Hi every­one. I’m Sarah Brin. Thanks so much for hav­ing me, it’s fan­tas­tic to be here. 

As Sophie men­tioned, I’m an art his­to­ri­an and a cura­tor. I’m based at the Pier 9 work­shop facil­i­ty in San Francisco, where work as a pub­lic pro­grams man­ag­er. But before that, I did a lot of oth­er stuff. And grow­ing up, and even in my younger adult­hood, I nev­er ever thought that I would get to have a cre­ative pro­fes­sion. I always thought that peo­ple who got to do that kind of work were luck­i­er, or smarter, or cool­er. But it turns out that feel­ing of intense dis­com­fort, of not belong­ing, is some­times how peo­ple, includ­ing myself, devel­op new ways of doing things.

So, with that in mind I’m going to speak very briefly about three things today that kind of shape my prac­tice as an antidis­ci­pli­nar­i­an. The first is my under­stand­ing of what it means to be antidis­ci­pli­nary, and kind of how I came to inte­grate that into my prac­tice. The sec­ond is about my inter­est in expe­ri­ence as an art form. And final­ly, I’ll go into a lit­tle bit of detail about the projects I’m work­ing on cur­rent­ly that involve inte­gra­tion of art, tech­nol­o­gy, and industry.

So, what does it mean to be antidis­ci­pli­nary? To me, it means strug­gle. Sometimes, work­ing in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary fields, I felt like I’ve maybe tried real­ly hard work­ing and work­ing and work­ing on a project, and I was­n’t see­ing any dif­fer­ence. Sometimes peo­ple would look at me and be like, What are you even doing?” Kind of like this lit­tle guy right here. So, to me antidis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty means not only not work­ing in one spe­cif­ic field, but rather instead draw­ing from else­where to imag­ine some­thing new.

Two teenage girls in school uniforms standing with their heads close together, holding several trophies

And so I want­ed to give you all an exam­ple of how I learned to do this, and I thought oh, what’s a bet­ter exam­ple of think­ing about how you don’t fit into some­thing than high school? So that’s me on the right. As you can tell I had a very cool haircut. 

I went to a very spe­cial high school, although it does­n’t look espe­cial­ly spe­cial in this pho­to. But part of what sort of set it apart was that it was an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary mag­net pro­gram. It was a pub­lic school. And so every­thing we stud­ied, we took an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach to.

Cultural themes: reason, rationality, and balance

So, this is an exam­ple of how we’d do this. Say we were study­ing ancient Greece. And so we would study The Odyssey in our lit­er­a­ture class­es. In our his­to­ry class­es, we’d study kouros fig­ures. And in our phi­los­o­phy class, we learned about Aristotle’s def­i­n­i­tion of virtue. And in our his­to­ry class­es, we learned about Greek democ­ra­cy. And we always did this by weav­ing togeth­er seem­ing­ly dis­parate areas of cul­ture by find­ing themes that unit­ed all of them. And so this would con­tin­ue to shape my prac­tice for a very long time.

So, okay, why am I talk­ing about some­thing that hap­pened fif­teen years ago? Why am I talk­ing about high school now? So yes, it was impor­tant because I learned actu­al facts and pieces of arguably rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion. But more impor­tant­ly, I learned to think lat­er­al­ly. So I learned to think more com­pre­hen­sive­ly about an expe­ri­ence of cul­ture rather than iso­lat­ed phenomena.

So I brought this approach with me to col­lege. I themed my semes­ters. That means I would take mul­ti­ple cours­es, focus on a par­tic­u­lar time peri­od or region, includ­ing phi­los­o­phy, art his­to­ry, lit­er­a­ture, etc. This is also when I start­ed to study art his­to­ry more for­mal­ly. So, I learned very ear­ly on that I have an aller­gy to for­mal­ism. And as my favorite pro­fes­sors taught me, art isn’t just about form. It’s not just about what things look like. Artworks are lens­es to give us a look into our par­tic­u­lar moment of cul­ture, to look deep­er at a real human’s per­son­al expe­ri­ence of a par­tic­u­lar moment.

So at this point I already knew that art, his­to­ry, sci­ence, and every oth­er capac­i­ty of cul­ture were all deeply inter­twined. But I also became very inter­est­ed in this idea of expe­ri­ence. Both the expe­ri­ences of the artists, and the pub­lic’s expe­ri­ence of an art­work. And I felt like this would shape my research prac­tice in grad­u­ate school, and it did. And I moved on to study at the cura­to­r­i­al pro­gram at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

Several attractive and fashionably-dressed young women posed as if for a photo shoot , among art pieces

So, as soon as I got to USC, I noticed that I felt very very iso­lat­ed from most of my peers and my col­leagues in my pro­gram. And part of that is because art is a very priv­i­leged dis­ci­pline. And USC has rep­u­ta­tion for its very priv­i­leged stu­dent body. And real­iz­ing this, I felt like I had made such a huge mis­take going to art school. I real­ized that all my class­mates look like this. They all had very com­pli­cat­ed shoes. I felt like they had fam­i­lies that could pay for them to do unpaid intern­ships at fan­cy gal­leries. I thought, I don’t belong here.” 

But I quick­ly for­got about that when I found video games. In 2009, there was a very piv­otal moment for artist-made video games. Roger Ebert had just made his very con­tro­ver­sial claim that video games could nev­er be art. And simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, there were all the stu­dents at uni­ver­si­ties like Parsons, NYU, and even ITU Copenhagen, who were real­ly chang­ing peo­ple’s ideas of what video games could be. I did­n’t grow up play­ing video games, but I was so moved by this. I loved the idea that games were acces­si­ble, games were ubiq­ui­tous, in a way art could­n’t it be. So, I want­ed to reach out to peo­ple with art, and I want­ed to do this by using some­thing famil­iar. I want­ed to reach out to the same kinds of peo­ple who might’ve felt iso­lat­ed by art in the same ways that I might’ve I felt.

And so I start­ed to research and curate exper­i­men­tal games that chal­lenged the pop­u­lar con­cep­tions of the medi­um. These weren’t rac­ing games. These weren’t fight­ing games. These were games that com­plete­ly blew every­one’s expec­ta­tions away. This is actu­al­ly from a game called Lose/Lose cre­at­ed by an artist named Zach Gage. It looks just like the video game Space Invaders, except for every alien you kill, you ran­dom­ly delete a file on your com­put­er. This is a pret­ty unusu­al con­cept because nor­mal­ly when you take actions in games there are no con­se­quences in real life. Not so with this project. And I thought that was so, so, so fascinating.

But my class­mates and my pro­fes­sors were extreme­ly skep­ti­cal of this. And they often dis­cour­aged me from mov­ing for­ward with my stud­ies in games. But slow­ly, labo­ri­ous­ly, I knew how to legit­imize my work by pro­vid­ing his­tor­i­cal prece­dents and cul­tur­al con­text for the projects. And so grad­u­al­ly I was invit­ed to do more and more cura­to­r­i­al projects with muse­ums and insti­tu­tions like the SF MoMA in San Francisco, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. And my work became hard­er to dismiss.

This is an exam­ple of one of my games projects, which we called Horizon.” It was a press con­fer­ence and exhi­bi­tion ded­i­cat­ed to exper­i­men­tal games, includ­ing a Swiss project called Laser Cabinet”, which you you see up here, by artist named Khalil Kloush. And it’s a lot of fun to do

Two photos: a woman seated in a meditation pose in front of an Atari 2600 system; a man lying on the floor with headrest and headphones on

This is from anoth­er project called Ahhhcade” that we did in 2013 at the SF MoMA in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Babycastles, an artist-run space based in New York. This show was called Ahhhcade, and it was a show of med­i­ta­tive and non-competitive video games.

So, I worked with a lot of inde­pen­dent cura­to­r­i­al projects with video games. I did some arts jour­nal­ism. I worked in an edu­ca­tion depart­ment at a muse­um. But it was all very very piece­meal. I was always kind of look­ing for the next thing, try­ing to fig­ure out how I could piece all of my inter­ests togeth­er to make a liv­ing. And I did that for a long time, and then I was invit­ed to come work at Autodesk Pier 9 workshop.

Logos for various Autodesk products: Maya, instructables.com, AutoCAD

Autodesk, as Sophie men­tioned is a soft­ware com­pa­ny that makes these prod­ucts, as well as many oth­ers. And we make design soft­ware for basi­cal­ly every indus­try you can imag­ine. We have offices all over the world, includ­ing in Neuchatel. 

View from across water of the Pier 9 facility.

And this is our office! It’s pret­ty cool. That’s where I work. It’s Autodesk’s dig­i­tal fab­ri­ca­tion facil­i­ty, and that’s where we real­ly have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to refine the con­nec­tion between our design soft­ware and dig­i­tal fab­ri­ca­tion machines that bring those designs to life. 

So when I talk about dig­i­tal fab­ri­ca­tion, what does that mean? That can mean a lot of dif­fer­ent things. Here is a CNC mill. So if you take a look at this big blue machine up here, that’s our DMS 5‑axis mill. The way that works is we start with a dig­i­tal design in a soft­ware pro­gram, and then we put a block of mate­r­i­al into the mill, and the mill will sub­tract mate­r­i­al away to make that design come to life.

In addi­tion to the machines in our CNC lab, we have a laser lab, and 3D print lab. We have an elec­tron­ics lab. Textiles area. A test kitchen. Wood shop, met­al shop. We have all kinds of stuff going on. It’s pret­ty spec­tac­u­lar. So, that work­shop, among serv­ing many oth­er impor­tant func­tions to our com­pa­ny allows us, my team, the cre­ative pro­grams team, to show­case our prod­ucts by part­ner­ing with oth­er cre­ative enti­ties. So, some­times that means exter­nal part­ner­ships, and some­times it’s through our Artists in Residence pro­gram.

The Artists in Residence pro­gram is kind of a mis­lead­ing title, because over the past few years we’ve wel­comed over two hun­dred archi­tects, chefs, fine artists, fur­ni­ture mak­ers, fash­ion design­ers, to real­ly push the bound­aries of our soft­ware and of our tool­ing. They are inter­dis­ci­pli­nary provo­ca­teurs, who are invit­ed to col­lab­o­rate, research, and test the lim­its of what’s pos­si­ble. One of my favorite artists was work­ing on a project on the DMS (that big blue machine I showed you just a minute ago), and he actu­al­ly drilled through the mate­ri­als bed of the machine, with the machine itself. And he was real­ly wor­ried, he’s like, Oh, no. Am I going to get in trou­ble?” And instead he just got a bunch of high fives because we were all like, Well, now we know not to do that.” And so that’s kind of how what our space feels like to be in.

This is actu­al­ly an exam­ple of what he was work­ing on. This piece is called Smaller & Upside Down.” [ded­i­cat­ed site] It’s a series of facial dis­tor­tion lens­es that are 3D print­ed and CNC milled. As you can see, the effects kind of mim­ic what you might find in Apple’s Photoshop. And these are applied for pub­lic art installations.

Photo of a young boy with a prosthetic arm attachment, placing Lego pieces on a custom end piece.

Another project I real­ly love is the col­lab­o­ra­tion [at Coby Unger’s site] between an artist named Coby Unger and an eight year-old boy named Aidan Robinson. Some of you prob­a­bly already know that pros­thet­ics are very very expen­sive. And if you have a kid who’s grow­ing, they’re going to grow out of that pros­thet­ic, too. So what Coby did is he part­nered with Aidan to devel­op a series of attach­ments for his pros­thet­ic, includ­ing a Lego arm, a Nintendo Wii con­troller, and a vio­lin bow. But in addi­tion to cre­at­ing these real­ly amaz­ing attach­ments (Aidan referred to him­self as a super­hero cyborg) Coby devel­oped a 3D-printed sock­et for the pros­thet­ic that as Aidan grew, he could heat it up and resize the sock­et to grow the pros­thet­ic along with the child, which is pret­ty neat.

Sarah Brin Making Meaning Antidisciplinarity Ss 12

A final project I’m going to talk about is a series by an artist named Morehshin Allahyari. The series is called Material Speculation: ISIS. [at Morehshin’s site] And what Morehshin does here is she uses our Objet Connex multi-material print­ers to recre­ate arti­facts that were destroyed by ISIS. Not only are the mod­els exact recre­ations of the objects in terms of def­i­n­i­tion and style, but also there is a 3D mod­el file embed­ded with­in each of the objects. So this is an extreme­ly daunt­ing task, because these mod­els did­n’t exist pre­vi­ous­ly. So what Morehshin had to do was cre­ate these mod­els based on pho­tographs and exten­sive con­sul­ta­tion with experts around the world. Part of why I think this project is so fas­ci­nat­ing is because it’s not just an art­work. It’s an archive, and it’s activism.

So okay, why did I talk to you about these projects? Thinking back to what I men­tioned ear­li­er, the idea of con­text, of expe­ri­ence, of pub­lic engage­ment, all of these artists are aren’t exclu­sive­ly artists, they’re antidis­ci­pli­nar­i­ans. They’re work­ing togeth­er to solve prob­lems. And they’re bor­row­ing from mul­ti­ple pre­ex­ist­ing fields, while using new tech­nolo­gies to cre­ate cre­ative solu­tions. And per­haps more impor­tant­ly, these new ideas are invit­ing. They’re public-facing. And they ask for a response.

So, think­ing about the work all of these artists are doing, and some of the projects that I talked about ear­li­er, it’s not always easy to look for new types of solu­tions, for new types of prob­lems. Sometimes it can be extreme­ly dif­fi­cult and extreme­ly uncom­fort­able. But I thank you, and chal­lenge you, to look for that own dis­com­fort in your­self and apply it to your practice. 


Sophie Lamparter: It’s a real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing place. I swear, if you have the chance in San Francisco, maybe we can get a behind-the-scene tour, let us know. It’s real­ly worth going and see­ing how they real­ly embrace inno­va­tion, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and anti-disciplinary. So, I don’t know. Is there one exam­ple, or one project, or I don’t know, one idea that com­plete­ly blew your mind? That the whole team was like, Oh, we’ve nev­er thought of that,” or some­how changed a bit the per­spec­tive of the tools or…

Sarah Brin: Yeah, we have we have a bunch of artists who are always col­lab­o­rat­ing with each oth­er. And what’s real­ly unique to me, com­ing from a more tra­di­tion­al arts back­ground, is that artists tend to be very pro­tec­tive of their ideas. And there’s also this idea of secre­cy. And so fre­quent­ly, when we see art­work in a muse­um, we’re look­ing at the fin­ished object. We’re not talk­ing about process, because kind of the secret sauce, right? So we have all of these artists togeth­er at one point in time that are shar­ing ideas, shar­ing their chal­lenges. They’re help­ing each oth­er, they’re col­lab­o­rat­ing. And I think that real­ly shows, and I think per­son­al­ly it’s impor­tant to me that we’re devel­op­ing new forms of cul­ture, inclusively.

Lamparter: I agree. It’s also great, each time you you have a meet­ing with some­body at Autodesk, they show you their per­son­al project, because most of the employ­ees are also col­lab­o­rat­ing at night or on the week­end on, I don’t know, 3D print­ed music instru­ments, or what­ev­er they enjoy. And I think that’s also very very spe­cial. Thank you so much, Sarah. 

Further Reference

Enter the Anti-Disciplinary Space ses­sion details at the Lift16 site.