MadeMill brings art and technology together in the Bayview Yards

Erin Kennedy demonstrates the robot she designed to clean trash on beaches. Kennedy works at the new artist residency at Bayview Yards, where artists explore the intersections of art and technology. Photo: Jacob Hoytema, Centretown News.

By Isaac Würmann

A new artist residency in Ottawa is encouraging artists to explore the intersection between art and technology.

The residency is run by MadeMill, the makerspace and advanced digital media lab at Bayview Yards, just west of LeBreton Flats. The technology and innovation hub opened last year.

Artists who participate in the residency have access to the range of cutting-edge technologies housed at MadeMill, including 3D printers, water jet cutters, and augmented and virtual reality systems.

“It’s going to help us collectively understand what we can accomplish here,” said Thomas Radford, MadeMill’s program manager, about the goals of the residency.

MadeMill works with businesses and entrepreneurs to develop new products and services and, Radford said, the residency will encourage their clients to think outside the box and to learn from the creative processes of the artists.

For the artists, Radford says the residency is a unique opportunity to use the tools and services in the makerspace to rethink what they do.

“We’re providing artists with the resources to explore, dive in, make mistakes, learn, grow and challenge themselves,” he said.

One individual taking advantage of these tools is Erin Kennedy, who began her residency on Feb. 6.

She is the CEO of Robot Missions, an enterprise that “helps the planet using robots.”

Robot Missions began about two years ago and has included “missions” such as building robots to help with shoreline cleanup, Kennedy said.

Although she said people have often asked her what her robots have in common with art-making, Kennedy sees a number of similarities.

“With art, you’re forced to change your perspective to understand what the piece is trying to communicate with you,” Kennedy said. “With robots, you’re forced to change your perspective to see how we can make humanity more efficient.”

During her residency, Kennedy said she will be designing a robot to help visualize debris that doesn’t get picked up during shoreline cleanups.

Using LED lights and long exposure photographs, she said the robot will use different colours to visually indicate when it picks up a piece of debris, so that it will “paint” a picture on the photo.

To help make these robots, she will be taking advantage of MadeMill’s water jet cutter, a tool that uses a pressurized mixture of water and an abrasive, sand-like substance to cut through materials such as metal.

“That’s not something that a lot places have, and something not a lot of places invite the public to be able to use,” she said.

Eric Chan demonstrates a 3-D sculpture he designed through computer coding. Chan works at the new artist residency at Bayview Yards, where artists explore the intersections of art and technology. Photo: Jacob Hoytema, Centretown News

It’s only natural for artists these days to incorporate technology into their craft, said Eric Chan, aka Eepmon, another local artist who began his residency on Feb. 6.

“Technology has become so pervasive into our day-to-day lives,” Chan said. “For people growing up in the Internet age, picking up a computer and doing something creative with it is second nature.”

Chan describes himself as a “digital artisan,” and his visual art ranges from playful and colourful prints, to a partnership with Canada Goose to produce a limited-edition parka whose inside lining is decorated with his art, to a 100 x 17 foot mural that reflects the “past, present and future of Canada’s innovation story” at the recently reopened Canada Science and Technology Museum.

He said he thinks that much of the “fine art” of the future will be created using digital technologies.

“Artists who are up-and-coming right now are naturally going to be using the tools of the time to create things.”

Although most of his art has been two dimensional, Chan said he hopes to use tools such as the 3D printers at MadeMill to create more sculptural works.

Kennedy and Chan’s residencies end on Feb. 27, and three more artists will participate in the program for the months of March, April and May.

As part of their residencies, each artist is also responsible for organizing a workshop to encourage youth to engage with their work.

Kennedy and Chan will host their workshop at the Canada Science and Technology Museum on Feb. 24. 

This story was produced in collaboration with Centretown News and Carleton University.

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