PDA Faculty Member Excited About New Fab Lab

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For Immediate Release
May 31, 2013

(Philadelphia, PA) This fall, there will be a new addition to the 6th floor of Sarah Peter Hall. And James Johnson, associate professor of Photography & Digital Arts, is pretty excited about it.

It’s called the “Fab Lab,” also known as a fabrication lab comprised of digital fabrication tools and equipment. It will be built in the space that is now the “alternative processes darkroom.”

Just in time for the new major in Interactive & Motion Arts, the Fab Lab will include a 3-D printer, laser cutter and engraver and digital embroidery machine.

“The idea is like the Print Center downstairs,” Johnson said. “It [the Fab Lab] will serve multiple purposes on campus. It will be truly interdisciplinary.”

For example, a digital embroidery machine can be used by both Fashion Design and Photography & Digital Arts majors. “You plug in an image and the machine converts it into stitches and breaks down the colors into the colors of thread,” Johnson said. “It embroiders that image like a robot.”

The initial idea for the Fab Lab came out of a fellowship Johnson completed last summer at NextFab Studio in Philadelphia, a membership-based, high-tech workshop and prototyping center where members can take classes to learn fabrication techniques. The specifics of the lab and how it will be utilized were developed collaboratively by a team of faculty and staff, Johnson said, including Zak Starer, a printmaking technician for Photography & Digital Arts. He will be the tech who runs the lab.

“We’re going to do a mini-version of NextFab at Moore,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he and the team are meeting with faculty about how to integrate the Fab Lab into the curriculum, including the first-year Foundation program.

“We’d like to train our first-year students so they can develop some fluency with the new technologies so that when they come to the upper level classes they can use these machines just like a paint brush or a camera. It will expand their skill set.”

Since his fellowship ended, Johnson has stayed on as a member at NextFab and will be working there this summer in preparation for his classes this fall.

“I want to come up with interesting ideas for how to use the laser,” he said. “It opens up all these new possibilities. It’s liberating and exciting and it allows you to be really innovative with how you produce your work, whether you’re designing a house or a garment or making an installation.”

Johnson recently exhibited a sculptural installation in Fiat Lux, a group exhibition of work by five Philadelphia artists at The Print Center, two of whom also teach at Moore – Stefan Abrams and Anna Neighbor. The exhibition explores photography and the potentials and shortcomings of the medium.

“All the work is about photography, but none of it is actual photography,” Johnson said. “People know me in Philadelphia as sort of a photographic artist because I studied photography and I teach here, but most of my work is sculpture and installation, not photography. It forced me to think about my relationship to the medium.”


Published on May 31st, 2013