Often times when I am working on a project, I contemplate not only on the art itself, but specifically on the process and how I choose to document it. I feel that these two terms are inseparable and not only impact how I see and understand my own work, but how I choose to take on new projects.
In regards to process, we can think about how we go about our work. What is the most efficient way to make something? Or more interestingly, what is the most inefficient way to make something? Process is important to me because it serves as a jumping-off point for the rest of my work, regardless of whether I have it figured out or not. It doesn’t matter what the work is, but if I can leech on to a process that I consciously foster, expand, contract, and filter, my pieces becomes much more refined and focused.
A good example of my personal process relates to laser cutting. I know how to do it and I understand the methodology behind it. However, at this point, part of the process of working with lasers is that I expect to fail. Every new laser-related project I pursue has this idea of trial and error, experimentation, burning wood, and setting fires automatically built-in. I think this keeps things realistic, which is important in a world of perfectionists who expect to do everything in one go (me included).
This idea of process can also be applied to my lightbulb installation shout. When I was invited to participate in Maker Faire Milwaukee 2017, I knew what I wanted to make, but I didn’t know what it would become. What I thought I made was an interactive installation in which sound waves were turned into light. What I didn’t realize was that I had absolutely no idea what it is that I made. I was too focused on hooking up wires and avoiding electrocution to consider in what way individuals would interact with the piece. I hadn’t figured out the core concept of the work until I actually witnessed the interaction.
People were meek, explosive, unpredictable even. All were initially taken aback and became either shy and disconnected, or totally embracing and vulnerable. The darkroom where my piece hung was surrounded with children of all ages, laughing, pointing, and most importantly experimenting. I learned in that moment that my piece was much more intimate than I had previously anticipated. It emphasized the novelty of experience as well as the novelty of surprise, exploration, vulnerability, and awe. In short, I learned about a kind of process of learning.
Experiences like these strongly alter my thought process regarding my work and force me to consider my art-making from a different perspective. They force me to embrace the unpredictability of interactive art, and perhaps embrace the void as it were. I don’t really know what will become of my work, and it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that I have ideas that I explore, test, critique, and refine over time. Good ideas will last, while the terrible ones will die out. It’s natural selection at its core.
Now, on the topic of documentation, I cannot emphasize how important it has been in shaping my thought process regarding my work. Everywhere I go, I have my phone, which means that any work that I am making has absolutely no excuse not to be documented and catalogued.
To be honest, I never started the act of documentation until fall of 2016 when I was in Pete Prodoehl's Electronics and Sculpture course (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee). Not only was this the first time that I “officially” delved into interactive technology, but this was also the first time when I began to perform proper documentation of my art.
At some point I became obsessed with the process and now it has manifested in my every day activities, going so far as giving me a nervous twitch if I don’t pull out my phone and take a picture of the current in-progress piece. Regardless, the act of documentation itself serves a number of extraordinarily valuable roles:
It serves as evidence of your work, and proves that it does indeed exist.
It captures the step-by-step process, which is monumental in understanding how you made the work, how you think of it, and how you choose to go about it.
It acts as a bookmark or time capsule, capturing your progress in this moment of time, one that you can always come back to.
It provides an opportunity to share your creations with others, even going so far as teaching and instructing the process of art-making and what yours might be.
Keep in mind that documentation is not limited to photographs. I often times forget this, but it can manifest itself in videos, notes, sketches, models, Illustrator/Photoshop files, receipts, labels, spreadsheets, junk, spoiled food and moldy bread. Basically, anything that we can see/touch/hear/taste/feel from the inception to the end of your project all serves as precious evidence.
My own art has been shaped by the action of documentation because it forces me to consider my work as a series of steps. Though it’s a beaten down analogy, a kind of pyramid shape emerges as we travel from A to B to C, all the meanwhile building on top of the previous step and outlining our path. Indeed, this is exactly the definition of a process. This useful series of steps allows us to come back to an earlier iteration of our project, and allows us to try a different path. No regrets, only opportunity.
No, you can’t over-document, and yes, take extra photos because I promise you at least one or two will be blurry. Keep your camera charged up and always have a pencil and paper at an arms length away. If you get something to work, document it before it sets on fire. Remember: just like science, it didn’t happen unless you have evidence, so don’t miss the moment.