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Fusing art and technology

The Fuse Factory. Columbus, OH. Photos Ben French
The Fuse Factory. Columbus, OH. Photos Ben French
It's not easy to define the The Fuse Factory, and that seems to be by design. Founded by Dr. Alison Colman, this Columbus-based electronic and digital arts lab weds technology and art in ways that surprise and challenge convention. The results reflect the far-flung interests of a leader degreed in painting, new media and computer graphics, and who counts digital animation among her loves.

Though it's been around since 2007, The Fuse Factory doesn't yet have its own space. Instead, it works with like-minded organizations including The Columbus Idea FoundryWild Goose Creative and Transit Arts to offer events, classes, exhibits and competitions across the city.

"I saw The Fuse Factory as a place where people could come and look at art in digital and electronic media. It's not well understood and lot of people look at it as eye candy, focusing on the technology without seeing the artistic merit. I also saw it as an educational space where people could learn about the different technologies that artists used to make their work. I wanted to demystify it for them," Colman explains of her reasons for creating the nonprofit.

The Fuse Factory brings together a mix of professionals, hobbyists, tinkerers and students, driving their creativity in the areas of music, film, robotics, photography, computer software, instruments, electronics, animation and more. It's an unusual mix, and a type of artistic experimentation that you find more often in Europe or cities like Chicago and New York, Colman says.

"There aren't many things like this in the states; it's fairly unique," she says. "Most of the people involved are professionals in a range of fields."

Colman moved from Chicago to Columbus where she attended college at Ohio State University. Here she met and married her husband, who works at Ohio State, and the couple decided to stay in the area. Colman's educational background shows her varied interests. She has a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburg, and a Masters and PhD in art education from Ohio State, affiliated with the Advanced Computing Center for Arts and Design.
The Fuse Factory's Board, too, draws from a wide range of backgrounds. There are representatives from eTech Ohio, Ohio Dominican University, Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing at OSUColumbus State, and Rescentris Inc., a paperless scientific data management company.

"There is a lot of camaraderie and working together. That was part of my vision, seeing people working together from different disciplines with technology as their common ground," Colman says.

The organization's signature event is Ignition, an annual juried exhibition for art and technology exhibition that attracts artists from across the Midwest and northeast. Ignition is entering its fifth year, and each year centers on a new theme. The Ignition 4.0 theme was Natural/Unnatural. Among the exhibits were sculptures of "transgenic mutant" animals that represent some of the long-term unknowns associated with Genetically Modified Foods.

"I think in general my work is concerned with the environment, and with our relationship to the environment," one artist said of her work in a video promoting Ignition 4.0.

Other exhibits combined music and drawings, displayed abstract works and interactive video.

"Our last ignition was the largest we ever had. Hundreds came to the opening reception and we've gotten more people every year. As we get more well-known artists sound and musicians we've attracted larger crowds," Colman says.
Besides Ignition, The Fuse Factory has a number of low-cost classes and workshops and performance events. A new monthly event Frequency Fridays features musicians and filmmakers from Columbus and beyond. December's musicians included Paul Metzger, an instrument inventor from Minnesota who plays a modified guitar and a banjo with 23 strings.

Frequency Friday takes place at Wild Goose Creative on the First Friday of the month and is supported in part with a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council. Admission is $10.

"We create instruments and create short films. We really push the envelope in what constitutes film and music," explains Fuse Factory President Sam Hoar.

Hoar joined the organization after meeting Colman at the annual ComFest event.
"I saw her at a workshop and she asked for volunteers," he says.

Hoar has spent most of his professional life working with people with significant disabilities, but he's also a student of anthropology and fine art and sound, and was a photographer in the navy.

"I am very interested in using technology in creative life," Hoar says.

The Fuse Factory works to open technology and artistic expression to everyone, he says. That's among the reasons they use a lot of open source or freeware, (software applications that are free or low-cost that work just as well as some of the high-priced stuff.) The organization also holds two-to four-hour classes in spaces in different parts of the city with nominal fees, generally ranging from $10 to $30.

"We are trying to engage people in technology in a creative manner and make it accessible to them in an environment that is not intimidating," he says.

The Fuse Factory invites any expert to apply to teach a workshop. Hoar teaches a Circuit Bending intro workshop where students learn how to create new electronic items out of electronic toys like keyboards, electronic drums and other noisemaking devices, particularly from the '80s and '90s. Circuit Bending, like the Fuse Factory itself, is about seeing things in a new way and unlocking the hidden potential in everyday objects, Hoar says.

"In a toy, that little chip can do a lot of different things, and can be used for different purposes. These workshops are examining the potential that lies in kids' toys," he says. "That is part of what we are trying to do, enriching the creative culture and pushing envelope in what people see as sound, art and technology."
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