Category: Workshops

DIY Water Sensors Workshop

This write-up is a bit tardy, but that’s what happens when the holidays hit. In December, I hosted a DIY Water Sensors Workshop at Autodesk Pier 9 in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work at Autodesk, first as an artist-in-residence (2014) and for the last few years, running their Electronics Lab and more recently their Simulation Lab (VR/AR). For the workshop, we hosted a combination of journalists and members of the Autodesk community.

The idea for the workshop sprung out of my Sonaqua artwork. The project sonifies (makes sounds from) water quality by testing for electrical conductivity (EC), which is an correlates to pollution — the more heavy metals and minerals, the higher the EC. It’s one of a number of measurements that scientists make in the field, along with indicators such as pH and Dissolved Oxygen.

That’s a brief summary of the artwork and what I wanted to do was make basic module circuit available for anyone to use. We breadboarded the basic circuit and within a couple of hours, everyone was up and running, making sounds from water samples that they brought in.

Working with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) was valuable — afterwards, we got into a long discussion about data journalism. I was impressed with their breadth of projects and related works which include:

Sonifying the Seismic Activity in Oklahoma – tracks earthquake activity increases due to fracking

Wet Prince of BelAir – uses satellite data to find water-wasters during the big drought.

Cicada Tracker – a project by WNYC & Radiolab using Arduinos to predict the cycle of 17-year cicadas

   

 

After a few hours, the breadboarded circuits were complete! I mailed circuit boards, designed in Autodesk EagleCAD to the workshop participants a few days later. There are always production delays, but they did get the boards in time for the holidays.

Very hot, very cold

I arrived in Bangkok a couple days ago. Here, you cannot escape the physical effects of the place. It is humid and muggy outside and then you go inside, you get blasted by the air conditioning. Your sweat soon dries and you become very cold.

This is the dialogue I quickly experienced: manmade vs nature. Traffic is omnipresent and there are AC-cooled shopping malls everywhere. However, nature looms large with adverse weather, flooding and the Chao Phraya river itself.

On my first day, as I wandered, I also wondered. How many people actually have a relationship with the river that runs through Bangkok? How often do they think about the lifeblood of the river, which provides drinking water, transportation and, in the past, food?

  

The next morning, we visited visited the Huay Kwang community. This group of people have lived on the banks of the Chao Phraya for many decades and are low-income, often forgotten by the business and shopping districts. When it rains, the sewer infrastructure backs up and floods the river. Like many cities, the pavement and cement prevents water from flowing naturally into the ground.

This community is one of the most affected and they are currently developing a master plan to relocate their homes to higher shores. It isn’t easy. After all, no one wants to lose their home. The master plan also details widening the canal, dredging it and establishing a transportation lane for tourism and commerce.

I listened to the community leaders and their hopes for the workshop. I made several points, but one of the most important ones was to set expectations for what I can really do here. I’m only here for a month. So let’s think about sustainable projects and how we can make public art with water data.

And I also met my assistant, Ekarat, who is super-helpful and will be assisting me throughout the project. Without him, I can’t imagine how to make this project a success.

Yesterday, we spent an entire day procuring items. The best find were these small containers, which are often used for hot sauces, which we will use for water samples on the Chao Phraya. And they were a bargain at 10 Baht each!

Orientation Week at American Arts Incubator

The first week in 2017 was orientation week for the American Arts Incubator program. I met the four other artists and soon associated their names with the respective exchange countries: Elaine Cheung (Russia), Michael Kuetemeyer (Cambodia), Nathan Ober (Colombia), and Balam Soto (Guatemala)

My exchange country will be Thailand, where I’ll be staying in the multilayered metropolis of Bangkok for 28 days in May/June timeframe

Thailand sounds exciting and of course it is. However, I’m approaching this not as a tourist, but rather as an arts ambassador. The issue that I’ll be addressing in my exchange is environmental health and specifically water pollution in the Chao Phraya River. This is especially relevant to Thailand, which has underground rapid industrialization in the last couple of decades with environmental regulations lagging behind.

In Bangkok, I will engage in a dialogue of community data-collection and mapping though DIY science with a focus on water pollution, resulting in data-visualization installations and sculptures.

My time will be split about 80/20 on leading public workshops and creating my own artwork.

This ties into my current area of focus: creating physical data-visualizations such as the sculptures of the water infrastructure of San Francisco as well as relates to my longstanding history of working in art and education at institutions such as the Exploratorium.

I learned many things this week, including, but not limited to: better patience for long meetings, organizational models for workshop engagement, the Drupal blogging platform, art-budgeting in a foreign country and organizational techniques.

But most of all, I learned that I have an amazing organization, ZERO1, that will be supporting my work there as well as a cohort of four other artists I can learn from. Trust.

For more information and updates, please join the American Arts Incubator Facebook page.