hold the art as something owned and controlled solely by the artist.


All parts required to create a string fountain

Unlike other artistic installations, the above discussion is possible only through the openness of the artists. By presenting their work alongside full instruction of how to recreate it, the Pier 9 artists are pioneers in a new movement of open art, art to be enjoyed not only in museums and the homes of the filthy rich, but also anywhere that makers assemble.

Makerspaces, or hackerspaces, are a new trend of community oriented workshops that allow individuals to share the hardware costs of 3d printers, laser cutters, CNC machinery and other tools and materials. Usually requiring a small monthly subscription fee, these shops make the industrial accessible, and have been the impetus for a new wave of do it yourself attitude that is sweeping the globe.

In addition to the hardware found at makerspaces, some software is generally required to create these interactive installations, as detailed in the linked Instructables. While some of that software is open source, most require a subscription or other access. In addition to hosting the Pier 9 Exhibition, Autodesk provides all of their software free of charge to students around the world, helping to remove the barrier that would otherwise prevent people from recreating these works on their own.

Most works of art are held in private collections or museums with strict IP controls, often making it hard to find even a reproduction of a masterpiece work. The Pier 9 Exhibition is a precedent of a new movement in art, art in the Maker age fit for a new do it yourself consumer. Through this model the divide between artist and viewer can shrink and allow everyone to experience art externally and internally, and learn to shape and grow the world through inventiveness and creativity.