Interview with an Artist
Joseph Choma is a student in Design and Computation at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. He will present a special exhibit, “Design for the Ideal Polling Booth,” at the second floor of the MIT Museum from Saturday, 4/24 to Sunday, 5/2. He will personally be available for discussion by his exhibit on the second floor of the MIT Museum on Sunday, April 25th, from 1PM to 3PM. I recently got the chance to have an e-mail interview with Joseph, and here’s some of what we talked about.
Christine: Tell me about your project.
Joseph: The project is called, Design for an Ideal Polling Booth. Its intent is to provoke thought and awareness on how easy it is for us to take seemingly little things like a “polling booth” for granted. The act of voting was once a fiercely aggressive act, which did not always take place within a polling booth but sometimes at a public polling place. During the 1800s, it was normal for violent disputes to ignite at these public events. Optimistically there is a hope that by expressing the polling booth’s significance, people may walk away from the exhibit with a more serious stance on voting, and learn to appreciate their rights.
Christine: What are the best features of your polling booth?
Joseph: The best features resonates on the surface experience. A surface can have a texture, but at some point if that texture extends far enough out into space, it’s depth is no longer perceived as a two dimensional, but rather it becomes a spatial threshold boundary. This polling booth defines a threshold boundary with quills or spikes that radiate around a common center point. This pushes a viewer to step away from the booth while increasing the personal space and comfort for the individual voting inside. Architecturally, it sets a bound between the viewer and the user.
Christine: What was the most frustrating part of working on this project?
Joseph: It was particularly difficult to translate my digital design into a physical structure. Parametric design software doesn’t care how many unique modules your design has or what physical material the design is composed of. In the end I realized perhaps it is better not to just try to recreate what I have designed in the computer as accurately as possible but rather to re-look at the project through the lens of the physical material. MIT Professor George Stiny describes a design process where you can embed anything that you see without being constrained by memory or a fixed universe. I tried to limit my digital bias and memory, so instead, I asked the material: what can it do? what does it want to be? and how does it want to be formed? This led me to an unusual hybrid fabrication process which combined digital fabrication connection accuracies with handcraft material manipulations.
Christine: Where did you get your project idea from?
Joseph: When I began working on this project the polling booth concept wasn’t even in my mind. I began by “playing” with a buckyball. I drew diagonal lines off the circle’s center points, and then I suddenly tried extruding those curves to a point. I realized that I had created a form of volume packing structure, and this gave me the idea to try to embed other forms into the system. I went on to pack vaults into the structure, having them radiate around a common center point. By embedding vaults into the structure it redefined the exterior boundary with what appeared to be spikes or quills.When I began to translate the digital design into the physical world, the definition of vaults became dropped and instead it became about making literal spikes. At some point, when I was trying to understand what this strange space could be, I decided to reposition it as an art piece, calling it a “Polling Booth” brought new intellectual content to the piece – like when the artist Marcel Duchamp labeled a urinal as a fountain.
Christine: What lies ahead for this project?
Joseph: This piece began to spark a notion that the inner boundary and the outer boundary of a surface could each define their own formal figure due to the project’s unique “spikes.” By defining that formal figure not even within the depth of its own surface thickness but rather within the illusion of thickness by having geometric texture become spikes is still an interesting concept to me. The fabrication process of using digital technologies to help control hand crafted connection accuracies still excites me as well. I began the fabrication techniques at the object scale and now at the installation scale, and next I would like to prototype at the architectonic scale (e.g. create a larger-scale model). I am also interested in composite materials as well as partially fixed and flexible molds.
Christine: What is your favorite project that you’ve ever worked? Why was that your favorite project?
Joseph: My favorite project is always the project I am currently working on, because if it wasn’t why would I be working on it?The next project I work on should be “better” than the last, or at least that’s my hope.
Christine: What advice would you give for someone wanting to go into design?
Joseph: In order to design you need constraints. Tools influence the way in which we design. This influence should not be obsessed about but you should also be conscious of the limitations of the medium. An individual should use the constraints of a tool as a mechanism to generate new unpredictable ideas. Don’t try to preconceive a vision in its entirety, have faith in the medium you are exploring, and stay open minded.Be patient, keeping making and looking.