Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Making the Invisible Visible

Bob Levene has been a part of our Faculty for the past six months. You may have seen her last blog post for EngingineeringUs in July or seen her poking around labs resplendent in her orange ‘Artist in Residence’ t-shirt asking a myriad of questions. Indeed she has spoken, at length, to around 30 engineers from our departments giving her a well-rounded view that engineering isn’t just about the Hotpoint man.

I had some idea of what to expect with Civil, Mechanical & Electrical but was not prepared for Computer Science and Automatic Control Systems Engineering and that whole area of system control and data mining. I have also been massively bowled over by the level of medical connections. I found out about a project that records and banks peoples voices before having a tracheotomy, so afterwards they still have use of their ‘voice’. Which I find so poetic.”

Perceptions of engineering are a constant battle especially when trying to encourage female students to consider engineering as a career choice. Engineering has long been seen as a dry, boring subject but can engineering really be described as poetic? Creative even?

“Different types of engineering use different processes and I see many of them as really creative. Working with numbers, systems and rules doesn't rule out being creative, I work with these all the time and what I do is inherently creative. I’m not keen on the stereotypes of between the arts and sciences (art being soft & expressive and engineering being hard-nosed and dry). I think there are really interesting crossovers and they don't have to come together simply by artist illustrating an engineering project or marketing it – it’s more of a dialogue.”
It is these discussions that have underpinned what Bob will do next. Rather than create a sculpture or paint a picture that can be placed somewhere to be admired, Bob's art is more conceptual than that.

"I tend to choose a material in response to an idea - I'm not a craftsman who works with and through a particular material. I think about the subject, process and the tools being used and see if I can say something from the conversations I've had and what I've seen."

With so much dialogue taking place and engineers willing to impart their knowledge (this is a University after all) we couldn’t begrudge our resident artist taking some time off from the process. As Bob explains:

“For three months all I’ve had is talking and I’ve tried to understand so interviews went on for a long time. Its been fascinating but exhausting, I can't help but ask more questions to try and understand. It’s hard to process the information and then to jump to thinking about how I can make artwork. I’ve had to stop the conversations and give myself a month off from that kind of thinking.”

The last thing this faculty wants to do is break an artist! But the next stage of Bob’s work is coming out of the fog of conversation and creating an artwork inspired by the conversations and the research the she has seen. 

"I'm at the playing and filming stage. I'm looking at machines and materials and taking pictures and videos without worrying too much about what it will end up as, this intuitive play is an important part of the process, not every part should be over thought."

Bob’s previous residency experience was at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where she spent two months as part of a Space for 10 project. Coming to the University, she admits, has been one of the biggest challenges she has taken on. Having made the decision to work cross-faculty and not concentrate on one department has been a major undertaking but the fascinating stories that have been thrown up has given her a greater appreciation of what engineering is and what can be achieved. So great is this appreciation that she has fallen in love. With a carbon coating machine.

“I really like the 70’s machines. There’s this machine where you put two carbon sticks together and its heated up to get carbon coated, and to do that you need to sharpen the two bits of stick graphite and there’s this little belt that goes around and it leaves all these pencil-like drawings – that’s lovely!”

If you want to be kept up to date with Bob’s progress you can find out all you need to know on the University website and Bob’s personal sites.

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