‘Lab Craft - Digital adventures in contemporary craft’ – shown in London as part of the 2010 London Design Festival (LDF) – is a new touring exhibition funded by the UK Crafts Council, that looks at the growing influence of digital technologies on the UK craft sector. The pieces range from wallpaper and chairs to items of jewellery and cutlery, all of them created or decorated by part-hand craft/part digital, utilising CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and manufacture) technologies at some point in the process. Digital techniques included computer-aided design, digital textile printing, laser cutting, CNC milling and rapid prototyping.
The results are interesting, rewarding and sometimes beautiful too. Above all, some of them break new ground. UK designer Philippa Brock’s textiles are self-folding and require minimal finishing when they come off the loom (which has positive implications in terms of waste reduction); Israeli designer Assa Ashuach’s table loop lights were created for newly launched company UCODO, which stands for ‘User Co-Designed Objects’ and allows users to customize their chosen product, stretching it, twisting it, embossing it, at the click of a mouse. Rather than feeling disempowered by this, Ashuach considers that this sort of openness and collaboration with the end-user is going to be key in the design sector in the future.
In the show guide, curator Max Fraser says that, ‘digital processes are often assumed to be too linear, rigid and mathematical to fit the more human-centred definition of craft,’ but he posits that contemporary craft need not be defined by genre and that the ‘energy invested in learning, mastering and manipulating the software and hardware to perform in entirely new and unseen ways is a pioneering craft in its own right’. And based on what I saw here, I think he may just be speaking the truth.
A personal highlight was a candle-holder by Geoffrey Mann in which a 3D scanner was used to document the reflective properties of a Victorian candelabra and then used to create a rapid prototyped form that bringS to life the way the light bounced off the silver. The finished piece is both primitive and highly sophisticated. Primitive because the light reflections appear like stalactites attached to the object (see image), sophisticated because there is something distinctly digital about its appearance and because the new product both encapsulates the reflective qualities of the original Victorian candelabra, but is also reflective in its own right. A sort of embedded reflectiveness if you will, something previously impossible, surely.
Other pieces feel very zeitgeisty. The catchily-titled ‘Information Ate My table’ by Zachary Eastwood-Bloom - an updated version of the classic ‘A dog ate my homework’ excuse for the information era - is obvious but appealing. A huge chunk of this low coffee-table made out of solid beech has been literally consumed by a voracious digital mouth (actually it was made using a CNC milling machine). The piece isn’t beautiful – the table looks too generic for that – but it is alluring in its critique of the overwhelming information overload that affects us all.
Other stand-out pieces include the Bubble range of jewellery by Lynne MacLachlan, that mimics bubble and foam structures and utilises digital technologies and artisan skills. Made using rapid prototyping technology, they are then cast into precious metals using lost wax casting techniques and then hand-finished and polished.
Lastly, Tord Boontje’s new upholstery fabric 100 Years was also on show and looked so delicate in fact I thought it was paper at first. Boontje starts with hand-drawn sketches which are applied to the fabrics using laser-cutting techniques. The finished fabric really brought home what digital craft may just all be about: intricate and special pieces that are nevertheless borne from human touch and the idiosyncratic brilliance of distinct human minds. The machines are, after all, only as clever as the person making and using them. Or maybe I am just trying to reassure myself.
Lab Craft will next show at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, Greater Manchester, from 30 October to 18 December 2010.
See UK Crafts Council for more info.
Main image: Design by Studio Tord Boontje for Kvadrat
Images bottom to top: Assa Ashuach, Zachary Eastwood-Bloom, Gary Allson, Geoffrey Mann, Justin Marshall, Liam Hopkins, Lynne Machlaclan, Melanie Bowles, Michael Eden, Tord Boontje
Click on the images to enlarge
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