UVic’s Digital Fabrication Lab the first of its kind in North America

UVic is once again leading the pack with the creation of the Digital Fabrication Lab (DFL). A collaboration between the Department of Visual Arts and the preexisting Maker Lab in UVic’s Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, the DFL is the first of its kind to encompass the arts and humanities in North America. Additionally, no university or college in North America yet has a computer numerical control (CNC) lab in the humanities, meaning the DFL is the first humanities facility of its kind on the continent.

It's early days for the DFL in Visual Arts

It’s early days for the DFL in Visual Arts

“There are far-reaching effects for this type of technology in just about everything we do,” says Department of Visual Arts chair Paul Walde. “Photography was the first area where there was almost a complete paradigm shift towards digital, and we’re now seeing digital technology move into every aspect of visual arts production. This represents a way for us to move forward not only with new sculptural techniques and projects but also printmaking and even certain kinds of painting.”

The DFL will include CNC routers, an industrial grade 3D scanner, a laser cutter, a milling machine, and 3D printers, together with various machining tools. “Visual Arts is a leader in material practices and material culture,” says Walde, who notes they already have extensive workshops and the necessary support staff to expand into this area. “We have purpose-built facilities for the safe handling and research of these applications. It’s a perfect fit for us . . . it’s an investment in the future.”

Materials for making a small solenoid (photo: Maker Lab)

Materials for making a small solenoid (photo: Maker Lab)

The Maker Lab at UVic, housed in the Technology Enterprise Facility, is a collaborative space of new techniques and old technologies involving the invention of imaginative and often outsized revisions of objects that don’t always exist in the world. Because its research is innovative, multi-faceted and occasionally intangible, it does not easily fit a simple definition.

The lab is inspired by experimental art, design and D.I.Y. cultures. The inter-disciplinary research team from UVic English, CSPT and Visual Arts includes faculty as well as undergraduate and graduate students who use physical computing and digital fabrication for cultural research.

The lab was launched in September 2012, under the leadership of director Dr. Jentery Sayers, an assistant professor, English and CSPT, with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada Foundation for Innovation and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund.

Sayers describes the Maker Lab as an “intersection of cultural criticism and comparative media studies with computation, prototyping, electronics and experimental methods. Its design is anchored in blending a humanities research lab with a makerspace—a design that affords its team of students and faculty opportunities to build projects through various modes of ‘knowing by doing,’ such as programming, markup, new media production, data modeling, 3D printing and circuit design.”

The lab’s research will ultimately “inform policies on the ethics, distribution, licensing and derivation of 3D objects,” says Sayers, policies which currently do not exist in Canada. The lab also trains students in physical computing and desktop fabrication in non-STEM fields. Sayers points out that fabrication and physical computing are popular in STEM fields, but are virtually unknown in the humanities.

Paul Walde (photo: Times Colonist)

Paul Walde (photo: Times Colonist)

The Maker Lab and DFL are two of several initiatives at UVic—including the Humanities Computing and Media Centre (HCMC); Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL); Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE); Modernist Versions Project (MVP); Internet Shakespeare Editions; Map of Early Modern London; and the annual Digital Humanities Summer Institute—which continue to position the university at the forefront of digital humanities.

“I’m very excited about it,” says Walde about the DFL and this new Visual Arts collaboration with Humanities. “I can’t wait to see what the possibilities are with this equipment. That’s usually what gets the imagination stirring.”

—Tara Sharpe, with contributions by John Threlfall

This story was originally published in a longer form in UVic’s Ring newspaper

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