Ariel Cotton went to art school and found electrical engineering.
The Gowanus artist had been drawing, sculpting, and painting her whole life, but first discovered the scientific side of creating while studying at Cooper Union School of Art in Manhattan.
“I saw robotics projects, laser cutters, and other projects and tools that fascinated me,” said Cotton. “I was hooked from that point onward, and I started taking engineering courses at Cooper in topics such as digital logic design, computer science, and industrial design, averaging about one engineering course per semester.”
She ended up taking a year off from Cooper Union to devote time exclusively to engineering, math, and science courses, and almost threw her artistic ambitions away.
“For a while I thought I wanted to drop out of art altogether and become an engineer, but then I realized that I would never be fulfilled unless I was doing something creative,” she said.
So Cotton found a way to bring her two passions together. In her new exhibition “Gonna Put A Hacks On You,” opening Aug. 7 at Littlefield in Gowanus, she has used her technical skills to wire up a range of seemingly mundane objects to do unexpected things.
One piece, titled “Lady Godiva,” is a group of miniature ladies made out of chocolate, with edible circuitry inside. The works make orgasmic and painful-sounding moans when you bite into them. The piece illustrates the thin boundary between pleasure and pain, explained Cotton — especially when it comes to eating chocolate.
“As a self-professed chocoholic, eating chocolate is one of the most heavenly sensations I’ve ever experienced, but it can quickly turn into an unpleasant experience if you eat too much, or even make you seriously ill,” she said.
These kinds of technological twists are definite crowd-pleasers, said Cotton.
“Many people seem flabbergasted, and many people seem amazed,” she said.
But engineers and others who understand how electronics work are significantly less impressed by her technological trickery — and Cotton said this has challenged her to keep her work conceptually interesting.
“I’ve learned that you can’t rely on the same old tricks forever if they don’t have a new twist to them or an interesting concept behind them,” she said.
Cotton hopes the show will help art lovers and technophiles find some common ground, she said.
“In a world that is so fractured by politics, religion, race, geography, and ultimately disciplines and professions as well, it’s powerful to see my work breaking down some of those barriers, even if it’s just a minuscule fraction of them,” she said.
“Gonna Put A Hacks On You” opening reception at Littlefield (622 Degraw St. between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, www.littlefieldnyc.com). Aug. 7 at 6–9 pm. Free. Show runs through Sept. 1.