Sunday, January 29, 2012

building a blender at Alfred

Next on the tour was Alfred University, specifically the New York State College of Ceramics. I had contacted one of my favorite professors, Diane Cox, who just so happened to be teaching a course on the intersection between art making and sustainability. She loved the idea of having me out and, especially, of having the class build a blender together.

The trip from Albany to Alfred was actually a very familiar one, I’d done it dozens of times. But I’d become so used to being crammed onto crowded buses in Central America for 3 months that riding a greyhound was, by contrast, kind of bizarre. What with its (relatively) luxurious seating, a bathroom on board, and almost no one riding. It was confounding, how could this be profitable?

I came in late, stayed with some good friends in town, and then met up for breakfast with Diane and one of her seniors, a friend of mine, Sam Newman. Diane snagged Sam to help her get everything rolling, and together they did a fantastic job of gathering materials, and of setting up and promoting a small talk that I gave about the trip.

The talk went off well. A nice small crowd came out to hear about Maya Pedal, including some of my former professors. Good to see them, and to get them on the bike.

Diane’s class seemed pretty interested in building the blender and in the machines in general. We only had a few days to build it, but with everyone involved we got it done pretty quick.

(Unfortunately, I misplaced most of the process shots. So we’ll jump forward a bit.) Below is the rough skeleton of the frame sans components. We had several bikes at our disposal, and my memory is that some didn’t work so we had to find more.

This first mock-up, though, was a little too big. So one of the students, Matt Fendya, cut the downtube in half, moved the seat post closer in, welded in a top tube, and then made a clever adjustable seat. This was great for increasing the user accessibility of the machine. The seat, however, leans so far back, that an additional rear brace had to be put on the back.

One of my favorite touches was the appropriation of walmart shopping cart handle bars.

And also the tassles.

And here it is in its final state

And when all was said and done, we had a party at one of the students’ places. Margaritas, were in order. Unfortunately the blender wasn’t so great at chopping ice, so they were a little… chunky. Also, we were somehow missing the top of the blender, so we used some tinfoil, which worked. More or less.

There was some talk of getting the blender into the Moka Joka (the little coffee shop in the art building), I suspect it didn’t make it there though. The question of commercial kitchen quality came up, and uh yeah, this thing was not commercial kitchen quality.

After my departure, Sondra Perry, one of the students put together this video:

blender bike from Sondra R. Perry on Vimeo.

I’m really glad that this trip got put together, that I was able to talk to as many people as I was and able to get the word out about Maya Pedal. I was also really pleased that the learning was going both directions. Not having had any metal working experience prior to Maya Pedal it was great to work with students who had several years of experience. I definitely picked up some tricks I still use to this day.

Another piece that was interesting and instructive was having to relate to a group how to put one of these things together. And furthermore how to break up the tasks into roughly equal parts to keep everyone as engaged as possible. It was definitely a challenge in terms of gauging each persons skill level, speed, and motivation.

At the time I felt strongly that this was something that I would continue doing, or at least attempt to, perhaps even as a vocation. It was from the success of these few visits that I would eventually be convinced to try my luck on the west coast.

*I'd like to give a special thanks to the NYSCC Sculpture Department, Diane Cox, Sam Newman and the students of Art & Ecology for making this trip possible. I'd also like to thank the Alumni Association and Devin Henry for their photo-documentation.

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