Supercon Talk: Emily Velasco Wants You To Work Weird

Emily Velasco seems to absolutely delight in the weird, and we think that is wonderful. Weird brings us together. If you can be weird with someone else, you’ll have a special bond for life. In her inspiring 2019 Supercon talk (embedded below), Emily explains why she is drawn to weird things, and why you should be, too. Her enthusiasm is both palpable and infectious, so don’t be surprised if you suddenly want to drop everything to accompany her on a treasure hunt adventure and spend the rest of the day making things.

Emily doesn’t try to push making weird things on to you, but her reasons for working in weird are quite compelling. Weird things catch the eye and interrupt the tedium of our lives. They give us pause and invite us to look again. You can choose to turn away if you want. But if you look closer, you might find that ugly, weird, and annoying things begin to charm you.

Emily says the formative force that pulled her toward the weird was the gang of mutant toys that the villainous Sid made in Toy Story. They force you to look closer and to consider them. But Emily is far from mean-spirited — she builds her creations with love, and not to act out or to spite her little sister. They’re not what you expect, and even if someone finds them off-putting at first, they are undeniably interesting.

‘Normal’ is Relative; ‘Annoying’ is Contextual

Emily mostly wants other people to make weird things so they can have more fun in their lives. As she says, there’s nothing wrong with normal, but there’s nothing inherently right about it, either. And normal is relative, anyway. When you make something weird, you can change people’s perceptions and make them enjoy new things.

When you make something weird, you set off a chain of broadened horizons that begins with your own experience. Emily tells the story of a circuit bent toy she built into an old cigar box, and how she took the toy to her parents’ house to show it to them.

Her dad hated it as soon as he heard it, but then she handed it to him. Before long, he turned into a child, gleefully exploring the buttons and dials and body contacts. By changing the context in which Dad heard the annoying noise box, she had changed his experience and broadened his horizons.

Found is Fabulous

You know what they say — one man’s trash is another man’s foundation for a synthesizer. When Emily finds discarded things, she gives them new life and new meaning while keeping them out of the landfill. Sometimes it’s mother nature’s trash, like bird skulls on the beach. Other times the maker gods drop things in her path, like the time an arcade cabinet fell off a truck and smashed to the ground like an electronics piñata.

The point is this: you can buy all the parts and make a thing just like you want it. That’s all fine and good. But if you take a chance on incorporating found materials, you will surprise yourself. Found objects come with their own quirks and present unique challenges that Emily finds intriguing. If you build things using found objects, you will expand your worldview in the process. Sharing those things with other people will expand their worldview, and you might start a domino effect of enlightenment.

In closing, Emily invites us to interview ourselves whenever we encounter weird, ugly, and/or annoying things, rather than just passing them over because they ruffle our feathers. In the process of staring it down, you will probably feel your gaze soften as you become more familiar with it. And who knows? You may even find that it brings you happiness, or even sparks new ideas. And really, that’s what it’s all about.

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