IN THE MANUS X MACHINA SPIRIT
An Interview with Metal Machinist Sculptor Christopher Bathgate
Chris Bathgate is an American sculptor who constructs intricately machined metal sculptures in his machine shop of robotic tools and homemade equipment in Baltimore. A self-taught machinist, Bathgate has spent the last 15 years researching, designing, and building an extensive variety of metalworking tools and CNC machinery. He uses these tools to explore the interrelation between engineering and object making as it relates to art. his work has become a prominent example of a genre that leverages technology, both old and new, to find expression in unique and compelling ways.
Greatest inspirations or influences?
My influences are mainly contained within my practice and the world of machine work. I have spent many years studying, designing, and building many of my own robotic machine tools and that has had a profound effect on my approach to sculpture. I find creative concepts within engineering and design challenges, many of which naturally arise from my efforts to create my works.
Aside from that, I research various design traditions, both decorative and functional. I have a particular interest in areas that consider form and function collectively. Even though nothing I make is functional, I find that the psychology behind user interface design can be leveraged in interesting ways.
Product design is particularly fascinating to me because there is a strong push for aesthetic novelty, while maintaining the functionality of a given product. Many concepts from that vocation translate very well into building a highly engineered sculpture that can command a sense of purpose, yet reveal nothing about what that purpose might be.
Most interesting response to your art so far?
I am not much for superlatives, but a good example is that I was recently approached to collaborate on a project that pair’s artists with harpists. I am not sure how the final product will work yet, but essentially someone is creating musical accompaniment, specifically on the harp, to go along with visuals of my work and industrially intensive process.
The end result is set to play at the World Harp Congress in Hong Kong next year, a very interesting response to my work indeed.
What are some upcoming projects you are working on or would love the opportunity to do?
I always have a list of projects and sculptures I am working on. My level of funding determines how ambitious I can be. I am always applying for grants and other alternative sources of support to allow me to experiment with building new tools and develop new projects. I currently have a design for a 5 axis-milling machine that I would love to build, just sitting on a shelf waiting for a time when I can secure the resources. But that is just a part of life in the arts; ideas are always bigger than the cash flow.
Favorite websites, publications or social media handles?
Hmm, this is a tough one; I use different social media platforms differently.
- On Instagram I am currently following a lot of knife makers, watch builders, product designers and even a few gun modification artists. I don’t have a particularly strong interest in any one of these things, but it serves as an interesting window into design worlds and traditions that I am not a part of, and I find some great sources of inspiration there.
- Ello has also proven to be a great virtual space for artists to post in a more considered way. Originally touted as a Facebook killer, it has proven instead to be the social media site of choice for artists and designers. It is a very positive, if not much smaller community, one without all the noise and clutter of other sites. I follow a lot of graphic artists and photographers there.
- Other than that, Facebook is Facebook (a hot mess) and I am not too active on twitter as it does not serve visual artists very well.
My accounts for each are below:
- My personal website: http://www.chrisbathgate.com/
- Ello: https://ello.co/chrisbathgate
- Instagram: c_bathgate
- Twitter: @cbathgate
How long does each sculpture take to conceptualize and then to finalize design?
Some of my designs can take a year or more from conception to completion. Although occasionally an idea will hit me like a bolt of lightning, it is most common that I spend a great deal of time sketching out various engineering concepts, and then I actively combine and cross reference each of them until I find something that clicks both visually and conceptually. From there, the refinement and creation of the final work can take a few months.
In addition to building every single element in the sculpture from scratch, I often have to construct custom tools and equipment to as well. Sometimes the tools to perform a certain operation or cutting task just do not exist, and so one has to improvise and invent them. I document much of this in my technical drawings, which have become a great compliment to conveying the design process and engineering that underlies my aesthetic.
Do you plan on always using metal for your work, or are you open to try different mediums?
I have always been attracted to metal, it is dimensionally stable, which is important in precision work like mine, it also symbolizes permanence in a way that most other medium do not, so it is hard to beat. I certainly don’t want to limit myself; I am always open to alternatives. But if my experiments with building and using 3D printers (which are mostly plastics based) are an indication, I wont be switching anytime soon.
My experiences with the look and feel of plastic have been very disappointing; you just cannot get the same presence for an object, even if the geometry is the same, using plastics. So for now, I am sticking with metals.
Anything else you'd like to share?
On August 1st, I will be having an exhibition at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC Link here more details will be posted as they emerge. And of course, for anyone who wants to follow my work via mailing list, you can sign up here