Posts Tagged ‘Arts’
On the Craft vs. Digital debate, this is my exhibition catalogue essay for Craft Code 011 – New Ways of Making, currently showing at The Wills Lane Gallery in St. Ives.
Ultimately the computer is a means for combining the skilful hand with the reasoning mind. Our use of computers ought not to be so much for automating tasks as for abstracting craft.
Malcolm McCullough, Abstracting Craft 1996
The more we forbid ourselves to conceive of hybrids, the more possible their interbreeding becomes […]
It is perhaps ironic that the digital and the analogue are so often discussed in binary opposition to one another. The more present that digital becomes, the louder the discourse becomes in its pros and cons relative to analogue, when quietly, hybrid practices are developing. The present moment signifies a point of change, a desire for discourse on craft that does not simply create dichotomies that prevent understanding of processes and of making.
CRAFT – CODE 011 – NEW WAYS OF MAKING explores the potential for experimentation and reappropriation, using digital technologies with traditional skills to create hybrid processes that create new contexts for craft production. These designer-makers reflect the move towards the postdigital in the hybridity of processes, playfully subverting expectations of ‘digital’ and ‘handmade’, but always remain connected to materiality.
These hybrid processes of making have emerged in part from the Autonomatic research cluster at University College Falmouth, where human-machine interaction, experimentation and innovative thinking produce diverse work connected by the discourse around craft and digital technologies. Combined with traditional skills and materials, these digital tools can create new modes of sustainable practice which seek to give the designer-maker greater autonomy.
In the 1970s, industrial CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machines were developed that allowed the production of 3D things by entering numerical co-ordinates defining height, width and depth. From the 1980s onwards, computing technology evolved and democratised, allowing complex 3D objects to be designed on a 2D computer screen, but few had access to ways of making these objects real. Now, a new conceptualisation of tools and process is emerging. The physicalization of the digital is produced by challenging and interrogating these tools, and reflects a wider movement towards this reification of digital technologies as a natural progression from on-screen to real life from other kinds of digital media. What would have previously only been possible in 3D digital design on a 2D computer screen, developments in Rapid Prototyping and CNC allow objects to break out of the frame of the computer screen, creating new possibilities in making 3D objects that were previously only conceivable in 2D. Ultimately, as McCullough suggests, using digital technology is not about automation, or an anonymous computerised aesthetic, it is about intellectual investigation and creative manipulation, using hand and head to develop tools that give a new context to modes of production.
The autonomous hand of the maker is both visible and invisible in these new ways of making. A playful relationship between ideas of hand-made and digital connects these makers. A looping transformation between handmade and digital, blurs through an iterative process of making and remaking. Katie Bunnell’s Bunny Beakers started as a desire to create a narrative on a drinking vessel. Hand-drawings are scanned to create a digital image that is used to create a silicon mould, wrapped to create a beaker shape, and slip cast in porcelain. Concealing the mould’s join by hand-stitching the silicone reveals the hand in the beakers’ making, hand-made imperfections and continuous touch inscribed by hybrid process.
This hybrid processing of information to produce different contexts of making is integral to the circularity of process in collaboration between Ismini Samanidou and Gary Allson. Ismini’s hand-woven textiles made using traditional fan reed techniques are not flat. Tension in the weave produces a 3D object that is digitally scanned, then output digitally in different materials. When drawn on to paper with a CNC milling machine using pen or brush, they appear to be exquisitely hand-drawn. Using three sets of co-ordinates, a 3D drawing becomes 2D image, demonstrating a sensitive hand-drawn aesthetic that playfully refutes any preconceived notions of digital craft. The CNC milling machine then inscribes the textile weave into Cornish oak. The tactile surfaces of the woven wood are both impossible textile and miniature landscapes.
Drummond Masterton’s work in metal is influenced by his refusal to accept the limitations of digital technology’s aesthetics. The triangulation of points in space in 3D digital production tends to create a triangulated aesthetic, the process self-evident in the craft object. By understanding this triangulation he is able to break out of it, using triangulation to escape the triangular. Three-dimensional co-ordinates of making machines relate to co-ordinates in real space; fingers travel over the object’s surface and continue moving over an imaginary landscape. Drummond talks of the essential hidden haptic element of the hand’s intervention of the digital making process, the stopping and starting of the machine, the touching or blowing required that reveal the autonomous maker in the seemingly automated machine.
Points in space are materialised further in Tavs Jorgensen’s work exploring the possibilities of ‘Pin-Point’, ‘an array of pins placed in a set of perforated screens in which impressions made from one side are reflected as positive shapes on the other’, allowing infinite shapes to be reproduced in kiln-formed glass. This experimental tool allows for different modes of production, that allow, like the others used here, the intervention of the hand of the maker according to desire, to adjust the digital design by hand. The process of making is visible, and integral to the materiality of the object, creating layers of meaning beyond the aesthetic. Tavs’ investigations are iterations of process that express a need to find ways for makers to gain more flexibility and sustainability in contemporary craft.
Connected by points in space, place, inversions of process, playful and practical interventions of the hand, a love of traditional skills and the ultimate materiality of production, CRAFT – CODE 011 – NEW WAYS OF MAKING is a reconsideration of contemporary practice.
The idea of the summer holiday was instilled in the middle-classes, with most employed getting a week or two of paid time off work, and as the train journey from Paddington to Penzance now took a reasonable six and a half hours, more and more middle class people were venturing as far as west Cornwall on holiday. Although ’s silks and gowns never functioned explicitly as souvenirs of the county, and thanks to an efficient distribution system, could be bought as far a field as Australia, without the need to ever travel to the wilds of west Cornwall, it could be argued that Walker’s designs represent a continued commodification of the region. They projected the image of a romanticised primitive retreat from modernity, which offered an escape to a simpler way of life separated from the speed of urban existence that begins with the painted representations of Cornish life by the original Newlyn School of artists in the dying years of the nineteenth century, and is continued both in the craft production of copper, pottery and enamel jewellery. Cultural products in turn produce an idea of culture, one bound up and reinforced by the site of production.
The world, along with the Empire, began to shrink for middle class women as travel abroad became more accessible and available. The bohemian and artistic circles attracted to the freedom offered by the wildness on the edges of the English Riviera began to travel with greater frequency to the French Riviera, which also offered golf, tennis and swimming, but also sunshine and glamour in greater quantities. The exotic beyond British shores became more familiar to the less glamorous and bohemian too, from society pages and novels, where even the ‘poor’ Mrs. Wilkins in The Enchanted April, wife of a thrifty solicitor, could save enough from her dress allowance to rent an Italian villa for a month. Equally, Agatha Christie’s characters travel widely. Light notes:
Travel books are not like travel guides intended for bona fide travellers – rather they are armchair romances for the stay-at-homes. Christie’s detective fiction, itself reading for leisure, must have been doubly appropriate for holiday reading.[...] From being a place known only as part of the empire, ‘abroad’ is amorphously exotic whilst at the same time being reassuringly familiarised. [...] Abroad was being imagined as a place for consumption and leisure, a home from home.
Cryséde’s catalogue for summer 1931 (see illustration 2.2) speaks to both the armchair traveller, and the visitor to the South of France in its promotion of hand-printed linen beachwear:
Printed by hand in original and very distinctive designs, Cryséde have again taken and kept the lead in these wonderful Linen Coats and Frocks. So very different and so unlike anything seen elsewhere, they have captured even the imagination of the French.
Seen last year in other designs along every water’s edge from Le Touquet to the Lido, they are proving more popular than ever in 1931.
This statement contains an interesting ambiguity, both declaring the class-based leisure activities of the imaginary Cryséde customer and a provocation to the aspirational buyer, whilst the use of ‘Lido’ – presumably the Venice Lido – could also be referring to the less glamorous popular outdoor bathing pools in Britain, of which several were built during the interwar period to meet the demands of modernist healthful ideals, such as the Jubilee Pool at Penzance in 1936. So the domestic exotic is available to the female consumer, whether she holidays in glamorous resorts of the continent or the poolside of the newly built lido. Cryséde is desired and admired even by the French, suggesting that Walker’s designs are so fashionable that they are equal to the designers of Paris.
The culture and politics of place are embodied in Cryséde’s fabric itself, in which intertextual threads of nostalgia and fictive history were printed on to the surfaces of silk. The designs serve to emphasise the site of production, creating a double-layered reification of place and identity. Motifs such as St. Michael’s Mount, Newlyn Harbour, and Godrevy Lighthouse, are specific and defined, metonymic representations of Cornwall. The Eiffel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge and Chinese junks signify affluence, adventure and travel, both domestic and exotic.
Susan Stewart asserts that:
[t]he double function of the souvenir is to authenticate a past or otherwise remote experience and, at the same time, to discredit the present. The present is either too impersonal, too looming, or too alienating compared to the intimate and direct experience of contact which the souvenir has as its referent. [...] The nostalgia of the souvenir plays in the distance between the present and an imagined, prelapsarian experience, experience as it might be ‘directly lived’. The location of authenticity becomes whatever is distant to the present time and space; hence we can see the souvenir as attached to the antique and the exotic.
The souvenir becomes a way of negotiating the complex present, mitigating alienation and taking refuge in nostalgia. Cryséde’s vibrant pastoral fabrics perform the function of the souvenir, a corporeal external display of modernity that allows the wearer to escape the alienating present and take refuge in the nostalgia of the intimate of the domestic exotic.
The pain of the past is sublimated by unsentimentality, diverting and deflecting real emotion and real appearances into an imagined pastoral that refuses to negotiate with modernity. It is not surprising that following a period of great loss, that the pastoral has such an appeal in exchange for the real past:
[i]t has often been said that the pastoral mode wins its reflective qualities only at the price of an inability to deal concretely with cultural reality, as the author takes refuge from complex cultural problems in evocations of an imagined, simpler realm.
It is the search for the authentic, the handmade, the exclusive craft object which favours Cryséde’s designs, like the adventurous tourist seeking an exotic and authentic adventure, the fashionable modern woman seeks to be different from her peers, yet not so unfamiliar that her appearance is alienating.
The catalogue of 1931 depicts on its front cover a full-page aerial photograph of St. Ives, the square white block of the Cryséde factory ringed for the benefit of the reader. The contrast between the ultramodern format of the image and its subject, a fishing village in a pastoral landscape, speaks concurrently of technology, modernity and speed, yet also crafts, tradition and slowness. Its concomitant text reinforces the dichotomy of the domestic exotic, echoing the narrative of du Maurier, of smuggling and salty seadogs, of a place on the periphery, at the edge of the world resting precariously between land and sea. The text extends an invitation for tourists to visit the factory, which by this time was running tours for visitors conducted by members of the factory’s staff.
St. Ives… Home of Cryséde Silks
St. Ives! What romance and history is associated with the name. The fishermen of this little port have always been famous for their seafaring skill and boldness; in bygone days even smuggling was not unheard of.
Many artists have transferred its beauties to canvas and so made it one of the best known parts of Cornwall. To many, St. Ives is linked with Cryséde Silks and it is fitting that such delightful materials should be produced in an old building, the latterly modernised, on the Island, St. Ives.
This building is enclosed in a white ring in the photograph above; bounded by the old harbour and the open sea.
We shall be pleased to welcome visitors to St. Ives at Cryséde, to show them examples of our work and some of the unique processes which Cryséde undergoes in order that it may attain its ultimate loveliness and charm.
The blend of the old and the new, tradition and modernity is described in the promotion of the catalogue’s copy, romanticising the factory and underlining an alternative function as a tourist destination, as if it were a craft workshop.
The mode of viewing from the air distances and separates, confines and controls the wild landscape. The patterns themselves speak of the domestic exotic in prints that are aerial views of Cornwall and further afield. The rusticity of Welsh Hill Farm is defined by its goat and traditional Welsh costume hat, London Pride by the image of London Bridge. Eiffel Tower is the essence of Paris in its most famous cultural landmark, and Chinese Junks shows the romance of the orient in a panoply of little boats. Again, these are representations of romanticised and essentialised notions of place, functioning to reduce landscapes to simple motifs, like picture postcards. Like the photograph on the cover of the catalogue, the prints take an aerial view of their subjects, reducing them to tiny cottages and miniature people. They are separated by the camera’s lens, distorted and compressed by distance, as if viewed from an aeroplane. In this way the ancient motifs of landscape and tradition are distanced and separated, framed by modernity. The domestic exotic landscape becomes the domesticated exotic, transformed by compression and miniaturisation.
According to Stewart, the transcendent viewpoint implied by the miniature ‘erases the productive possibilities of understanding through time. Its locus is thereby the nostalgic.’ Whilst she is referring here to the landscape of the amusement park or the historical reconstruction, it could be argued that Cornwall, in its role as tourist destination, functions as both, the landscape marking ‘nostalgic allusions to interiority and fictiveness.’ So the very modern aerial view by miniaturising the landscape paradoxically creates a nostalgic narrative of place which makes the modern more familiar.
Compared with the grounded and land based viewpoint taken by traditional toiles du Jouy, or Dufy’s prints, the viewpoint offered in Cryséde designs could be seen as a modern way of looking. It can be seen in many other designers’ work of this time. Footprints’ Welwyn Garden City gives a bird’s eye view of the patchwork urbanity, as does Ruth Reeves Metropolis, to which the miniaturisation of the suburban or the city is most appropriate to confine and familiarise the image of modernity. Technological advances in aerial photography made in the Great War led to cultural advances in image-making, in turn giving people a new way of seeing the world, a new viewpoint, which gives artists and makers a new creative eye.
The flattening of the picture (or pattern) plane and the style of the brushstrokes is suggestive also of the exotically fashionable orient, an anglicized version of Chinese or Japanese art, which had of course also been an influence on French design. This connotation creates an impression of layers of exoticism from the orient, via France, to England. (Walker never travelled abroad apart from Paris, so it is possible that prints such as Koyoko, Coral Island and Samoa, in addition to those already mentioned, were realised from copies of photographs. )
The tension between the domestic and exotic is evident also of Walker’s initial designs. Polly Walker relates the story of events of the evening of Walker’s return from Paris, as witnessed by her uncle. Having spent the trip sketching and encouraged by Dufy’s advice to create his own designs, Walker was so filled with creative vigour that upon seeing the table laid for dinner he refused to allow anyone to touch the food until he had completed a sketch of the scene. This became Lobster Supper, the lobster a signifier of luxury, affluence and exclusivity as well as representing lobster pots, fishermen and a middle-class view of rustic peasantry, and features in many of the St. Ives Society of Artists paintings. The lobster is at once a sign of continuity of tradition, of lack of change and the passage of time, and yet also of modernity, expensive and exclusive restaurants, momentary indulgence.
 Catherine Horwood, Keeping Up Appearances: Fashion and Class Between the Wars, Sutton, Stroud 2005 p.79.
 St. Ives, Carbis Bay, Penzance, Land’s End, Illustrated Guide Book, Ward, Lock & Co. London 1928, p. 12.
 Melbourne Argus, 2nd February 1921.
 Chris Thomas, 1997 p. 121.
 Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April, (Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1922; Pocket Books Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1993) p. 77.
 Alison Light, 1991, p. 90.
 Spring Catalogue 1931, Cryséde Archive, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.
 Susan Stewart, On Longing, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 1993, p. 133.
 Glenn Adamson, Thinking Through Craft. Berg, New York 2008, p.104.
 Spring Catalogue 1931, Cryséde Archive, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro.
 Susan Stewart, 1993 p. 60.
 Susan Stewart, 1993 p. 60.
 Lesley Jackson 2002 p. 74.
 Interview with Polly Walker, 17th February 2009, Penzance.
The Theatre Sandbox Showcase came out of a series of workshops, which around 275 people attended. From this, a competitive process selected six different project proposals to participate in the Theatre Sandbox, funded by the Arts Council and supported by Watershed, iShed, Pervasive Media Studio.
What’s really struck me is that Bristol really seems to be a centre for all things pervasive. I’ve yet to find another central point, or network hub, that has creative links as extensive as those of the Pervasive Media Studio or Watershed. London is just too big and disparate, and few other places are lucky enough to have the facilities, investment, and most importantly, people and ways of connecting through place. UWE are obviously a big part of this too, and play a major part in both attracting and keeping a creative technology community in Bristol.
Interesting thing that Melanie Wilson pointed out: Children aren’t amazed by technology. Grown-ups might think that pervasive media is really interesting, but the kids are only really interested in the unicorns.
The technology is just a tool.
Local children participated in the design of this theatre project, which took place both inside and outside of the theatre, in the local High Street. The children learn that a unicorn has been caught in a huge storm, accidentally transporting it to this world. The children create a narrative through a journey, the aim of which is to send the unicorn back home.
Melanie described the project as challenging, mainly owing to finding ways of making pervasive media technologies achieve the desired effects. Tom Melamed of Calvium collaborated with Melanie and Ed to create the narrative, where bits of story are triggered when a child steps into a WiFi or GPS point in a specific location. A combination of methods was used in order for the parts of the story, like an enormous shadowy projection of a unicorn on a wall, to trigger at exactly the right time. In order for the experience to be truly immersive, the children were given minimal equipment, just headphones. All content was broadcast from a laptop in order for this to work.
Mind the Gap/Contact Manchester/Phil Stenton, Calvium/Theatre Sandbox Advisor
This project used relatively simple technology to achieve its aims, but was incredibly effective. Mid the Gap is a theatre company that gives people with physical and mental disabilities a chance to perform.
The company, with Phil’s help, created a sonic maze using mediascapes. Using the space outside the theatre, groups of five people all had headphones attached to one iPaq. Moving awkwardly and hesitantly, they shuffled about the car park, following audio instructions to move around. For instance, a wrong turn might mean hitting a sonic ‘wall’, and the reactions of the participants to and observer to this is really very funny, as if they had hit a real wall. The real genius of this piece is the emphasis on collaboration according to strengths and weaknesses within the group. Certain obstacles were on the frequency of 15-16 Hz, which meant that anyone over 25 was unable to hear (also, as an aside, a nice two fingers to the idea of the persecution of the young from the Mosquito). Other parts of the Sonic Maze could only be accessed through a sonic loop, requiring a hearing aid user to solve that part of the problem.
Interestingly, the issues in production concerned creativity that came out of misunderstanding. Theatre producers misunderstood the technology, and therefore created things that required Phil to find creative ways of using the technology creatively to achieve these goals.
Give Me Back My Broken Night
Speakman ventures away from the purely audio experience to add a visual dimension to his work in collaboration with Univited Guests. Where UG had previously worked with the Soho Theatre, this was a new experience for Speakman, who finally feels now that perhaps he really definitely actually is a producer of theatre.
The experience is small and intimate, with only a few players participating at any one time. Players are called on their mobiles, and given instructions. They carry tiny projectors around their necks, which project a map of Soho onto a piece of paper in front of them. In a departure from previous works, Speakman and UG are looking towards the future, rather than the past in their urban imaginary, asking their players to imagine what might be on this building site in twenty years time. What would it look like? What else would be there? What has changed?
In response to their descriptions, an artist is listening in on these conversations, drawing according to the players’ ideas. What he draws is visible on the projected map as the player is speaking, a vision of the future city.
The challenges faced during this project were mainly technological. The map idea, according to Speakman, started as a mistaken belief that a very new, thin, flexible material could be experimented with. However, as this was only available to the military, the paper/projection method was suggested instead.
Theatre Sandbox is produced by iShed
in collaboration with Bristol Old Vic
, Soho Theatre
, Lyric, Hammersmith
and The Junction
. It is funded by the National Lottery, through Arts Council, England.
Mobile Participatory Theatre?
Multimodal Partipatory Performance?
So, what exactly is this medium of performance? How do I describe it? Is it possible to come up with a term that describes its specificity, yet at the same time conveys the multiplicity of modes and levels of performance? To fall back on the term of ‘happening’ is vague and rather describes a historical moment in performance, and although this kind of participatory performance owes something to what has gone before, it is far removed from the somewhat chaotic and haphazard nature that the word suggests. ‘Participatory Theatre’ encompasses something of what is expected of the audience, placing an emphasis on the active mode of the ‘participant’ rather than passive role of the ‘spectator’.
I don’t think the title of mobile participatory theatre is really adequate. I think it is something more specific. ‘Subtlemob’ is a great term, but refers specifically to the mode in which Duncan Speakman/subtlemob works, a term belongs really only to them.
Interestingly, when you type ‘mobile participatory theatre’ into Google, subtlemob.com is the second link, after a somewhat dry article about the ethics of participatory theatre in higher education. Participatory theatre is just too blunt and simplistic a term, and is often used to describe performances in which the audience have little real involvement or impact, and is instead describing theatre events or performances simply where the mode of spectating is unusual rather than actually requiring the audience to actually interact.
I dislike the use of mobile, as I feel it is misleading, and the definition has to be qualified: is it mobile as in movement, or mobile as in device? Both are relevant, and it could mean either or both of those. As such, I think this is a problematic term, at least as far as specificity is concerned, and for the adequate communication of a set of ideas associated with that term. Perhaps that is part of the issue. Is it the format, the medium itself which is difficult to define? Perhaps it would be useful to establish a list of positive or negative attributes by which we might then attempt to better describe (in order to communicate, explain and share, rather than to define, exclude, confine) what this artform/medium is and isn’t.
There are members of the public.
There are performers.
Most or all of the performance is in real-time.
There is some kind of choreography or orchestration, game plan or controlling element that co-ordinates the movements of the participants.
There is a narrative.
Participatory defines the ‘player’s’ role as active, not passive, and suggests that they have agency and can influence outcomes.
Mixed reality suggests that there are virtual as well as real worlds.
Augmented reality is seeing the world through a virtual lens.
Mobile suggests both a device and a mode of performance.
Player is a better term than audience, participant etc. as it underlines their active role, and emphasises the ludic nature of the experience.
Participatory theatre/sound performance using headphones is a new language of performance that people are unfamiliar with, requiring more than a brief explanation to really get across how it works and what it feels like. This is also problematic when advertising a performance, to let people know what they’re letting themselves in for, without at the same time giving too much away.
We’re not sure if we know yet, but this is what we think it might be . . .
Imagine walking through a film, but it’s happening on the streets you live in
Subtlemobs usually happen in public spaces
This is music composed for those spaces
This is about trying to make films without cameras
It’s about integrating with a social or physical space, not taking it over
The audience listen on headphones, a mix of music, story and instructions
Sometimes they just watch, sometimes they perform scenes for each other
A subtlemob is not a flashmob
try to remain invisible . . .
I think the idea of the cinematic that suggested here is interesting. Watching and participating at the same time. It’s an immersive experience, and by being on headphones, separates the participant from their immediate surroundings. And yet, it also creates a hyper-awareness of present reality. It’s phenomenological, a stepping outside of reality whilst at the same time creating a more profound experience of that reality. Perhaps cineastic is a term that also describes the partipatory nature of making a performative experience.
The creation of narrative around the reality of immediate experience sets up a duality of time and space. The Player is immersed in two different realities, the ‘game’ or ‘narrative’ space, and real space, as well as the different time ‘zones’ of it being both now and ‘in the moment’. Guy Debord suggests that technology distances and separates, and people wearing headphones and replacing the dull drone of banality with a soundtrack is something that can be seen everyday on streets and trains and buses, people walking to the soundtracks of their own lives. but if as Debord suggests, ‘the spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images’, then Speakman’s subtlemobs create a social relation between people mediated by sound and narrative
To continue to examine this kind of performance in relation to Situationism,the Australia-based pvi collective describe themselves as a:
tactical media arts group who produce interdisciplinary artworks that are intent on the creative disruption of everyday life. every artwork aims to affect audiences on a personal and political level and is geared towards instigating tiny revolutions.
This is more of a detournement, an intervention in the everyday with an explicitly political intention. Their work is still scripted and choreographed, and necessarily organised, however, but as the particpants haven’t necessarily actively chosen to be involved it requires flexibility to react to the way in which people respond to the work.
Multimodal Mixed Reality performance?
Immersive Mixed Reality Experience
- Click for curtain-up: technology and theatre (guardian.co.uk)
- How can smaller companies do a Punchdrunk with their experimental theatre? (guardian.co.uk)
- Networked and participatory education (smlxtralarge.com)
- Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age – EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER (edr.sagepub.com)