Interview with Joel Frank - FCL's new Prototyping and Fabrications Manager

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Nataly, Jason and the team at Future Cities Lab are thrilled to announce that Joel Frank has accepted the position of, "Prototyping and Fabrication Manager". After working with us for close to a year, Joel will now officially manage our prototyping and fabrication shop and staff in San Francisco. Joel is an accomplished artist in his own right and brings an impressive range of experiences to our growing team of designers and fabricators.     

FCL: What are your past experiences working as a fabricator?
JF: Growing up on a vineyard in Oregon I was always in and out of wood shops building the doodads and patches for the farm. Through undergrad and graduate school, the tinkering extended to metal shops, print shops, painting studios, and anywhere creative stuff was going on. It turns out, creative stuff is going on all over so for many years I traveled working from place to place: in Norway as an artist’s assistant, in Umbria teaching fresco painting, in Japan at a furniture factory. I worked on Griffin printing presses at a non-profit studio in Portland, and taught painting and design at UC Santa Cruz then recently ceramics at Mills College in Oakland. Over the last few years, my interests have expanded to processes of making that include technology driven methods of fabrication and computer assisted design so I’m happy to be entering the the era of robot arms and omniscient tools with Future Cities Lab.

FCL: Is there a particular artwork - from any period - that you admire most? Why?

JF: Well, I don’t know if I would call it my favorite or would be able to single one out but I was recently very moved by James Turrell’s piece in Naoshima, Japan. It’s the opposite of tech-forward and really isn’t anything but light and atmosphere but for that reason, as a builder, I find it important to stay rooted in the fundamentals. Light shapes everything from the initial design concept to the physicality of a final object. So rudimentary considerations of light are fascinating to me.

(Spoiler alert: the following describes the piece) 
At Turrell's piece, you are led into a building that starts with switchback walls so no light reaches the inner room; you can’t see your hand in front of your it’s so dark. As you stumble in, you’re then asked to feel your way to benches and sit. For 20 minutes or you sit there in complete silence and  in complete darkness. Eventually over that span of time, the lights in the room slowly brighten to a purple glow and the contours of the room become visible until by the end you can plainly see the space and people around you. Then the docent that led you into the room appears and tells you that the lights have not changed since you entered the room. “Your eye’s have merely adjusted, you may stand up and freely exit the room”. 

I found this so impressive because the piece did nothing, it was just the creation of an environment where you got to do so much. In that darkness, you could actively gauge a shift in your own perception. It felt like Turrell was trying to say if you change the way see, you can freely get up and walk out of a place that you stumbled into with such difficulty before.

FCL: What are your favorite techniques or materials to work with?

JF: Right now working on Lightweave at FCL has me deep into metal bending and the naked beauty of welding. So as cliche as it is for welders to be all about the “bead”, I have to say, I’m pretty into that rainbow bead of a nice stainless steel weld. In my own work I am a painter turned large-scale ceramicist so I love the versatility of color and texture there but I’m starting to merge that with metal. Combining the cold calculation of steel with the colorful organicism and tactility of ceramics is like putting high drama debate of our age, artificiality meeting humanity. I’m into that. 

FCL: Tell us about your own art practice? 

JF: As I mentioned, my practice is centered around ceramics. I am interested in taking the medium which is typically relegated to quaint cups and bowls to a large, architectural scale. I’m trying to push the concept of modularity so I can make the work breath, expand and contract based on the space around it. The ceramic components are generally paired with metal armatures that form the basis for a narrative that speaks to synthetic spaces and objects meeting the more whimsical organic ceramic forms. 

FCL: Thanks Joel!!!

You can follow Joel's personal Instagram account here!