Artist-In-Residence Brittany Ransom Creates 3D Objects that Question Society
April 24, 2018
by Naomi Okuyama
At the Camera Obscura Art Lab the City hosts artists who come in to work and teach for fourteen-week residencies. We sat down to interview spring artist-in-residence Brittany Ransom who utilizes 3D printers alongside traditional sculptural practices to create objects that interrogate the form and function of society and nature. Ransom is in residence along with artist Kate Ingold (read Ingold's artist-in-residence interview). Ransom will be teaching a variety of workshops from May to July in 3D Printing, LED Greeting Card-Making, Micro Imaging, Plaster Body Casting, Two-Part Moldmaking and Wearable Circuitry while she continues her own studio project Well Real Estate Is Always Good As Far As I’m Concerned. Reservations for the workshops can be made via Reserve Santa Monica (account required).
Brittany and Kate’s final joint show will take place on Saturday July 28 from 3-6pm at the Camera Obscura Art Lab. All are invited to attend this free event which will showcase their new work.
We asked Brittany about her use of technology and biological materials, as well as how teaching influences her work:
Question: Your work traverses traditional and new practices in sculpture. What is it like to go between something age-old – clay for example, and working with lasers, computer imaging and a digital (hurry up and wait) workflow?
Brittany Ransom: Evolving technology has always been at the forefront of my artistic, educational, and professional career. While I am interested in emergent technologies and systems, it is imperative that my work maintains a connection to traditional sculptural techniques. Much of my work relies on the use of wood, plastic, metal, and foundry processes, and these materials and methods bring a sense of tangibility to the work. I simply see and approach digital fabrication technologies as a tool and material within my practice the same way that I approach traditional materials and methods. I think there is an assumption that using computer-aided systems brings quick perfection, but it couldn’t be more opposite. For me, working with digital software and tools requires the same type of dedication to skill and technique as working with most other materials. While the computer and computer-aided tools can do amazing things and initial results come sometimes quicker than analog processes, they still require a significant amount of time to process, assemble, and prototype. I really see my use of these tools as a collaborative one that continually adjusts for the digital tool’s limits.
Q: The title of the project you’re working on during your residency at the Camera is intriguing – can you tell us about it?
BR: The title of my new project, “Well Real Estate Is Always Good As Far As I’m Concerned,” is a quote from 45 [President of the United States Donald Trump -editors] prior to the election. This is an in-progress project utilizing a digitally fabricated wood composite city constructed for the consumption / destruction by a colony of live termites. The entire city will be comprised of real estate that has ties to 45. Currently this includes 33 notable locations (this number may change) that I am 3D modeling based on images and information from google maps. In its planned final form, the city will include small scale building models that reference famous high-rise structures, a university, golf course, skating rink, restaurants, and performance centers that all refer back to 45’s real estate portfolio. This project is currently in its infancy; I’m creating the 3D models for each real estate structure through modeling software. After the buildings are modeled computationally, they will be 3D printed. After that I’ll make a mold of each city block and ultimately cast them in a custom wood composite material allowing for the city to become a habitat and meal for a small colony of termites. The city will be contained within its own acrylic dome with proper considerations for the livelihood of the colony to complete the habitat. The dome is meant to reference the 1998 movie The Truman Show, a satirical science fiction movie where the main character is adopted and raised by a corporation trapped inside of a simulated television show. It’s intended to reference our current political climate and its rise to arguable popularity and power through network television. The city will be monitored by a live web camera feed that will track the activity of its inhabitants.
Q: You pointedly mentioned you won’t be bringing termites into the building (thanks!), but what can you tell us about working with biological subjects?
BR: What interests me the most about insects is their innate ability to form networks, communities, lines of communication, and often a transcendence of communication and strategy that humans often try to emulate for various reasons. I see so many connections between their societal structures and the network of the internet for example (hive mind). I recently wrote briefly about these ideas and about a project called “Tweet Roach” in The Rutledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture, edited by Charissa Terranova and Meredith Tromble.
I have a specific interests in “pest” species in particular. I find there to be a strong metaphorical connection with insects as pests and the human race existing as one of the most widespread pest species on earth. Much of my more recent work explores these ideas through interactive sculptures and installations that ask viewers to consider their role as a pest and or similarities to what we as human beings consider to be pests.
Q: You’re both an artist and an experienced instructor – and currently head of the Sculpture Program at Cal State Long Beach. How does pedagogy influence your artistic practice?
BR: My pedagogical and research/artistic practices are very much interwoven. At California State University Long Beach, I primarily teach Digital Fabrication and Electronics/Kinetics courses. Teaching in the digital age in which we exist calls for the insertion of a process of recurring assessment both of my students’ progress and my curricula and practices as an educator. As technology rapidly changes so does my curriculum as well as my own practice. Because of these rapid shifts, teaching and my own artistic production become very reflective of one another. I encourage my students to think of technology as a tool/material/process rather than a magical device or software that is a cure all for making things quickly. My main objective as an educator is to encourage students, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, to become active, autonomous, and critical contributors to their chosen field. I strive to inspire my students to explore alternative perspectives, consider potential developments beyond popular trend, and to actively question aesthetic, conceptual, and theoretical choices through critique in the same way that I do within my own work. I have taught students who are future engineers, graphic designers, industrial designers, computer scientists, and artists who are all utilizing materials in different ways towards building their own portfolios. I am committed to the exploration and development of experimental art forms while constantly calling to traditional practices and historical contexts, believing firmly in the importance of conceptual framework regardless of the tool-set. That’s something that is true in both my own work and in the classroom.
About Brittany Ransom
Brittany Ransom is an artist and educator living in Long Beach, California. Ransom is the recipient of numerous awards and grants including the competitive Workshop Residency in San Francisco (2016), the Arctic Circle Research Residency (2014), University Research council and Instructional Technology Grant Awards (2013-2014), and the prestigious College Art Association Professional Development Fellowship (2011). Her work was exhibited in Berlin as part of Transmediale 2017, and recently in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas. Ransom served as the 2017 SIGGRAPH Studio Chair and will serve as the 2019 SIGGRAPH Art Gallery Chair, both in Los Angeles. She received her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Electronic Visualization from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University with a concentration in Art and Technology. Ransom is currently serving as the Program Head of Sculpture/4D and is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture + New Genres at California State University Long Beach. As a member of the faculty of the College of The Arts, she works within the sculpture area and specializes in 3D computerized production / digital fabrication and physical computing / kinetics. Prior to living in Long Beach, California, Ransom was the Assistant Professor of Digital / Hybrid Media at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Ransom is half african american and italian / german and was born and raised in the small city of Lima, Ohio. More at brittanyransom.com.
About the Camera Obscura Studio Artist Residency Program
Presented by Santa Monica Cultural Affairs at the Camera Obscura Art Lab, the program connects the public with artists and artisans working within and between the worlds of fine art and craft. Artists-in-residence share their work with the public informally and through workshops and master classes. If you're an artist interested in receiving alerts about this program and other opportunities with the City of Santa Monica's Cultural Affairs Division, join the Artist Opportunity email list. See Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Current Calls For Proposals.