Curation at the Critical Making Lab

A critical foundation of Critical Making is, of course, the act of making, the creation of an object from spare parts or specially created components, and the exploration and critique of the process. So what happens when the maker is done making?

That’s where I come in. I’m the curator at the Critical Making Lab. When the researchers are done with an object, it’s my turn to play!

My duties involve cataloguing the objects, deciding which objects should be kept and which should be recycled, finding a place to store them and (the fun part!) organizing them into exhibitions. As a non-researcher, my background is a little different from most of the other lab residents – I’m actually a Museum Studies student, albeit one with a bit of an intellectual crush on emergent technologies.

Be still, my heart! Source.

There are a lot of challenges to being lab curator.

I’m the new girl and I just don’t have the context I need for many of my objects, especially since I don’t have a background in any sort of computer or electrical work. The big, fancy ones are pretty easy because I can Google them. It’s not hard to find information on things like the prosthetic sockets or blind tennis; they were pretty well-publicized projects. But I would frequently quickly catalogue an object which I thought was just a test print and move on. Then, days later, someone would walk by and casually mention that the object I had set aside was, in fact, part of some terribly significant and interesting project. I’m lucky in that everyone in the lab is quite friendly and willing to share their knowledge but it’s hard to get answers when you don’t even know what questions you need to ask.

Painting robot 4

Random junk or super cool robot components?

There’s also the fact that the Critical Making Lab is not a museum space. Displaying objects is a secondary concern. Every decision I make has to take functionality into account. Yes, I can mount part of my exhibition on that shelving unit there but it’s right next to the full-body scanner, so people might need that space. Yes, I can create a beautiful and elaborate slideshow with multiple components to show off every aspect of the lab but who’s got time to update something that involved once I’m gone?

But hey, even if the job has its challenges, I wouldn’t change it for the world. And if I occasionally end up shirtless in the lab on a weekend because I needed a black backdrop for photography and it was the only black cloth I had, well, it’s just another day in the life of a Critical Making Lab curator!

Researcher Profile: Joshua Qua Hiansen

February 17, 2016Rowena McGowanPeople0

Joshua Qua Hiansen is a research associate at the Critical Making Lab. His work station, covered as it is in human organs, may lead one to believe that he is a serial killer. In fact, his work is far less unpleasant and far more interesting.

Hiansen is doing research in using 3D printing to provide cheap and customizable medical models for training med students.

Most anatomical models are expensive and therefore most facilities cannot afford a wide assortment . Hiansen’s models are much quicker and cheaper to produce, allowing more customization. Because he can print a spine in a day or two, for example, teachers can easily have both textbook perfect models and examples of extremely diseased spinal columns. This is quite useful – real body parts are seldom as simple and well-laid out as those in books or classic models.

Spine flipped

A test print of a spine. Photo credit: Joshua Qua Hiansen

The spines are also an easy way for students to practice locating the areas they need to in order to give epidurals – something for which I am sure those of us who have been or are planning to get pregnant at some point are quite grateful for!

Hiansen doesn’t just make spines. He also produces other organs, including bronchial tubes, hearts and brains.

The tricky part is creating models which are echogenic (able to bounce an echo), for practice using the ultrasound. PLA plastic actually has a consistency similar to bone. For accuracy, though, many of the models are mounted in a gel matrix. Keeping to his goal of producing models which are cheap and simple to make, the medium Josh uses is simply grocery store gelatin.

Organs together

Anatomical models of a heart, bronchial tubes and spine assembled. Photo credit: Joshua Qua Hiansen

Want to see more of Josh’s work? Follow him on Twitter!

Heart to Heart in the Critical Making Lab

This Valentine’s Day, Research Associate Joshua Qua Hiansen wants to give away his heart. It’s okay, he has a lot of spares:

Purple heart 1 Pink heart 1

Of course, these hearts don’t beat for anyone, even true love. They’re anatomical models for teaching medical students. More on Josh’s Twitter:

Mixed media human aortic valve

Demonstration of valve printed in flexible resin

Progression of printing


Researcher Profile: Daniel Southwick

Daniel Southwick

Daniel Southwick is a PhD candidate in the Critical Making Lab, currently working on his dissertation. He is interested in troubling current conceptions about 3D printing. 3D printing is often promoted as the transition from digital objects into physical ones. Daniel’s recent project, the Camera Obscura, shows that it isn’t that simple.

The Camera Obscura project started from a simple goal: Southwick wanted to print and put together a camera from a pattern downloaded from the internet. If 3D printing truly was as simple as it is often perceived, this should be no issue. It was not, however, that simple.

Creating the camera in fact required physical and social structures which were not present for Southwick. The pattern was not created in a void but as part of the creator’s environment. The pattern came from a European country; connecting parts were metric and difficult to get in Canada. Putting it together also required a great deal of implicit knowledge of how cameras work – for example, Southwick initially printed the camera in white plastic, not realizing that reflection of light would be an issue when actually taking photos.

Camera obscura

The camera, put together

Although Southwick wanted to avoid excessive self-reflection, he pointed out that the Camera Obscura project demonstrates just how complicated it can be to move an object from the digital realm into the physical and how deeply an object’s pattern is influenced by the culture and environment of its creator.

Camera Obscura photo 2

Photo taken with the camera. Still a ways to go!

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