Art & Technology pt. II: Ashley John Pigford

For anyone with a habit of taking things apart and forgetting how to put them back together, Ashley John Pigford can offer some inspiration. The accomplished artist, designer and musician remembers being “one of those kids” fascinated by the fundamental structures of everyday objects—a fascination that underlies his current approach to art and design. Today he is putting things back together in awesome ways that reveal what he describes as a “deep questioning of technologies, materials, language, and human nature” that continues to motivate his studio practice.

The Assistant Professor of Visual Communications at the University of Delaware works in a variety of media, from micro-electronics and physical computing to sculpture and letterpress, often combining disparate technologies in unexpected ways. An ongoing collaboration with artist Tricia Treacy, Vista Sans Wood Type Project the Vista Sans Wood Type Project seeks to explore the “interplay between venerable/archaic and experimental/modern technology in the effort to produce a hybrid form of typographic design where the production process is ingrained in the product.” The process begins with a digital file of a Vista Sans letterform, which is then fed into a CNC router (built by Pigford himself) that cuts a wooden letter for printing on a traditional press. Forging an aesthetic that merges the mechanical precision of CNC routing with the natural grain of wooden type, the resulting prints display a richness of quality that is characteristic of Pigford’s work.

“Every process and material provides opportunity for exploration of relationships—which is how meaning is interpreted. When you combine things that are not necessarily ‘meant’ to be together, new relationships are formed and new meaning can be construed.”

The Vista Sans Wood Type Project will travel to Yale University in April, the Belfast Print Workshop in August, and to DesignPhiladelphia this October.

Pigford frequently works with sound in his installations, videos and sculpture. His Audio-Visual Translation Software, created with Max/MSP/Jitter, converts data from video feeds into corresponding soundtracks based on key design elements such as luminance (tone), rate of change in frame (repetition), texture, color and contrast. Another Max/MSP-based project, the Sound Poetry Printer converts spoken sounds into text using an electric typewriter hacked with an Arduino micro-controller and supporting circuitry.

Sound Poetry Printer

When asked how he acquired his impressive array of skills in such a wide variety of media, Pigford remains humble and pragmatic.

“For the most part, I have learned digital tools out of necessity—because I want something to do something—which is how I expect most artists and designers do. Yet in the process of teaching myself something, other things emerge. This is the value of process in any form of art and design, and I consider digital technologies as another material, or tool, with which to sculpt an experience.”

Pigford’s sensitive approach to materials and process is evident in the many projects found on his website, www.ashleyjohnpigford.com. There you will also find his insightful writings on art, design and education, as well as a list of upcoming conferences and exhibitions.

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