Wood Breakage, Machine Fallibility

I think what makes human so interesting is the fact that we’re all so flawed. Flaws might seem like something that’s undesirable to most people, as many consider them as faults or weaknesses. To me flaws are endearing, whether in humans, wood, or machines. Just because one is incapable of surpassing their own limits at the time, does not mean they are broken. The beautiful thing about being human is that our limits change over time, they fluctuate. People learn and fail. Fail, fail, succeed, and fail again. One’s success might look like failure to another, and vice versa.

About a week ago, I had a meeting with Stan Krzyzanowski, an undergraduate faculty at OCAD University. He teaches first year sculpture classes and introduction to wood, just like Ken Martin did at MICA. We met at his small office in the main building near the second floor cafe. He remarked that he just got a new computer for his office.

He told me that he thought he was a furniture maker, and that was what he called himself for so many years until one day he realized that it was not something that he wanted to do. He was interested in the expansion and cracking of the material he was working with, which was wood. Then he started studying in the breaking of the material. He showed me pictures and videos of his works, but some of the links and the videos kept breaking on him because of the new computer, it doesn’t play flash, and he couldn’t show the pieces he wanted to show me, one of them being this piece, a pine cone that showers itself with water the moment it dries out.

(Cone Oscillator by Stan Krzyzanowski)

I was talking to him about how I want to collaborate with my material, and while I was working with wood as my material I felt like I understood its limit and such, but not with technology. Then I showed this piece that I did in undergraduate, Memento Mori, to Stan. When I was working on this piece, I realized for the first time that I couldn’t manipulate wood to whatever I wanted forever– that one day, it would tell me ‘no’, break, and spring back on me. Memento Mori Part II was the piece that taught me that.

cc5e7549763961.58be31a41d85f(Memento Mori, Part II by Nilam Sari)

But Stan asked me, if it was really a collaboration if you keep letting it do whatever it wants to do? To which I replied, “what do you mean?” Stan turned to his computer and clicked on the link that he knew was not working, showing a blank page. He turned to me and asked, “I mean, if the screen is not working, is it a collaboration with technology?” I just stared at it. It’s not, is it?

Then he showed this piece, where he put together a bunch of simple recording of a spinning metal faceplate from the lathe into html. All videos are of the same recording, but the limit of an old cospimputer processor he had that time played the video at different speed and timing

(Spinning Lathe Faceplate Grid Video by Stan Krzyzanowski)

And I realized that in my more recent piece from undergraduate, “Permanent Address“, I worked with wood carefully. Bent but never broke it. I made it into a thing that it was not but definitely not forcing it to not what it wanted to be. I might had not realized it when I was talking to Stan but I see it now I think.

dsc_0141(Permanent Address by Nilam Sari)

And in regards to technology, I think I haven’t found the limits and breaking point to it. I like machines but I don’t know why I like it yet. Why do I like it when machines glitch? Is it because I like flaws? vulnerability? Can I tell the difference between a glitch and a bug yet? I don’t know, I don’t know yetStan told me that if a material speaks to me, then I gotta do something with it. I might not know today, but I will learn more and more everyday from it, and that’s what makes it fun.

I think machines can be as flawed as human beings. It perhaps isn’t something that can be programmed, but is found. If it does what it was told to do then the machine is not flawed, but is imitating a flaw. Maybe I should get more attuned to everyday machines, get cheap robots, go to best buy and watch a roomba or something, I might find more machine fallibility in everyday life.

I wonder what is with me, my practice, and my obsession in finding living quality in machines? Is finding these in other human beings not enough for me? Why do I want machines to appear to be alive? That’s another topic for another post. I personally have not found the answer to these, but I do find joy when it happens. I think as an artist, it is my job and joy to find something meaningful behind everyday mundane things.

hardcoded impatience

So after talking to multiple professors about my journey in finding ‘poetry’ in modern digital medium, I came to the conclusion that I will find it one day, I just have to keep exploring and have fun with it (It’s a bit hard because I’ve become really impatient with the world recently. It’s like everything is falling apart. I think the Mayans were right, the world did end in 2012 and we’re all just living in an endless purgatory right now).

I talked to my professor, Judith Doyle, who teaches the Affect and Emotions in Practice course I am taking this semester. Her work evokes that feeling of ‘livingness’ through digital medium. And I asked her what makes it so? What is it in things we don’t normally empathize with that could evoke empathy? She suggested that not only I keep journal of my exploration with digital medium but also to do so in everyday life’s ‘poetry’.

Cody Berry at GestureLab, OCAD University from Judith Doyle on Vimeo.

So I started with my study of the piece of red oak I have lying around in my room.


I did three different types of observations of this piece of red oak. First is through looking at a high definition picture of the scan. Second is by studying the simplified version of the grain by image trace function on Adobe Illustrator. Third is by retracing the grain myself. I’ve always found wood to be a quirky material. Its grain is not only unique to each species, but to each cut. Like people and their little movements. Only each move is recorded in its life as it grows. It’s like I’m studying part of the movements this red oak tree made in its life. I think each direction of the grain is a poetry.

I will continue my journey to find more ‘poetry’ in nonhuman things around me. I’m a little tired today, had a full class of debugging our collaboration project. But we ended the day getting ramen for dinner with almost everyone in the Digital Future 2019 program, it was a nice way to end the week.

Image from iOS

see you next time