Conception

In the first week, as the syllabus was introduced, it was suggested that we conceive an initial idea for a final project which might utilise the full scope of the techniques covered in the course. This seemed a little daunting, as some of the processes we'd cover in the later weeks were completely new to me.


Given how much time HTMaA was going to take up, I wanted to come up with something that would cohere with my research in the studio. It would also need to be a construction, ideally involving digital and moving mechanical elements. In my current project, I've been exploring ideas around parasitism: systems which attach themselves to others, or appropriate elements of other bodies or environments for their own proliferation. Parasites are structurally interesting because they are often quite simple things; without their hosts, they are incomplete. I've been interested in questions of metabolism: how does the parasitic relation figure as a social and energetic interaction? After all, feeding is a social interface, especially if it's off of one another.

Proof of Steak

I arrived at a possible project, more of a one-liner than a piece of work: a tank containing a bitcoin mining rig (essentially a couple of GPUs running intensive calculations) submerged within an oil-based cooling system, which gets warm enough (around 60C) to cook meat in the manner of a sous-vide, titled 'proof of steak'. for some time now I've been interested in blockchain protocols and the amount of energy they consume. bitcoin, for example, is projected to use as much energy as a small nation by the end of this decade, because it runs on a 'proof of work' algorithm which essentially involved brute-forcing a very difficult calculation. it takes a lot of energy to run a decentralised system; perhaps trust is a byproduct of heat. 'proof of stake', meanwhile, is a possible (though yet untested) alternative.

3D Drawing

Whether or not I actually end up making this particular project as the weeks wear on, I proceeded with this week's assignment of modelling the thing in a few different kinds of 3D software. The first I tried was Antimony, a simple but quite powerful node-based programme which Neil described using some technical terms I can no longer recall but I am assured that it uses a rather different kind of mathematics to conventional modelling tools. My current design is as simple as can be: the GPU shared the tank with the beef, which is hooked on a small winch which can raise or lower it out of the bath, perhaps according to a timer. In an ideal world, there would be an automated mechanism for vacuum packing and un-packing the meat before and after the cooking process. One for the weeks to come, perhaps.

I also modelled the project in cinema 4D, with which I'm a little familiar. It renders very nicely with but is really more geared towards making animations. My favourite software to use was probably Autodesk's Fusion 360, which seems like a pretty good all round package for CAD work. It's clunky and quite frustrating at times, but it is at least intuitive to learn; plus, apparently the industry is moving towards packages like Fusion. I admit I tried freeCAD but found the interface quite challenging - it might be worth learning if I have more time in future.

Gary Zhexi Zhang 2017.