The position of ceramics within contemporary society is an example of meta-modernity at its finest, it is a field in a perpetual state of oscillation and plurality. Depending on your perspective, ceramics as a material practice is simultaneously endangered and yet, routinely declared as never more potent or valuable to society.
The definition of Meta-modernity by cultural theorists, Timothies Vermuleun and Robin van Der Akker can be easily applied to contemporary ceramic practice; it is that of a field hugely influenced by its heritage, but on the verge of significant departure. In their seminal text “Note on Metamodernism” Vermulen and van Der Akker describe their concept of meta:
“Meta, for us, signifies an oscillation, a swinging or swaying with and between future, present and past, here and there and somewhere; with and between ideals, mindsets, and positions. It is influenced by estimations of the past, imbued by experiences of the present, yet also inspired by expectations of the future. “ (1)
This essay is an attempt to hold still this oscillating metronome for long enough to see how technological advances might influence the future of ceramic practice.
On a personal level I experienced this point of oscillation, between the past, present and the future, when in 2011, I had the pleasure of facilitating a shared stage at the International Ceramic Festival in Aberystwyth, Wales between British ceramicist Michael Eden and South Korean Onggi potter Oh Hyang Jong.
There is no denying that the gaze of the three hundred strong audience was fixed firmly on the eight foot high pot growing steadily from Mr. Oh’s wheel head, while Michael Eden’s Mac Book pro and whizzing cursor merely attracted the odd look of disdain. And indeed, in terms of spectacle it is hard for pixels on a screen to compete with the skill required to produce Mr. Oh’s seemingly gravity defying vessel, but when Michael offered a small, glazed, 3D printed, ceramic torus form for audience inspection it drew a modicum of attention away from Mr. Oh.
In this small torus we had binary data given physical form, the digital matrix of bytes had become the analogue compound of clay and glaze. 3D printing had enabled a digital file to become a physical ceramic form. There were a few members of the audience, myself included, enthralled by this object, as it offered a glimpse of into future possibilities. Back on stage, the attention was again with Mr. Oh but it was evident that that torus had formed a small bridge between past and future.
The reaction of the audience did not surprise me in the least. The festival draws from a demographic, for whom, traditional craft skills are of great importance, and the presence of a Mac Book Pro as a tool on the ‘stage of craft’ was incongruous at best. Such a reaction to technology is common and shows how the rules Douglas Adam’s set out in his book “The Salmon of Doubt” still prevail today:
“I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things. “ (2)
The Craft versus Technology debate is not new. It has been a long-standing legacy of Morris and Ruskin’s teachings that technological progress is perceived at odds with the poetic evocation of the craftsman and his hard worn skills and material understanding. Technology and the speed of its progress, be it mechanical or digital, is an ongoing debate for makers and theorists alike. To illustrate the never ceasing pace of progress, here is a quote from French poet and philosopher Paul Valery from his foreword to Walter Benjamin’s book: ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’
“Neither matter, nor space, nor time is, what up until twenty years ago, as it always was” (3)
This sentiment has never been more apposite when we consider the technological advances of the last twenty years. Society has shifted from a world inhabited by digital immigrants, those born into a pre digital world, to a world inhabited by digital natives. We are fast approaching what future technologists Parag and Ayesha Khanna describe as the ‘Hybrid Age’.
“The Hybrid Age is a new sociotechnical era that is unfolding as technologies merge with each other and humans merge with technology- both at the same time”. (4)
As the “Hybrid Age” attests, we live in a world of co-evolution rather then co-existence with technology. Now that we live in the era of ‘big data’, it is predicted that we will move away from a society based on causation, (the why of a thing) to a society on correlation (the what of a thing). The implications of this on how and why we make ‘things’ is immense. (5)
In 2013 the amount of stored information in the world was estimated to be around 1,200 exabytes, to clarify an exabyte (EB) is one billion gigabytes (GB), or in old money, it’s a quintillion bytes. This proliferation of information means that less then 2% of the world’s information is non-digital, and this relational proportion will continue to reduce. As a ceramicist, and someone interested in the stuff of matter, it is important for me to understand what role material art plays in this post-material world equally I am interested in how the massive computational tools, now available to all, can augment ceramic practice, not only in how we choose to produce a ‘crafted’ object but how we conceive and perceive it. This requires more than the simplistic approach of replacing a traditional physical process with that of a digital process. It requires us to look more at the ‘meta’ of our making, the structure that exists above and beyond the making itself. To do this it is key to know how emerging technologies as well as technological constructs will shape our future relationships with objects. Just as throughout history, we cannot ignore the pace and influence of technological progress, Paul Valery’s comments of 1936 are still relevant today:
“In all arts there is a physical component that cannot continue to be considered and treated in the same way as before, no longer can it escape the effects of modern knowledge and modern practice”. (6)
In my own attempt to embrace these changes, in 2011 I began a Creative Wales funded project to see how digital technologies can be used in my own ceramic practice. In essence I got ‘tooled up’.
To quote technology theorist, Tom Chatfield, from his book “How to Thrive in the Digital Age”:
“All technologies change us as we use them: ‘we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.’” (7)
So as my project developed I became a digital journeyman of sorts, learning new skills from the master and font of all knowledge - ‘YouTube’. As my new skills merged with my old knowledge it became apparent to me that to fully understand the ‘meta’ of my own making, and therefore technology’s ability to influence it: I needed to break my creative process down into 5 key categories. These were as follows
The forming giving process
As I embraced each new technology be it 3D printing, scanning or augmented reality, I quickly discovered analogies between technological constructs and my own creative process. One in particular was Gartner’s Hype Cycle of Technology. (8) Gartner Inc. is a information technology research company whose ‘hype cycle’ is a graphic presentation of the maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies. The hype cycle depicts the life cycle of any specific technology as it starts with an innovation trigger, reaches the peak of inflated expectations, falls into the trough of disillusionment, climbs the slope of enlightenment until it eventually reaches the plateau of productivity, a similar cycle to every creative work I’ve undertaken.
Analogies between traditional craft and digital practice are not new, in his book ‘The Craftsman’, sociologist Richard Sennett cites the development of the open source software Linux as an example of collaborative craft. Sennett has a very encompassing view of the craftsman:
“...the carpenter, lab technician and conductor are all craftsmen because they are dedicated to good work for its own sake”. (9)
In this expansive view of craftsmen, Sennett also rails against the historical divisions inherent in creative practice:
“History has drawn fault lines dividing practice and theory, technique and expression, craftsman and artist, maker and user, modern society suffers from this inheritance.” (10)
The historical fault line that divides the craftsman - man as maker, from a computer programmer - the operative, would appear self-evident. For one, there is the idea of the hard won craft skill, gained through focused labour. It is cited that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to gain mastery of a skill, this seems distinctly at odds with the ‘push and play’ sensibility of digital usage, and its world of hyper-mediacy and instant gratification, as opposed to the sense of labour intrinsic in a crafted object. However in my capacity of teaching across both traditional skills and digital applications it is naive to think that proficient skills in software and its inherent applications are not hard won. Trine Webster who teaches digital form and fabrication at Oslo National Academy cites her similar experience in teaching digital fabrication tools to craft students.
“I think of digital fabrication both as a craft field and a set of tools that come with their own rules for use. To master the tools requires skills, which take about the same time to learn as it takes to master any other craft” (11)
Webster concludes :
“I am quite sure we have seen the beginning of the use of digital craft. We now have access to a whole range of new tools that allow for a new set of expressions. I think one implication of this will be a monumental shift in the way we understand creation. This, in turn, means we must rethink what it means to make, and to be a maker today” (12)
With this in mind it is too narrow to focus the impact of new technology at the point of production alone. As stated earlier the impact of new and emergent technology does not occur by merely replacing a hand tool with a digital one, technology is all pervasive in our lives and thus pervades our very psyche, whether we recognize this or not.
In a recent article featured in the Financial Times Glenn Adamson, craft theorist and director of New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, comments on the relationship between digital experience and making.
“Digital experience and tangible making have a dramatic and ongoing impact on one another when it comes to aesthetics…the characteristic features of digital form stretched distortion, filtered colour and backlighting- migrate into analogue design as if unconsciously. Digital experience fuels the imaginative storehouse of the maker, encouraging rapid-fire connection, leaping from one data point to another” (13)
Even at a basic level the internet has facilitated a social revolution in making. Sociologist and media theorist, David Gauntlett in his book Making is Connecting, writes of the innate desire people have to be more then mere consumers, they want to make and shape their environment. People not only need to create but want to share their endeavor with others. Web 2.0 with it emphasis on user generated content, facilitates this on a global scale for makers of all kinds, and as Gauntlett states, this creating and sharing ‘increases your feeling of embeddedness and participation in the world”. (14)
So technology in this sense does not necessarily affect how we make something but has influence on how we share, access, communicate and develop our making as well as enhancing our wellbeing.
On another level we have the emergence of the open source philosophy and the creative commons license. Open source technology allows anyone to access what was previously the domain of the specialist or researcher. Open source philosophy enables multitudes of makers to share their knowledge, it is truly democratic and non- hierarchical, a collaborative process, where the hobbyist and professional can work together. This inclusivity is akin to that found within craft practice. With open source initiatives there is the advantage of the accumulative power of the crowd, amassing many thousands of ‘man’ hours towards the development of a shared knowledge, advancing a technology, its application and its creative potential.
However there is a drawback, the egalitarian inclusivity within the world of open source does bring with it issues of quality and veracity, a characteristic also frequently criticized in the world of ceramics. Equally I have found there is a risk in making an open source technology or software the bedrock of your practice for they can be quickly surpassed, subsumed or indeed even disappeared overnight. Working with open source technologies has taught me not to rely on what is currently existent but to look towards the trajectory and the broader applications of any given technology. In much the same way as it would be unwise to focus this essay on examples of current technologies, it would be outdated by the time the ink had dried on this paper. We need to ensure that our adoption of technologies speak to our inherent creative values. We need to subvert them to our ends, shape our tools to our needs before the tools shape us.
It is easy to be seduced by the apparent sophistication of new and emergent technologies and become consumed with the how as opposed to the why? In my own experience I stared at the 3D printer sitting on my desk for a year before I found a purposeful and creative use for it. Critic and digital theorist Peter Lunenfeld gives us a cautionary note about technological enchantment and how we can be seduced by the novelty of digital objects; “They attract less for what they mean than for the fact that they are” (15)
There are however many ceramicists using digital technologies innovatively to meaningful ends. As mentioned earlier Michael Eden has embraced digital 3D forming and fabrication processes, for Eden the attraction is “that these technologies allow previously impossible objects to be made” (16)
It is interesting to note that Eden’s work is frequently produced using non-ceramic materials, however his work quotes so intelligently from the lexicon of ceramics, that it contributes significantly to its material culture.
A leading exponent in the field of 3D printing in clay is ceramicist Jonathan Keep. Keep’s use of coding as opposed to off the shelf software is highly innovative. Keep creates his own processing code, which in turn creates digital form. These forms can then be printed in clay using his homemade extrusion printer. What is of particular interest here is that the forms are iterative, in that the code, i.e. the algorithms used to determine the printers movements are created by Keep himself, as opposed to a 3D digital file being rendered by the printer. These codes, which are inspired by the mathematical codes found in nature, dictate how the form develops. Keep’s processing code sets both the parameters and potential of the form, this construct would be impossible by any analogue means of making form.
Keep’s work does not have the aesthetic sensibilities of what many would see as a digitally produced artifact, but speaks the language of physicality and formal understanding that Keep has honed for years working with clay.
Alongside makers such as Michael Eden and Geoffrey Mann, Keep moves seamlessly between the screen and the workbench, with physicality and materiality at the heart of his making. For these makers, all technologies, be they digital or physical are considered non-hierarchical and subsumed in their practice, there are no historical fault lines here, the wall between the real and the virtual has become permeable.
This new breed of makers, are the subject of Jonathan Openshaw’s forthcoming book “The Post-Digital Artisan”. Here in a quote form Opensahw’s FT article, ‘The Craft Makers ahead of the Digital Curve’, Hans Ulrich Obrist, co –director of exhibitions and director of international projects at the Serpentine Gallery London, cites the ‘porosity of boundaries’ brought about by this integration of the physical and the digital:
“This celebration of the physical is not a rejection of the digital, it’s an integral part of the new digital movement…. It’s about renegotiating the resources that we have at hand, rather then trying to add new resources to the situation. There’s a kind of porosity of boundaries for many of these artists and designer, moving freely between disciplines as they do between media formats” (17)
In my own practice I have focused on the use of technologies in relation to our perception of a ceramic object. Using QR (Quick Response) codes and AR (Augmented Reality) markers to create embedded and interactive content on handmade ceramic objects. Exploring the concept of a ‘hacked’ object I use 3D digital scans and 3D prints to both physically and digitally hack historical ceramic artifacts.
Recently I have worked collaboratively with artist Jon Piggot to create interactive works. These works, which are kinetic sound sculptures, use the open-source electronic prototyping platform Arduino to create interactive objects. We use sensors and actuators (not to mention a few rubber balls) to explore the aurality of ceramic objects. This combination of clay and electro mechanics makes for interesting bedfellows. In our bricolage of hi tech and low craft, we have found a much greater communality in our working methods and processing then we ever envisaged at the outset. For an example of this work view “The Campanologist’s Tea Cup”
Using new technologies has enabled me to animate an inanimate object; when perceiving my work the viewer frequently engages with physical objects and digital content simultaneously. It is the ability to give static objects a voice that is of particular interest, those objects can become palimpsests of their own making. Similarly an object’s provenance can be recorded and revealed and in some way may determine its future. This is what I see as one of many trajectories for objects, if we change how we experience them, it will also change how we conceive and produce them.
The science fiction writer Bruce Sterling writes eloquently on the future of objects in his book “Shaping Things”, here he discusses the theoretical construct of a Spime. The Spime, as Sterling describes is a futuristic object, which can be tracked throughout its lifetime. It uses six key technologies, including GPS and Radio Frequency ID Tags, these technologies could make it feasible to track the entire existence of an object, from it raw material, through its manufacture, to how it is used/viewed, its ownership, its geographical location, even how it might be recycled into new objects. If the data is recorded, the lifetime of the object can be archived, and searched for, this would not only change how we might approach making an object but how we understand objects in the future. The word spime is a neologism of ‘space’ and ‘time’.
”Spimes are the intersection of two vectors of technosocial development. They have the capacity to change the human relationship to time and material process, by making those processes blatant and archiveable. Every Spime is a little metahistory generator.” (18)
In reality this is not the stuff of fiction, with the advances in I.O.T. (Internet of Things) technology the concept of ‘object to object’ communication becomes a very real and tangible entity. The Internet of Things proposes that everyday objects have networked connectivity and therefore can send or receive or accumulate data. Interesting to note that in Gartner’s Hype Cycle of Technology 2014, Internet of Things technology sat atop the peak of inflated expectations. So in one of my attempts to shape my own tools and use massive computational advances to my own creative ends I designed and made an Internet of Things tea cosy. This tea cosy was made for my elderly technophobe father who lives on his own in Ireland, I wast intrigued to see if ‘object to object’ communication could let me know (un-intrusively) if he was engaged in his daily routine. As a ceramicist the obvious object of choice for routine use was a teapot... so using a IOT device with a heat sensor called a Twine, my twitter account, an IFTT (If This Then That) recipe and a WeMo switch, I ‘connected’ my father’s teapot in Ireland to my own 1950’s teasmade in Wales. So when my father uses his tea-cosy to keep his morning brew warm my teasmade lights up and simultaneously pours me a cup of tea…and then safe in the knowledge he’s about to sit down with his tea, I can phone him for a quick chat on his landline, which is still his preferred mode of communication.
Writer William Gibson captures the irony of this act in his well known phrase:
“The future is already here just unevenly distributed” (19)
Which brings me once again to the demonstrator stage at the International Ceramics Festival by now it is 2015 and this time the demonstrators are Jonathan Keep and British potter Lisa Hammond. My view from the stage clearly shows that the audiences attention is now equally divided between Lisa’s wheel and Jonathan’s 3D printer, they seem to enjoy the fact that Jonathan struggles with the vagaries of clay consistency in the differential atmosphere of the stage, taking comfort in his need for material knowledge with this digital tool. While they are thrilled by the technology they are reassured to see dirty hands!
To end the demonstration Jonathan activates his laptop microphone and captures the ambient sounds of the theatre, this data instantly creates an undulating vessel form on his laptop screen, responding in real time to the noise we generate. Here Jonathan is using the time and space we are in to create the form itself, perhaps a potential forebear of the Spime. On the other side of the stage Lisa is using a freshly sharpened handmade tool to confidently facet her thrown tea bowl, with these sure movements she creates a timeless and beautiful object. As I stand between these two great makers, both making a faceted ceramic vessel, I feel the thrill of oscillating in the present, and it’s an exciting place to be.
1. Vermeulen, Timotheus; Van den Akker, Robin. From webzine “ Notes on Metamodernism” October 14 2010.
2. Adams, Douglas. “The Salmon of Doubt’.” (Random House 2002) pp.111
3. Valery, Paul from foreword to Benjamin Walter, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936 London) pp. 1
4. Khanna Ayesha & Parag, ‘Hybrid Reality. Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization’ (2012 TED Books) pp. 2
5. Cukier Kenneth & Mayer-Schonberger Viktor ‘Big Data. A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.’ (John Murray Publishers London, 2013) pp.13-14
6. Valery, Paul ibid pp. 2
7. Chatfield Tom, ‘How to Thrive in the Digital Age’, The School of Life (2012) pp. 10
8. From Gartner Inc.
9. Sennett Richard, ‘The Craftsman’, (London, 2008), pp. 20
10. Ibid pp. 10
11. Webster, Trine. “Digital Craft- How Do We Create With Digital Technology?’ from “Materiality Matters” Eds Borda-Pedreira, Joakim & Steinsvåg (Norwegian Crafts 2014) pp.47
12. Ibid pp.50
13. Adamson, Glenn in article by Openshaw, Jonathan, “The Craftmakers Ahead of the Digital Curve”. Financial Times. June 16th 2015.
Article available here :
14. Gauntlett, David. “Making is Connecting” (Polity Press Cambridge, 2011) pp.56
15. Lunenfeld, Peter “Snap to Grid. A User’s Guide to Digital Arts, Media and Cultures.” (M.I.T. 2001). pp.173
16. Eden, Michael. “The New Ways- Digital craft Skills and the New Industrial Revolution” from “Materiality Matters” Eds Borda-Pedreira, Joakim & Steinsvåg (Norwegian Crafts 2014) pp.47
17. Obrist, Hans-Ulrich in article by Openshaw, Jonathan, “The Craftmakers Ahead of the Digital Curve”. Financial Times. June 16th 2015
18. Sterling, Bruce “Shaping Things” Editorial Director: Peter Lunenfeld. (MIT Press 2005) pp.43
19. Gibson, William in an interview for “The Science in Science Fiction” on ‘Talk of the Nation’, NPR (30 November 1999)
1. Introduction - Objects of Collaboration
Material arts, craft based practices and technological constructs influence, support and affect each other in multiple possible ways, each with their own historical lineage and associated aspirations or concerns. As two artists, Ingrid Murphy and Jon Pigott, who have both worked with technology as a core concern within our separate practices, we were excited by an opportunity to collaborate on a commission for an exhibition titled the Sensorial Object which first opened in Cardiff’s Craft in the Bay gallery in early 2015. The ambition of the exhibition to uncover new ‘apertures of perception within and beneath our familiar daily experience’ (Sensorial Object 2015) through materiality and objects of a domestic scale fitted well to our own common interests in developing a technologically enabled augmented and kinetic object based installation that would surprise and intrigue an audience. Murphy’s work is broadly recognised as a ceramics practice, but one that for some years has been firmly engaged with digital technologies in its production, augmentation and conception. Pigott’s work can be thought of as object based sound sculpture, using electro mechanics, kinetics and handmade electronics in its production. Prior to the invitation to collaborate for the Sensorial Object we had already identified commonalties in our modes of practice through teaching together on the BA Hons Maker programme at Cardiff Metropolitan University where we seek to represent equally both the traditional and technological sides of making.
The Campanologist’s Tea Cup was the title we chose for our collaborative piece shown in figure 1. An initial inspiration for the work came from the common practice of tapping or pinging a piece of ceramics and listening to the resulting sound in order to ascertain the inherent quality, value and material integrity of the object. This very practical application of the relationship between sound and material led to the idea of expanding and augmenting the moment of the ping into a real time kinetic sounding sequence of events, drawing attention to the inherent connection between material, form, sound and process, four themes already distributed equally across each of our individual practices. As can be seen in figure 1 and in the film documentation (The Campanologist’s Teacup 2015), this relationship between ceramic material and sound is explored in the piece through five ceramic gramophone horn forms on plinths, each with a rubber ball suspended inside its throat. Positioned on a sixth plinth is a small bone china teacup that the audience are invited to tap or ping. With this simple, single interaction the five suspended rubber balls start to rotate eccentrically, driven by five small DC motors from which they are hung. With this eccentric rotating motion the balls bounce around the inside of the ceramic horns causing them to ring at a pitch which is defined by their thickness, their surface glaze and the temperature at which they were fired during production. There is a non-linearity to the nature of movement of the balls as they swing and bounce off the surface of the horns, and hence the tonal percussive sounds that are produced build a complex relational sonic arrangement across the five plinths. The overall sound is a soothing almost wind chime-like or bell-like effect that is entirely recognisable as being borne of a ceramic form. These sounds are also subtly amplified by contact microphones attached to each of the horns and through secluded speakers inside each of the end two plinths.
The narrow end of each of the ceramic horns culminates in a human ear form. This is a 3D scan that Murphy made of Pigott’s ear, printed, slip cast and spliced onto each of the forms. This bodily appendage to the familiar form of the gramophone horn further develops the themes of the Sensorial Object in a surreal and uncanny way, posing questions around who or what is listening? and where does listening happen in a technologically mediated environment? For us The Campanologist’s Teacup is a successful merging of our practices and it has so far proved an enduring and engaging piece for audiences of all ages through its technologically mediated and interactive nature as well as its material and formal presence. We were pleased to partake in two further opportunities for exhibiting the piece following the Sensorial Object exhibition during 2015, including one at the British Ceramics Biennial (British Ceramics Biennial 2015) in the disused Spode ceramics factory in Stoke on Trent. Here the piece took on another dimension as the ghostly sounds of chiming ceramics resonated around the reverberant disused industrial ceramics factory building (see figure 2).
2. Under the Skin – Electromechanical Systems as Craft Practice
The interactive and kinetic elements of the Campanologist’s Teacup are enabled by a bespoke handmade electromechanical system based around the Arduino microprocessor board. This open source, programmable electronic device is a stalwart of the current maker scene allowing artists and designers to develop work that uses simple technological interactions and events through the support of a community of enthusiastic technologists making projects, information and advice available on the web. In the Campanologists Teacup the Arduino board senses the pinging of the teacup through a piezo electric contact microphone attached to the bottom of the cup. The ping is recognised by the Arduino as a trigger signal to begin a short on / off switching sequence to the DC motors from which the rubber balls are suspended. The sound of the ceramic horns themselves is then a slightly separate concern of amplifying a further five contact microphones (also piezo electric transducers, one attached to each horn) through a small mixer (hidden inside the central plinth) and out to two loudspeakers hidden inside each of the outer two plinths. This simple and straightforward interactive electromechanical system, which runs on relatively lo-tech means, nevertheless embodies a good deal of technical concerns. From the most simply observed problems such as how to prevent the rubber balls bouncing out of the gramophone horns, through to solutions for electronic noise suppression in the audio channels and electronic compensation for the sensitivities of different motors, this apparently simple system needed shaping, supporting, coaxing and crafting into effective operation.
One identifiable lineage of working directly with hand assembled electronic and electromechanical technologies within art practice, comes form the world of music and experimental composition. During the mid 1960s composers such as David Tudor and Gordon Mumma took up the hand building of electronic devices in order to explore possibilities in sound and music. This mode of practice, which can be viewed as merging the worlds of art, music and craft, happened from within a broader cultural context of artists like Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage working closely with systems engineers at a time of burgeoning computer power and emerging digital technology. Others working in a direct and hands on way with electronics at this time, as well as earlier in the twentieth century, include Robert Moog, Raymond Scott and Leon Theremin all of whom could be viewed as having a craft like relationship with electronic technologies, through a concern with sound. This type of relationship is in contrast to a ‘hands off’ model of technological consumption, non-user serviceability (or any type of serviceability), and enforced upgrade and disposal, which is common in today’s technological landscape. As identified through the open source communities of Arduino however, the internet does provide a useful platform for maintaining and supporting a craft practice of electronics for those interested to partake.
A related example of somebody working equally across the fields of sound, music, art and craft is composer Harry Parch who since the 1950s turned to the forming of materials into unique sculptural musical instruments in order to realise his particular compositional aims, which involved unusual tuning systems. This marks a shift, similar to that identified with Tudor and Mumma, from conceptual composer artist writing scores to be performed on musical instruments made by craftspeople, to material artist engaged in the crafting of sounding objects. With Parch, the relationship between sound and material is important as explored in his ‘corporeality of music’ (see Keylin 2015). This kind of direct forming of resonant materials into sounding objects identified in Parch’s approach may be readily recognisable as a kind of craft practice as it can be viewed as sitting within a long history of musical instrument making by skilled craftspeople. This territory can be further aligned with the more technologically inclined makers such as Tudor and Mumma when electronics are considered in terms of the kind of ‘media materiality’ described by Jussi Parikka. Parikka highlights the inherently material nature of the electronically and digitally mediated world when he identifies that ‘media history is one big story of experimenting with different materials from glass plates to chemicals, from selenium to coltan, from dilute suphuric acid to shellac silk and gutta percha’ (Parikka 2011: 3). This sensibility to the materiality of what is under the skin of everyday technologies is present in the work of Tudor and others’ creative endeavors through the form and arrangement of components, through the molten solder, the conductive copper, the tiny bits of silicon, carbon, tantalum, the heat and the general processes of making assembling and imagining electronic technologies. This material awareness is also increasingly within current public consciousness in regards to environmental and ecological concerns in relation to electronic waste and the mining of the raw materials for the production of electronic goods. Identifying electronics as a material practice in this way helps to connect the activities of Parch and traditional musical instrument making with the activities of Tudor, Mumma and other technologists working with sound.
In relation to his theory of ‘carpentry’ as a creative act of making in order to explore ideas and critical thinking, Ian Bogost observes that ‘[w]hether it is a cabinet, a software program or a motorcycle, getting something to work at the most basic level is nearly impossible’ (Bogost 2012: 92). Bogost’s broad and inclusive range of activities of making within ‘carpentry’ is reflective of Richard Sennett’s discussion of craft practice as encompassing open source software development, laboratory work and musical conducting among other things. In this expansive view of craft, Sennett also rails against the historical divisions inherent in creative practice describing problematic ‘fault lines dividing practice and theory, technique and expression, craftsman and artist, maker and user’ (Sennett 2008: 20). As makers of the Campanologist’s Teacup we regularly encountered Bogost’s ‘nearly impossible’ task of encouraging materials to bend and behave in a manner conducive to our intended outcome. Whether through the unexpected behaviour of clay and glaze at high temperature or through the lively nature of electricity and resonant materials, we partook in a careful process of listening to and shaping the material world through a collaborative art and craft based practice that involved crossing various historic fault lines.
3. Meta-making with Materials - Exploring Technological Constructs in Craft
As a ceramic artist, Murphy’s knowledge of traditional making process and materiality were obviously important to our project. They enabled us to use the long established and ancient relationship and trust that humans have with ceramic objects in domestic form to inform the initial themes for the piece. But The Campanologist’s Tea Cup offered the opportunity to not only exploit the physical characteristics of clay for it aural properties but also to augment our perception of a domestic ceramic object. This approach had also been a key factor in Murphy’s practice for some years before our collaboration. Working with a bricolage of what is perceived to be hi-tech and ‘low-craft’ processes, other examples of Murphy’s work evoke a similar experience as viewers are invited to engage with physical objects and digital content simultaneously. Murphy has used technology such as Augmented Reality (AR) to give static objects a voice, renegotiating and re-claiming the basic, primal concerns that are inherent in ceramics and object making through our deep connection to haptic activity and sensory experience. Embedding digital data onto crafted objects has enabled them to become palimpsests of their own making, revealing their provenance and determining their future by changing how they are perceived and experienced as well as how they may by conceived and produced.
In an earlier piece by Murphy, titled ‘Things Men Have Made with Wakened Hands’, inspired by the eponymous D H Lawrence poem, AR interaction was used to reflect the sentiment of the verse, which conjures evocative images of handmade objects ‘awake through years of transferred touch […] warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.’ (Lawrence 1929). Here a gold lustred replica of an old thrown jug triggers a live film projection when handled. The film replays material of the hands of skilled makers handling the jug such that the audience’s hands holding the replica are visually replaced with the maker’s hands holding the original artefact. The nature of the film projected reflects the notion of a maker’s ‘intelligent touch’, neatly summarised by Juhani Pallasmaa when he observes that ‘the knowledge and skills of traditional societies reside directly in the sense and muscles, in the knowing and intelligent hands’ (Pallasmaa 2009: 101). As touch is the sense integral to both the creation and appreciation of ceramics, it is important that the viewer handles the work to gain both a visual and sensory experience, while the gold lustre records this transference of touch in its ever growing tarnish. It is noteworthy that the viewers tend to modify their handling of the replica once the embedded film is triggered, following the movements of the maker’s hands, exploring the object as would an expert. In this work AR enables the viewer to experience object, live feed, and embedded feed simultaneously, blurring the boundaries between immediacy, hypermediacy and remediacy, creating a new phenomenological experience of a once familiar object. The piece has been described elsewhere:
“This many layered work quietly reveals complexity in its resonance and reverberations, elicited through the juxtaposition of the handmade with digital technology. Here, the self, the replica jug, the live projection and the film mingle to ‘transform’ an everyday ceramic object into a nucleus for expanded empirical and existential perception.” (Roche 2013)
For us this earlier piece by Murphy and the Campanologist’s Teacup benefit equally from a sense of heritage and tradition, and of forward facing possibility and departure through their hybrid physical and technologically augmented forms. In this way we find ideas emerging from fields such as meta-modernity resonate with some of the themes that emerge in our work. Timothies Vermuleun and Robin van Der Akker’s description of their meta-modernist position describes a field which is moving, oscillating between current and historic influence, affected by ‘estimations of the past, imbued by experiences of the present, yet also inspired by expectations of the future’ (Vermuleun and van Der Akker 2010). This oscillation is also reflective in general terms of a new breed of makers who move seamlessly between the screen and the workbench, with physicality and materiality at the heart of their making but with extensive technologies at their fingertips. The all-pervasive and open access nature of the digital technologies of today means that makers are not only engaging in new processes but also bringing their traditional sense of materiality and process to bear on those technologies as means of expression.
One such example is ceramicists Michael Eden for whom 3D modelling and printing technologies bring renewed creative potential to historical ceramic form. For Eden the attraction is ‘that these technologies allow previously impossible objects to be made’ (Eden 2014). For Eden as with Murphy’s previous work and our collaboration, all technologies, be they digital or physical are considered non-hierarchical, subsumed into a practice that takes in both traditional and emergent methods. There are no historical fault lines here, the wall between the real and the virtual, the possible and impossible has become permeable. As curator Hans Ulrich Obrist notes:
This celebration of the physical is not a rejection of the digital, it’s an integral part of the new digital movement […] It’s about renegotiating the resources that we have at hand, rather then trying to add new resources to the situation. There’s a kind of porosity of boundaries for many of these artists and designers, moving freely between disciplines as they do between media formats (Obrist 2015)
The creative collaboration involved in the production of The Campanologists Teacup offered us a great insight into each other’s practice and context. We found a particular synergy in the fact that Pigott approached the project as a technologist practicing on the arc of making, and Murphy as a maker practicing on the arc of technology. The nexus of these arcs informed much of the project’s development as a technologically augmented and enabled, interactive ceramic installation. On closer consideration and reflection we realise the relative differences that each of our current creative relationships with technology entails, where Murphy is working with new digital methods in a traditional area of making and Pigott is applying craft sensibilities and approaches to the making of electromechanical systems. It was fortuitous for us that we found a commonality in our creative intentions and this was in part afforded by the curatorial intention of the Sensorial Object exhibition. One common theme that emerged for us was that of facture - the evidence of a production process in the appearance and reception of an object. The sound of the ceramic horns of the Campanologist’s Teacup is determined by their thickness during slip casting, their firing temperature and their surface glaze, among a myriad of other events in their making process. It is also a direct result of the real time bouncing of the ball, driven by the motor, triggered by the pinging of the teacup, a process defined by the work’s electromechanical system, some of which is clearly exposed. Both the making process of the ceramic pieces and the electromechanical process of the kinetic interaction are evidenced through the sound of the piece alongside the objects themselves describing both an immediacy and remediacy of making and the made object. A catalogue essay for the Sensorial Object exhibition by researcher Dot Young (Young 2015: 16) discusses the aurality of objects in this way, and also in relation to the aural waste expended during the fabrication process. For us these themes link the work directly back to the initial ping of the teacup that inspired it.
While it can be said there are distinct differences in our skills base and knowledge, it became apparent once the making began in earnest that there was little notable difference in our approach to hands on labour. While Murphy cast and fettled the horns in the studio, Pigott armed with a soldering iron and a jeweller’s lamp painstakingly soldered circuitry and assembled mechanics at the workbench, both fluently engaged in the vernacular of our particular craft. Each of those crafts enjoys its own heritage and its own particular lineage of technological engagement and influence and each has come to bear equally on the Campanologist’s Teacup.
Sensorial Object 2015 [online] Available at https://thesensorialobject.wordpress.com [accessed January 2016]
The Campanologist’s Teacup 2015. Film documentation [online] Available at https://vimeo.com/123617368 [accessed January 2016]
British Ceramics Biennial 2015 [online] Available at http://britishceramicsbiennial.com [accessed January 2016]
Keylin, V. 2015. ‘Corporeality of Music and Sound Sculpture’, Organised Sound 20(2), pp182–190.
Parikka, J. 2011. ‘New Materialism as Media Theory: Media Natures and Dirty Matter’ Communication and Critical / Cultural Studies D0I:10, pp1-6.
Bogost, I. 2012. Alien Phenomenology or What it’s Like to be a Thing. London: University of Minnesota Press.
Sennett, R. 2008. The Craftsman. London, Penguin.
Lawrence, D.H. 1929 ‘Things Men Have Made’, Pinto, VS. and Roberts, W. (eds). 1954. The Complete Works of D H Lawrence Vol 2. London: Heinnemann.
Pallasmaa, J. 2009 The Thinking Hand : Existential and Embodied Wisdom in Architecture. Chichester: Wiley and Sons Ltd.
Roche, C. 2013. ‘Ingrid Murphy - Augmented Reality and the Sensory Resonance of Ceramic Objects’, Ceramics Art & Perception 2013 Issue 94.
Vermeulen. T., Van den Akker, R. 2010. [online] ‘Notes on Metamodernism’ Available at http://www.metamodernism.com/2010/10/14/what-meta-means-and-does-not-mean/ [accessed January 2016]
Eden, M. 2014. ‘The New Ways- Digital craft Skills and the New Industrial Revolution’, in Borda-Pedreira, J. Jones, A. and Steinsvåg, G. (eds) Materiality Matters, Oslo: Norwegian Crafts 2014 pp47.
Obrist, H. 2015. Quoted in Openshaw, J. 2015 , ‘The Craftmakers Ahead of the Digital Curve’. Financial Times. June 16th 2015.
Young, D. 2015 ‘Aurality of Objects’, The Sensorial Object exhibition catalogue. Also [online] Available at https://thesensorialobject.wordpress.com/dot-young/ [accessed January 2016].
Essay: 'MetaMaking and Me' - Ingrid Murphy
The Ceramics Reader.
Eds. A. Livingstone & K. Petrie
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Press, Publications & Writing
Essay: "Beyond Facture"- Ingrid Murphy
The Journal of Australian Ceramics:
Guest Ed: Janet De Boos
Published November 2016
Volume 55. No 3
Journal Paper: The Campanologists Tea Cup
I Murphy & J Pigott
Making Futures Journal
Plymouth College of Art
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Interview and Illustrated works:
New Directions in Ceramics
From Spectacle to Trace
Author: Jo Dahn
Ingrid Murphy - Augmented Reality and the Sensory Resonance of Ceramic Objects
Author: Catherine Roche
Ceramic Art & Perception
Published November 2013
Work Illustrated or cited in the following publications:
Examples of Published Texts
Published by Bloomsbury 2017. Editors A Livingstone & K Petrie
Author: Ingrid Murphy
Title: Meta-making and Me.