Also, sometimes we will find that there are robots who have gotten stuck somewhere in a planet and then left by whoever it was that put them there. And they need a rescue, so sometimes we will take them and rehab them. Sometimes they join our project and help us in furthering of our mission. But sometimes they are old and they just want to retire and have a nice retirement. So we keep them healthy so that they can enjoy their lives.
How I got this job as a primary robot creator – I happen to be at a time in my life when I was looking for a new direction with my art. And I love science fiction, I love 3D, I love working with metal, I love putting things together – it is something I’ve always had a passion for. So when the Orbiting Laboratory arrived in earth orbit looking for a human representative to work with, I applied for the job and got it – it was just perfect for me.
Another way to look at it, the way I explain it to some people who don’t have as much imagination is that I have worked at other forms of art, I did installations, and I was doing a lot of serious statement oriented work, and then my husband got really ill. And I took three years away from art to help him. And he got well. And when I went back to do art again, none of the things I used to do were of interest to me at all. And I think it is because I just wanted to do something fun. I wanted to have a good time.
I still wanted to say something about the human condition, which is one of the reasons that I work with robots to start with, because they have a face, and it is easier to tell a human story with something that has a face. But I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do for a while, so I started looking at all the things in my life that I love, and I love science fiction, I love ... shapes so something magic happened, and the robots came from that.
When I started selling my robots and rayguns and spaceships, I was not surprised that geeks were going to be part of my market. People have money, appreciate science fiction, but the big surprise has been how many of my collectors are physicians - I really didn’t think of that. And about half of my sales, two of my serious collectors that have purchased multiple pieces are physicians.
Robin: So you have people who seriously collect your work?
Sarah: Yes, increasingly many. Most of them start with one piece, and I’ve got a couple of collectors who come and see me at a particular show every single year and add to their collection. Some of my collectors are across the country now – I’ve got collectors from New Jersey to Seattle, which is really cool.
Robin: So you’ve got all these collectors all these people, science fiction readers right?
Sarah: Mostly yes.
Robin: Geeks, technological people?
Sarah: Yeah. I find that people who travel a lot for some reason also really like the spaceships. I’ve sold a lot of spaceships to people who travel for their jobs; oftentimes those people are geeks. And I think a lot of times, people just become really captured by the story. Each piece has a story. And the pieces are interesting to look at on their own, but when you find out about their background, where this robot came from or where we found the parts for this, this raygun or perhaps some battle the raygun was used in, they can really connect to them even more.
Robin: That is cool. Which is harder for you, takes longer? Making a physical piece, or coming up with the story?
Sarah: Which takes longer is definitely making it. Which is harder and completely depends on luck I think. The story begins to create itself as I am making the piece. But usually that will snap together pretty quickly by the time I am ready to sit down and write it, because I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve been putting the piece together. The thing about the pieces is what makes them take more or less time is first of all, if I’ve never made something like it before - the first time I made a raygun it took me three times longer than the second time I made a raygun. Because raygun kind of is like more is more kind of situation, whereas robots are less is more. And it is hard to switch my brain around in the other direction.
And the first time I made a flying saucer it took me a while to figure out how long the legs need to be to each other and where they need to be located. Which sounds like it might be easy, but our brains know exactly what a flying saucer is supposed to look like, and if the parts of the legs are too long, you’ll know that’s wrong - for some reason it just jumps out at you. So it is one of the things that you have to be really careful about is proportions. With the robots as well. If I wanted to tell a human story, the robot has to be identifiable in some way. So if the proportions are off, it has to be on purpose – it can’t be an accident.
Robin: Interesting. Interesting. Now one thing we better make as a note for the audience: These robots will not pick up after you, they are art objects.
Sarah: That’s correct. They are fine art sculptures. None of them move, at this time anytime. I may go kinetic eventually, but I’ll only do that if there’s a reason. I don’t want just a robot that just waves his arms back and forth. All you’ve got then is a really expensive toy. So if I do put movement into any of my robots, it will be because they are tracking someone, or it has to contribute to who they are and their story. A few pieces do have electronics in them, my rayguns all light up. I am about to do a spaceship with lights in it. I just built the biggest robot I’ve ever done, which is 30 inches tall who is a laboratory guy, he is collecting samples from earth, and he has got all kinds of lights in him because his samples all glow.
Robin: Now a couple of other things we might make as notes: You should not go up and brandish your raygun in the face of somebody with a regular real gun, right?
Sarah: I actually did when I went into the newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, to do a photo shoot. The security guy met me at the door, because I was carrying a raygun. He felt silly afterward to make a joke out of it, but he was actually a little bit alarmed.
Robin: And spaceships – you are not going to get in these spaceships and go visit the moons of Jupiter, right?
Sarah: Well, people who buy it are not - the robots may use them for that. But most humans are probably not going to be able to do that, at least not at this time.
My education background is in computers. And the way that happened was that I was a math whiz that actually went to make a living, and I found out that only very few mathematicians at that time were getting jobs. So computers were in a state then where your computer at your school would be a Tandy attached to like a set player and yet I still fell in love with them. And I am sure Star Trek has a lot to do with this.
So that is my education, and I worked in that career for a lot of years; as computers became more ubiquitous, by the time I left that field, everybody had a computer in their house practically at least in this country. I have always used computers as a tool, and I think there are a lot of people who are trying to make a living as artists who don’t have that background - I am really fortunate about that.
Also, my husband is an electrical engineer, and because I have the background that I do, he and I are able to work things out with the same kind of brain. And I think that my programming brain helps a lot in building my art. First of all, I am not afraid of things that are hard and pointy and scratchy and hardware-ish. I know that art can be something that isn’t just made with paint. And I think that is one of the things that I was influenced by in my background. Also I think that I use a programmer’s brain when I put my work together.
There are lots of layers that you don’t see. In order to make my work look effortless, there is a lot of hidden work, hidden layers of support and putting things together. I only work with fasteners. And I enjoy that. It adds to my esthetics. But it also means that all the structure needs to be built from the inside.
So you have to think about everything as you would as a programmer, you have to think about it from the inside out, from the end to the top, and from the top to the bottom - it is all a lot of logic. I don’t think I would be able to do this if I hadn’t been a programmer first.