The story goes that Golan Levin’s son was playing with his toys, attempting to build a car using a combination of Tinkertoys and K’Nex. Unfortunately, the two building systems were incompatible, frustrating the son, while sending the Carnegie Mellon professor and artist to the lab to engineer a solution. With the help of Shawn Sims, Levin created The Free Universal Construction Kit, a “set of adapters for complete interoperability between 10 popular construction toys.” Released through the hacktivist art collective F.A.T. Lab in 2012, the kit exists as a series of digital files one can download and 3d print using emerging consumer-grade printing machines.
Good work makes me angry. Great work makes me jealous. The first time I clicked into the adapter kit’s site, I saw a single image of the set—cast in milky white on a black background—and immediately quit my browser, slapping my laptop closed for good measure. I wouldn’t return to the site for another day; I worried it would ruin the perfect justification of my rage. The Free Universal Construction Kit isn’t “disruptive” in the way that makes VC’s drool and startups pop Champagne. It isn’t Tyson’s uppercut, it’s Pai Mei’s five point palm-exploding heart technique, leaving corporations to question what their last five steps will be. It side-swipes you with “it’s for the kids” while side-stepping thorny legal issues by focusing on patents vs. copyright. It’s Sol LeWitt’s ‘Frankenstein’ scored to Danger Mouse. And then you wonder, where are the Construx, the Robotix, the Erector Set connectors? Oh god, it’s not done, and two paragraphs is just not enough, perhaps if I shorten the kit’s name, maybe to an acronym… @_◎
JK Keller is a New York-based designer and artist whose work utilizes entertaining misuses of technology & communication that result from brute-force manipulations of appropriated material & rules-based systems.