At the intersection of robotics, design, and art-that’s where you’ll find Eric Forman

Eric Forman came to Franconia from New York City as part of the FSP/Jerome Fellowship program. He was in-residence during the summer and returned for the beginning of the fall session to finish his installation. While here he built an interactive and responsive sculpture that detects and reacts to motion. Eric’s previous work exists at the intersection of fine art, design, and robotics.

Aside from being an FSP/Jerome Fellowship Artist, Eric teaches at Rhode Island School of Design, School of Visual Arts, and at Pratt Institute. He is a co-founder of BioArt New York and is part of New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

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 Eric Forman puts the final touches on Radioscape; Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hesse Photography

Once Eric put the finishing touches on Radioscape, he flew to Autodesk Pier 9 in San Francisco, California to serve as an artist-in-residence. Before he left, he sat down with the Program Assistant to share some insights into his artistic practice. Here’s what he had to say:

What is your creative process like when you’re making sculpture

It’s different for every piece. I usually have a long list of ideas that come to me, and when I decide to make one of them, I start out by dreaming and envisioning how it would look and feel in my head. I try to run through as many wild possibilities as I can without being concerned with how realistic it is. Then I start sketching and thinking about pragmatic things. My work almost always involves complicated interactive components so I start sketching not just how it will look but how it will work, then I usually jump right in to a heavy design phase where I’m looking at technical and fabrication stuff, still sketching. Then I usually try to build the small functional test with electronics or whatever unusual stuff is necessary, not paying attention to aesthetics, just seeing if it’s feasible at all. More importantly, however, is if it has a kinetic part, what the movement is like, if it has an interactive part what the interaction is like. If its quiet or energetic or slow or has a certain mood that I want. The testing and design phase usually lasts a long time. There’s a difference between making something that kind of works and something that really works- that is not only robust but elegant. It’s very difficult. It’s much easier to make something for a short term gallery exhibition than it is to make a public work like here at Franconia. Once I think I have something that works design-wise, then I go back to the aesthetic part and think about materials, colors, and spatial arrangement. Then I build it. And almost always after building a complete test of one part of the piece, I see that a lot of things I thought would work a certain way don’t, there’s always a surprise with something. Technical, aesthetic, or often with the conceptual part. It feels or looks differently than I thought it would-sometimes that’s good, sometimes its not-especially with interactive work, its always surprising how viewers interact with it. You can never predict. Sometimes its good, sometimes its not, so then I go in to the last phase, if I have time, I reconsider everything. So sometimes it will become a different project and I’ll redesign it.


In the studio, Eric built custom circuitry to add to antique tripods

Tell me about your project at Franconia. How does it relate to your past work?

Every project I do is very different from the others. Some are really small, and some are really big. But there are similar themes throughout that I think this piece also fits in to. One of them is about the interrelation and tension between nature and technology. And also the intersection of art and design. This piece for example also has a heavy design element and I like using the aspects of design that are related to minimal fabrication and intuitive interaction, where although there is a more complex conceptual underpinning, the first encounter with it is, especially in the public work, is very accessible. If the viewer thinks about it more, it’s still there, but it still offers something to someone who doesn’t have the background to do that. This piece also has to do with layers of technological and material history, the generational transitioning that various technologies take as certain things become “out-moded”, and often are thrown in to landfill. I like combining older stuff, and salvaged stuff with newer stuff. So in other work of mine, I also use natural materials and very old techniques like wood and woodworking combined with metal and machining and also combined with electronic and advanced microcontrollers and sensors, so this piece has all that. Like in this for example, the tripods are antiques salvaged wood tripods some of which are more than 100 years old but all the circuitry is custom made tiny stuff that is very new. Also one last thing about this piece that is like a lot of other stuff that I’ve done, it has an interactive component, but specifically tries to avoid gimmicky game playing feeling that you see in a lot of interactive work and is hopefully a little more quiet and meditative. The challenge is how to use the magical quality of what technology can offer, without becoming facile and ultimately superficial, something that doesn’t reward extended confrontation.

Why did you propose your project to Franconia? What did the experience of working here offer?

It was a chance to make something large scale outdoors and public, which is a great opportunity. That’s more difficult to do in New York City. I didn’t really know anything about Franconia, I had actually never heard of it before applying. It’s encouraged me to think bigger. There’s a lot of freedom here to try anything, but also a high standard about it actually working, which is good. By watching the types of visitors who come here and the general vibe, I have changed my piece a bit to make it simpler, because for many visitors it’s the first exposure to art. The jury is still out on whether it’s good or bad.

Installation Credit Melissa Hesse

Radioscape wiring during underground installation

Where did you study and whom did you study with? How have those experiences influenced your own work?

Well I studied philosophy, media theory and art history at Vassar for undergrad. And then went to ITP at NYU for my masters. It wasn’t until grad school that I started seriously becoming an artist. ITP is an experimental art and technology program. I had been interested in the intersection and ITP was the first grad program to offer that kind of thing in the world, so that place was a big influence on me. Everything else I’m totally self taught. At ITP you’re introduced to a lot of things, but if you really wanted to learn about it, you had to do it on your own. So the conceptual history of technology and art, they didn’t really offer that, they had no formal art critiques-you had to organize that yourself to make anything for real. I mean I’m still learning, still teaching myself. Its been about 12-13 years, I’m still learning. I never had any formal engineering background but you have to learn a lot of that stuff to do this kind of work. With every project I do something that I’ve never done before and that makes it incredibly painful and time consuming and frustrating but ultimately rewarding.

How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies you’ve completed?

Well there is a great community here, both the people I was lucky enough to be around who were here at the same time. Also I was here long enough to meet people from previous years here, and really got a strong sense of how the community of alumni is still very strong. It was a lot of fun living in the same house in the middle of everything. I had never done a residency that was in the middle of a public space with visitors constantly around you, that was a strange feeling, and difficult to work with, but one I think is important: to give the public a view of artists working, to demystify and inspire kids to make their own stuff.

Eric is a hard worker and his dedication really paid off. Radioscape has been a source of much entertainment for viewers of all ages. His knowledge of electronics is invaluable and he taught everyone at Franconia a thing or two about the way things work.


 A compilation photo of Eric’s proposal and his work in progress


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