I guess these annual reflections are an attempt at maximising productivity. Make more stuff; that is always the goal.

Somewhere near the start of 2020, I was thinking about the productivity of the American sculptor, Tom Sachs. He uses a sequentially numbered system for cataloguing his works. It makes it fairly easy to get an idea of how much stuff Sachs creates in any given year. That flipping guy: he is a machine; we are talking hundreds of works every single year. Sure, Sachs has a well-stocked studio staffed by the artistic equivalent of a Navy SEAL team. But even when you take into account all those resources, Tom appears supernaturally productive.

So, I started a little thought experiment: “How could I make one hundred things in a year? What materials or techniques could I use?” Seeing as time is my most limited resource and between Dad duties and home schooling, the time I do have is fragmented and peppered with interruptions. I figured that if I was going to make a hundred things in a year, it needed to be something I could knock out in only a few minutes. All while wrangling a toddler climbing and jumping around me. That ruled out a whole host of options straight off the bat. My first instinct was to use robots, but it seemed doubtful that I could design one hundred things to be 3D-printed or CNC milled in a year. In the end I settled on BS – block sculptures.

A picture of the fourty fourth block sculpture of Australia.

My youngest daughter has this awesome little wooden block set; most days we get down on the floor and start building. She makes all sorts of cool stuff while I follow a set of instructions to craft some BS.

BS Instructions

  1. Select a set of four wooden building blocks.
  2. Arrange the block subset while adhering to the following rules:
    • No fasteners. Use only gravity and friction, just like the ancients.
    • It must be freestanding. No other materials or scaffolding is permitted.
  3. Photograph the resulting arrangement.
  4. GOTO step 2
  5. Once all the permutations of the four blocks are exhausted GOTO step 1.

Although creating a bit of BS in the morning started out as a joke, it evolved into a cathartic part of my day. Often it was one of those fleeting Dad Zen moments, where the needs of everyone aligned and a calm descended upon the house.

In the end I managed to assemble 101 block sculptures. Although to be honest, when I sat down to write this, I had to make another eleven to round out the set.

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Despite declaring chronological bankruptcy at the end of last year, I didn’t make a single thing I had planned to make for 2020. Yet paradoxically I still managed to pay down my time debt and have a fairly productive year all the same time.

Completed 2020 progress chart.

I took on a couple of collaborations in the second half of the year for the Brisbane festival – making social distanced theatre technology for Counterpilot and The Good Room.

I made a couple of pieces of furniture and dabbled a bit more with procedurally generated drawings in Javascript. Finally documented a couple of older works. I’m still not writing and documenting enough here. Working on better writing habits is one of the things I want to focus on in 2021.

I have also started putting more effort into continuous process improvement; hopefully I can squeeze more out of the fragmented time I get to devote to the monastic engineering experience. This year it was streamlining my processes for written correspondence: applications for opportunities and letters to people, that sort of stuff. Even ordered in some letterheads that are printed on decent stock.

I have some pretty aspirational goals for 2021: again, I want to spend less time working on collaborations and more time futzing about with my own curiosities and things:

Five curiosities, five things, one collaboration, one process improvement and 28 articles.

Exercise is going well; I haven’t been as diligent at recording the exact number of kilometres I’m running but I also have a lot more variety in the sorts of activities I’m doing. Since October I have averaged 45 minutes of exercise a day. I hope I can keep it up, I’m feeling pretty good. Maybe by this time next year I’ll be running marathons (OK, maybe that’s a little too aspirational).