Back to the FAB lab

Another batch of maker projects goes up at the Fab Lab

At least 100 people worked on IFL’s LED ceiling installation, featuring 2,880 programmable squares of light.

At least 100 people worked on IFL’s LED ceiling installation, featuring 2,880 programmable squares of light.

Photo by Melanie MacTavish

The IFL Maker Showcase can be viewed during IFL's weekly open house, Thursday, 6:30-9:30 p.m., through June 22.
Idea Fab Labs
603 Orange St.

Idea Fab Labs occupies a former industrial warehouse near the railroad tracks. One might easily bicycle past the unadorned building without realizing that inside is a maze of work and exhibition spaces hosting an interactive community of makers, designers, artists, programmers and craftspeople utilizing some nifty high-tech equipment—such as a 3-D printer and laser engraver—to make works of art. As their Facebook mission statement says, IFL is “an open-source, community-driven facility for exploring the digital-fabrication techniques and technologies of modern maker culture.”

To explore what that statement could possibly mean or manifest, I attended this past weekend’s reception for the open-invitation IFL Maker Showcase, for which local makers were invited to innovate and experiment “across a variety of creative realms and to celebrate what makers do.”

The theme of this year’s showcase is “LED Maker Projects,” highlighting works incorporating programmable multicolored LEDs (light-emitting diodes), and the main exhibition hall has a variety of examples on display. I especially enjoyed Justin W. Smith’s “Sequoia Dimensions” (not for sale) a nearly 7-foot-long didgeridoo crafted from redwood and embellished with LEDs that synchronized emissions of multicolored light with the tonality of the musical instrument. The maker himself gave a short demonstration of its capabilities, and its droning, breath-powered sound filled the hall with resonances that felt as well as sounded simultaneously eerie and soothing.

John Dutro’s “Spectral Settlement” (at $2,000, the most expensive piece in the show) is a laser-etched chunk—about a foot long and 8 inches tall—of transparent selenite, a gypsum crystal that New Age healers suggest emits vibrations that can can help us get our emotional life under control and enable us to “create and intensify new seeds of consciousness.” Those are certainly great qualities for a night light or an element of interior decoration. Dutro’s piece is mounted on a rectangular, dark, wood base and is illuminated with a shifting spectrum of LED colors ranging from soothing blues and lavender to vivacious red and green, setting a calm mood as the light glows through its etching of an Escher-like cube motif that evolves into stylized forest and cliff designs at the edges.

Other LED-enhanced pieces include IFL co-founder Jordan Layman’s “Hop Cone Dodecahedron” ($300), a 12-sided “beer-inspired, psychedelic [hanging] lantern,” and Cody Taylor’s “Rockin’ Light Show” ($95). Taylor’s small piece featured LED lights projecting through quartz crystals mounted in an abstract setting that he created using a device called the 3-D Doodler, which allows the maker to “draw” in three dimensions.

By far the largest piece in the show is the IFL-created LED ceiling installation, which spreads 2,880 evenly spaced 4-inch square LED “pixels” across 1,600 square feet of ceiling space. Each square is programmed to work in unison with its 2,879 siblings to create constantly evolving patterns of multicolored light that subtly shift and spread across the gallery ceiling.

Not all of the participants employed LEDs in their creations. In the smaller entry gallery, just past a booth where a mixologist was crafting exotic cocktails, was “Annie” ($444), a painted portrait by Schuyler Willis depicting Chico founder John Bidwell’s wife in a ghostly Gothic mode. On the opposite wall hung Dragonboy 56’s “Satyr Party Barge” ($145), an assemblage of found objects including tiny human figures, giant LEGO pieces, chess pawns, model barber poles, a suitcase top and feathers all built into a “Mahakala dragon mask, to protect the temple and provide creative inspiration.” My favorites among the non-LED pieces were Daniel Beebe’s intricately symmetrical laser-etched wood panels, “Snake Eyes” and “In the Mind of the Eye” (each $180).

The reception also included vendors’ booths offering handmade objects for sale, including some wire-wrapped crystal creations by Beebe, and Devon “Earth Momma” Dorenzo’s handcrafted jewelry. As an added bonus, Dorenzo’s 8-year-old daughter, Annie, extended her mom’s booth by offering selections from her created-on-the-spot “Cute Little Animals Series” ($2 each), from which I selected the “Pink Pig and Butterfly,” a lovely and cheery composition that looks great on my refrigerator.

Whether you’re in the market for a unique piece of technologically crafted art or might enjoy viewing them, IFL is a fun excursion away from the mainstream galleries and literally into the workshop of those multifarious artisans calling themselves “makers.”