I imagine a future where furniture and other household objects are manufactured within the community using digital fabrication tools and sustainable materials. Localized manufacturing avoids the single-use plastics of packaging and wasteful energy consumption of shipping items across the world. - CN
Cody Norman is a designer, self-taught engineer and self-proclaimed nerd, currently completing his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art.
His work focuses on perceptions of automation and human capital through the use of industrial robots, 3-D printing, and handheld extrusion tools. Underlying his love for digital fabrication tools is his hope to build a sustainable future, harnessing technology to manipulate recycled plastics and other materials into bespoke and production design.
We feel very fortunate to have met Cody at a turning point in his career, just completing a fellowship with Ballard International, Cody has spent the summer outfitting and re-programming a manufacturing robot (himself!) to produce elegant and surprisingly organic forms.
We are thrilled to present new work from Cody, produced during his fellowship with Ballard, in our season opening exhibition: What is the Future of Furniture? | Part I and sat down to discuss his thoughts on the future of furniture, his practice and just how he fell in love with robots anyway.
NS: Beginning in the fine arts, how did you make the progression to design?
cn: I started at SAIC (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) as a painter but fell in love with making 3-dimensional, functional objects in my first year. I ended up splitting my time between the Sculpture and Designed Objects departments. I found that the design process allowed me to iterate through my ideas and create functional objects that could also operate in an art context.
NS: What is the focus of your practice?
cn: I work with digital fabrication tools in nontraditional ways. My work focuses on perceptions of automation and human capital through the use of industrial robots, 3-D printing, and handheld extrusion tools.
NS: engaging digital fabrication, How do you achieve that elusive hand-crafted aesthetic?
cn: My current work, Pattern:Noise, is a series of objects that explores the affordances of industrial robots and 3D printers. The robot starts by “weaving” a distinct 2D pattern above a mold. Gravity pulls the material around the mold and introduces an element of noise to the design. This process allows these machine-made objects to have an almost hand-crafted aesthetic.
NS: Your work seems to span a pretty broad range of materials…Do you have a favorite material?
cn: At the moment, I am interested in materials that can be extruded and manipulated using robots and 3D printers. My background and skill set are quite broad, though, and to be honest, I just like to make things. I also enjoy metal casting, robotic milling, and mold-making; as you can imagine, the possibilities for materials are endless, and that is really exciting to me.
My favorite materials are composite bioplastics that have the look and feel of another material, like cork or iron, but are really just made of dust particles from that substance mixed with a bioplastic binder.
NS: How does the place in which you work shape your practice?
cn: Detroit has the most robots per capita in the country due to the automotive industry, and this was a deciding factor in attending Cranbrook for my MFA. Before moving here, I had only dabbled in robotics, but I knew that robotic arms were the next step for pushing my work in both scale and concept. Luckily, I connected with Justin Ballard at Ballard International, who provided a Kuka KR210 robot and a space in which I could experiment with it. This is an opportunity that I can’t imagine happening in many other cities.
Ns: What do you think is the future of furniture?
cn: I think that designers need to be conscious of the objects they are putting into the world, their lifespan, and their carbon footprint. I imagine a future where furniture and other household objects are manufactured within the community using digital fabrication tools and sustainable materials. Localized manufacturing avoids the single-use plastics of packaging and wasteful energy consumption of shipping items across the world.
NS: Just how did you get so into robots anyway?
cn: I’m a huge fan of science fiction and grew up watching Star Wars, Terminator, and the Short Circuit series. I love the relationship between R2-D2 and C-3PO and tend to attribute names to the tools that I’m working with. I hope to one day have a real R2-D2 as my assistant in the studio.
View Cody’s work in What is the Future of Furniture? PART I | Opening September 14th 7-9P