“Everything’s a Prototype”
If ITP had an (even more) unofficial slogan than “a Center for the Recently Possible,” it would be: “Everything’s a Prototype.”
This is still something I’m coming to terms with on a daily basis. Obviously there’s only so much you can do inside or outside of a class, within a semester, while you’re taking a handful of the most mentally grueling, thought and production intensive classes imaginable. But, still. In my head I’m always looking at a polished, finished, fully realized piece of work on display in some imagined gallery-type space. White walls. People quietly milling about. Curious but also very respectful of whatever project of mine they’re enraptured by. They give it plenty of space, but you can see in their eyes the need to play with it. So while no one’s looking, they do. And it holds up. Rock solid. No janky screws. Perfectly squared. If it’s a digital piece, maybe they somehow pull up the code. And it’s beautiful and concise and well organized.
But this isn’t the real world. Or, in any case, it’s not whatever ITP is. So I’m stuck doing the best I can. Improvising. Making it up as I go.
Everything’s a prototype.
It’s only been a week since we used the laser cutter. A week since I fell in like with it. I’ll admit, I’ve been daydreaming about accurate cuts, the precision, the perfectly straight lines, laser-light evenings alone in the shop. But like a fool, I was blinded by love. And got burnt. Metaphorically, at least.
I had picked up some wood off the street. The top of a wine box. I was going to laser cut some pieces for this week’s enclosure. But when I went to cut it, things went south pretty quickly. I had put masking tape on the face being cut (per that Instructables post) to prevent any smoke from marring the surface. Instead of working, the laser set the tape on fire. Then the wood. It just wasn’t going to happen. Everything’s a prototype.
Luckily someone had tossed a few really nice pieces of scrap wood. Long, slender. Cherry, maybe? They’re a bit reddish. I made some quick measurements and banged out a little box. Not perfectly squared. Everything’s a prototype.
A Magic Box
Next I went to the junk shelf to see what I could see. I took apart a DVD player and a fog machine for parts. From the DVD player I got an LCD screen and from the fog machine I got some cool switches. A concept was forming. Maybe some sort of automatic counting device or a mysterious smart box that knows the secrets of the universe (or your fridge or something).
I, rightly or wrongly, went back to the laser cutter to cut out spaces in the lid for these components. I screwed up here. I was in a rush. I didn’t measure properly. I didn’t calibrate the machine like I should have. But I got away with a couple nice cuts that were close to what I needed. Not perfect. (You might be expecting my new mantra to show up right here, but it doesn’t. Error on my part doesn’t fall into the Everything’s a Prototype category. I should have more patience. I know. I’m working on it.)
The components don’t connect to anything. Maybe the switch could, but the LCD would be tough. I’m not sure about any of the connections and I imagine it’d be painful to look up. If it’s even possible.
And so, it remains a conceptual object. Full of possibilities. It’s function: whatever amazing, wonderful, impossible thing you project on to it. Your own imagined prototype.