Emmett Moore on the Role of Tech in His Space-Age New York Show
When International Space Station Commander Barry Wilmore needed a socket wrench last year, NASA quickly designed a digital model of the tool and essentially “emailed” the file to the space station, where it was 3D-printed. In a matter of days, the first object completely manufactured in space was born—and with it comes a fascination for the boundless areas technology is allowing us to reach.
This exchange sparked Miami-based artist and designer Emmett Moore’s curiosity, serving as a jumping-off point for his first New York solo exhibition, which opens at Patrick Parrish Gallery this week. Titled “IN–SPACE,” and organized in conjunction with Miami’s Gallery Diet, the show will feature a series of three tables and a collection of pendant and desk lights combining functional elements made of steel and maple with collages of 3D-printed objects—ranging from mechanical bits and gears to keys and paper clips that are playfully oversized to challenge our perceptions. The idiosyncratic assemblages conflate the distance between the digital and physical realms while creating a hybrid aesthetic—the tables are finished in gray, evoking the neutral hue of computer models—that draws connections between “the outside universe, our digital environment, and the inside space of a domestic interior,” as Moore himself explains. On the eve of the opening, we caught up with the designer to get more insight into his process behind these new works.
Artsy: How do you view the role of the designer in our technology-driven culture?
EM: I view my role as a designer as more of a composer. I don’t feel like it’s my duty to introduce new forms into the world, but to rearrange things that already exist and to incorporate new technologies. A lot of design only exists to market itself and I don’t see any redeeming value in trying to make products for the sake of making products.
Artsy: Your work often employs both digital techniques and traditional craft—what was your process like for these pieces?
EM: I always start with sketches. Sometimes the sketches are totally unintelligible until they become renderings, but I often move back into sketching for the looser approach. Before the object is fully designed I make prototypes and material tests. Then I start moving into final objects. Again, I often go back to modeling and prototypes after a final product is made. Every part of the process is crucial, so it’s important for me to always have a hand in the final, physical object.
Artsy: You used open-source engineering databases to source the models for the 3D-printed components. What is the reasoning behind this? How did you ultimately choose the models you worked with?
EM: I use objects that already exist in this immaterial realm that may or may not (yet) physically exist to enforce this idea that there is a world of objects that lives in an alternate space. I compiled the objects (including some of my own) over a period of a few months to create my own database to pull from. I was mostly looking for mechanical parts like nuts and bolts to give the impression of components coming together to make structures, but the functions of all the original models are subverted so the original function becomes irrelevant. When it comes down to it I’m selecting the objects based on their size, shape and visual interest, and ability to print. I am the ultimate decider of the scale, material, and function of these parts.
Artsy: The obstructed scale of the objects lends a surreal quality to the work—how did you make these kinds of decisions?
EM: The scale of the parts on the tables is based on the scale of the ‘found’ material I’m working with. The dimensions of the steel rod and maple components are all based on common dimensions of structural furniture members. They’re intended to look like they belong together while remaining uncanny. I chose a large bulb and larger printed parts for the pendant lights because there isn’t necessarily a point of reference for something hanging the middle of a room. Messing with scale in that case really distorts a sense of perspective.
Artsy: In the tables, the structural joints are replaced with a collage of 3D-printed mechanical parts—can you talk a little about this concept?
EM: The 3D-printed collage of mechanical parts becomes the mechanical part itself, with its own structural qualities and material integrity. For any tool to work it has to function with things that already exist. To understand the potential for technologies like printing there needs to be a link to traditional modes of construction.
Artsy: How did you envision the pieces within the gallery space?
EM: My plan is to address the whole space as if the objects are all floating. The tables will be at various heights on pedestals on the floor. The desk lamps will be on a shelf in the middle of the room and the pendant lights will be hanging at various heights throughout the room. This is all to enforce the idea of pulling from a space without restraints.