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At the Intersection of Physical and Digital

NextFab member, Dickie Cox, is a “transmedia artist, designer, and creative technologist”. If you asked him what that means, you wouldn’t be the first person to do so. Depending on the circumstance, his answer could be any number of things. Working with light, sound, structure and the places where they meet, both physically and digitally, his “doing” in whatever form it takes, always results in evocative, experiential art.

Dickie Cox with his digital art made at NextFab
Dickie Cox, Photo Credit: Jeremy M Lange

Dickie is currently partnering in a two-man show installing at SPECTRE Arts in Durham, NC that opens July 21st. The show is called “Go Play: Mixed Reality, Abstraction, and the Interpersonal.” Dickie’s interactive design for the show includes animation and fabrication of pieces which include sensor-based interfaces, LED matrix, video projection mapping and augmented reality prints.

Essentially, NextFab is my creative studio, workshop, and assembly space. I am so thankful for the folks here and having a cooperative studio to do this work.

Dickie explains, “Like most designers/makers these days, I have a hundred interests and hobbies and I am constantly dabbling with new techniques, materials, and processes.” A lifelong musician and storyteller, Dickie studied animation and filmmaking in college and later taught himself computer coding and basic electronics. When these skills spilled over onto physical objects, a spark was ignited, “Back in 2012, I started tinkering with digifab and it was the first time that I built things in physical space and I fell in love with making things for the real world. I was hooked on the feeling of solving design challenges and mulling over logistics to bring something from a thought to fruition.”

Connecting to our Natural Interface

Dickie shared his process in creating the pieces for the SPECTRE Arts show.

The first of the pieces in the show is titled Hex Light Matrix. Hex Light Matrix is an interactive, wall-hung, hexagonal matrix. Building the display required utilizing NextFab departments to their fullest from CAD to vacuum forming.

"Hex Light Matrix" wall art tiles by Dickie Cox
“Hex Light Matrix” Photo Cred. Dickie Cox

“Hex Light Matrix is a social interactive wall surface installation. It makes use of objects, projection, and software protocols for its interface and interaction. I fabricated the HIPS hexagonal forms in the following order at NextFab: 1) designed in Rhino, 2) woodblock milled on the Shopbot CNC, 3) thermoformed HIPS using the milled form on the vacuum former. The sensor array uses Arduino, ultrasonic distance sensors, and XBee mesh network radios to control a sketch in Processing. I worked on the sensor array in the electronics lab and made the cases with the Universal laser cutter. Processing is piped in MadMapper which is my projection mapping software. The software runs on a Mac Mini.” 

Dickie Cox working at NextFab's makerspace
Programming the Hex Light Matrix, Photo Cred. Jeremy M Lange

I feel like the world is starting to feel a collective screen fatigue and digital assets/experiences are necessarily having to find ways to merge with the physical world as parts of our senses (which I call our natural interface).

Playing with Light and Sound

The second installation is titled Playlights and is a series of colorful, interactive lamps that respond to sound.

Interactive lighting art made at NextFab makerspace
Playlights, Photo Cred Dickie Cox

Dickie explains, “I used the Universal laser cutter to prototype and fabricate panels. Experimented and prototyped in the wood shop to build the design. The current design is still a prototype as I work towards a final form hopefully making use of cast concrete. The electronic innards use Arduino, electret sensor, and NeoPixels which I worked on in the electronics lab. I am hoping to finalize the floor model of this luminaire as well as a smaller, tabletop model, and wall sconce and move all of them into a low-volume production.”

Augmented Art

Hidden Layer (I-V) is a series of limited edition Giclée prints with augmented reality (AR) layer using the Layar mobile app. The Layar app., when used with the AR print, allows additional information to be super imposed over the print. It’s like X-Ray glasses for your phone, revealing hidden information in the way of additional images, video or animation.

Augmented reality artwork made at NextFab makerspace
Hidden Layers (I-V) Photo Cred Jeremy M Lange

Dickie explains, “In this series, I am interested in exploring the idea of imbuing physical objects with digital auras in the context of on-going discourse of art in the age of mechanical and digital reproduction. Only four prints of each of the five plates in the series were editioned. Each print has a unique AR animation only available to the holders of the prints. The digital content is made available via the Layar AR platform. The prints were completed on the Epson Stylus 9900 at NextFab.”

Tech Driven Human Interaction

Dickie’s work is on the cutting edge of multi-dimensional, tech driven, experiential art. A big influence on his work is the Santa Fe, NM based arts collective Meow Wolf. Meow Wolf has received international acclaim for their immersive art experiences. Dickie muses,”Meow Wolf is so seriously my jam. I lived in Albuquerque for five years. In 2011, I saw Meow Wolf’s The Due Return show at CCA [Center for Contemporary Art] and it changed my perspective on art and life.” Dickie is working towards building experimental, game-like narrative experiences, digital and physical, in public spaces.

Although technology plays a large part in Dickie’s work, the human interaction is really his medium. “My hope is that people will stop using phones and devices as protective shields to avoid people. I want strangers to not be afraid of making eye contact and small talk. I want them to let down their guard a little and express curiosity and wonder together,” he says.

Explore more of Dickie’s process and see how other NextFab members are sharing their physical projects with the digital world.