Making Futures Journal

image credit: Laura Quinn Design. 2019

The Journal of Plymouth College of Art's Making Futures Biennial Conference

Volume VI, 2019. ISSN 2042-1664

People, Place, Meaning:
Crafting Social Worlds & Social Making


Community is at the heart of the Making Futures agenda, and this 2019 edition, ‘People, Place, Meaning: Crafting Social Worlds & Social Making’, curated by Malcolm Ferris, is no exception. As a collection of essays from makers, scholars, organisers and educators from across the globe, it appreciates the value of makers as singular creative agents producing material objects, as well as the social dimensions of these maker practices positively contribute to the construction and regeneration of communities.

Of particular interest within this issue is how individual practices develop and promote socially and environmentally responsible making practices, but also how these singular enterprises can cluster into ‘place-based’ creative maker-ecologies capable of producing value through the enhancement of community life in ways that encourage more progressive circuits of engagement, production and consumption.

This issue of the Making Futures Journal consists papers selected from presenters at our 2019 Making Futures biennial conference held at Plymouth College of Art in Plymouth, UK in September 2019 and peer-reviewed by our Editorial Committee.

Stephanie Owens and Judith Noble, Making Futures Journal Co-editors.

In this article, we discuss the experiential learnings from two collaborative research projects exploring the reuse of discarded competitive sails in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The visually appealing and composite sail material, which normally goes to landfill because it is difficult to recycle, was the centre of our creative, practice-led and material-based approach, driven by sustainability and reflexivity. To achieve this, we applied environmental, social and economic lenses to our research processes and outcomes. We used two distinct projects as test cases to analyse and reflect on the realities, challenges, limitations and opportunities in the reuse of waste material in object and fashion design, also considering the differences between commercial design contexts and art-based approaches.

The paper will provide a brief historical context of clay extrusion with coverage of the use of the process in both the architectural ceramic industry and the craft sector. The paper will then cover the author’s creative experiments with the method and the use of 3D printing as the key technology for creating the extrusion profiles (dies). The paper will then describe developments in terms of transferring the knowledge from these experiments into potential applications in the architectural ceramic industry.

Few written reflective exercises about design in 2020 will not contain a reference to the current global pandemic we are witnessing in every single corner of the planet. A tiny virus is becoming one of the biggest challenges for humanity for the last 100 years, and while science is trying to control and defeat it, it keeps teaching us so many lessons in the form of paradoxes, contradictions, and evidence of the unessential layers of complexity we have been forced to get rid of, and we might not take back in any of the future “new normals”. One of the main contradictions of our time is the fact that we need to operate in our current system in order to transform it. But our current systems operate under principles of occupation, control, and exploitation of lands and resources that once were in custody by others. The complete recognition of the underlying support values of our systems show us that we have been colonized, primarily by ourselves. We can recognize that we, as designers and consumers, are enablers of processes that go against our values and ethics, or projections about our own “self”, and that convenience ends up being more powerful than those, due to the sense impossibility of choice.

There is a remarkable contradiction in the static nature of human activity generated by digital technology and the dynamic nature of human activity motivated, consciously or sub-consciously, by a desire to counter this immobility. One consequence of this is evident on digital media platforms which have birthed a wealth of accounts about the benefits of engaging in craft, written from the perspective of the maker. The craftsman Peter Korn comments, “craft has taken on a new life as a counter-virtual ideology” (Lovelace, 2018). Yet, in stark contrast to this trend, our schools have witnessed a steep decline in the provision of practical craft-type subjects since 2010 and many school workshops have closed altogether.

This paper explores how the economic livelihoods of a defined group of craft producers in Indonesia can be improved through design focused activities that expand upon already established linkages and collaborations. Fieldwork uses Participatory Action Research (PAR) methods, (Swantz 2008) involving co-creative design thinking workshops that are situated within the terrain of Design Anthropology (Gunn 2012). Funded through Research England’s, 2018-19 Global Challenge Research Fund (Research England 2018), the case study project, Making Links 5, (2019) sought to empower craft makers by teaching design thinking through making in a shared studio/workshop environment. Underpinned by the principles of fair trade, the aim was to work within a specific context, where potential for the development of unique craft items for an international market, had been identified by members of the in-country project team.

For makers concerned with sustainability, we face a conundrum, and an ethical question - are we being sustainable by creating material objects? ‘If we are truly concerned about sustainability, we should just stop making things’ (Procter, The Sustainable Design Book, 6). Proctor’s question is indeed one we should consider as makers; however we must also question whether our greater contribution to sustainability will come from refraining from ‘making things’, or could it be from a continuation of creating material objects that encourage a closer consumer-product relationship, which affects the sustainability of the complete life cycle of the object? I will argue that it is not the things, themselves as Proctor put it, that are the issue, it is us as producers and consumers, and our relationship to these things that is the problem. I will argue that it is not the energy intensive production of artisanal glass that is the issue but that neo-artisanal practice makes possible a reflection on the relationships that link the object, its production, and its consumption. Although it is important to consider efficient use of energy, it may be equally important to consider the invisible dynamics of consumer culture that influence how we use and reuse material objects. I will discuss how the problematic symptoms that have contributed to the current environmental crisis came from a focus on extrinsic characteristics of materialism rather than intrinsic characteristics of materiality. I will build the argument that the solution is in the problem and that indeed a possible antidote to materialism is in materiality - in exploring the relationship between the material and the producer and consumer.

This paper explores the role of the Distributed Design (DD) Platform which is working to socialise the nascent field of distributed design. The Platform comprises fifteen cultural institutions, research centres, Fab Labs and makerspaces to deliver Europe-wide programming across education and training, capacity building and skills development, peer-to-peer exchange and networking; as well as to advocate for and celebrate excellence in the emerging field. It focuses on the generation of new markets, which require new business models and models of distribution. Further, the Platform undertakes collaborative action-research on the state-of-the-art at the convergence of ‘making’ and design practice in an attempt to narrate the formation of the field. Drawing on learnings, it proposes the development of an approach devised of cultural programming and practical tools aimed at embedding DD values into design practice. These values; Open, Regenerative, Collaborative and Ecosystemic have emerged from the Platform as defining principles. The cases explored in this paper can be seen to embody these values and at the same time, represent their wide applicability. The cases cover the diverse thematic areas of agriculture and healthcare and cover a range of applied practice and technical processes. This too seems to be a defining characteristic of Distributed Design, it is ‘application agnostic’ and rather than being confined to a traditional field such as Product Design, Service Design or Industrial Design, it can be seen to be defined by process, attitude and values.

Over the past 100 years, object-based art has been made to interrogate the relationship between ourselves and the material world. Today, as we enter the age of the Anthropocene, we are more aware of ecological and sustainability issues: hence why we make and what we discard has been brought into focus. The 2019 Making Futures conference was the first place where I shared my recently completed AHRC-funded PhD research, Recrafting Waste using a Stitch-Based Methodology: A Collaboration between Makers and Matter. At the core of this study is environmentally and socially conscious art production. It set out to define ‘recrafting waste’ and examine uses within contemporary art and craft practice for material viewed as waste. Through engagement with others and recrafting materials destined for landfill, I sought to open up a wider discussion about conservation and to create artwork that is a catalyst for changing or reforming behaviour about ‘waste’, as an ‘activate’ art strategy (Weintraub 2012). The starting point for the research was glass salvaged from National Glass Centre (NGC), Sunderland. However, my preoccupation with the language and techniques of textiles became entangled with the cast-offs and remnants of glass, and a ‘stitch-based methodology’ emerged. This paper summarises my findings, with a focus on the new methodology.

The aim of this research is to adopt a transition design “posture” of zero waste system design to develop processes for garment manufacturing. It seeks to uncover approaches and methods which are viable in the context of Manzini’s Cosmopolitan Localism – aiming to pair digital distribution with flexible local manufacture and micro-factories – utilising technology in alternative ways and propose new methods for whole garment weaving. Makerspaces and Fab-Labs have traditionally been the domain of hard materials, while forays into soft materials have explored the use of laser-cut textiles, 'smart' electronic textiles, 3D printing of wearables, and the cultivation of bio-plastics. Options available for automated manufacture of entire garments and textile-based forms are limited to whole-garment or fully-fashioned knitting – weaving has been mostly missing from this discourse. Conventionally, weaving is a two-dimensional practice – which through cutting and sewing may become form. Cut-and-sew is the most common method of garment construction used in industry; however, it is also exploitative, time-consuming, and wasteful. The current shallow understanding of the relationship between woven textiles and form limits how designers could transform industries and the built environment. This research questions how technology can further shape form-making – what if we treat the jacquard loom as a tool to enable a kind of 3D printing with yarn? It follows some of the lines of design inquiry forged by the work of Issey Miyake and Dai Fujiwara in A-POC, and recent explorations on digital whole garment weaving by Anna Piper, Jacqueline Lefferts, Linda Dekhla, and Claire Harvey and colleagues. This research undertook a series of experiments which aims to expand the design methods available for whole garment weaving in the context of zero waste system design. This paper presents three experiments using a variety of prototyping methods to deepen understanding of the complex 'reverse origami', or 'flattening', methods required and are intended to test the processes in specific contexts. This multimorphic and analogue-digital craft practice develops new understandings of conventional textile design and manufacturing elements, such as jacquard looms and weave structures, for use in micro-manufacturing contexts. This holistic and disruptive reshaping of form-making has the potential to future-make the industry, our cities, and our social fabric.

This paper for Making Futures’ sixth issue, under the theme of People, Place, Meaning: Crafting Social Worlds and Social Making, addresses reflections from the presentation of the research project Local connection through making at the 2019 conference and subsequent reflections. Moreover, it presents its unfolding, as independent ongoing research around making practices in the twenty first century and what can be learned from past and alternative perspectives of human creation, material culture, and embodied knowledge. The research started as a master’s project, done through an auto-ethnography exploration of one practice – pottery making – and as an exploration of the territory of the city of Barcelona and the agents involved in the work with clay, both in traditional and innovative ways. The research was deployed in three stages: Understanding, Making, and Sharing. As part of the Making phase, the project assessed the possible interactions of craft practices and Fab Lab makerspaces, as potential spaces of making in the urban context, open for their communities. One of the outcomes of the Sharing phase was a toolkit suggesting interactions between a crafts-approach to making and new digital tools. This was later put into practice with a workshop done in the Maker Faire Barcelona 2019 event, in collaboration with Jan Madrenas, a Catalan ceramist, and the designer Barbara Drozdek. Participants were invited to create a bowl from clay, learning traditional techniques, as coil construction, and later to interact with digital tools, exploring 3D scanning and the making of digital 3D models out of their creations. This activity was fundamental to understand participants’ perception of physical and digital activities and how this could inform the state of our societies in relation to materiality, as people are driven into a much digitalized world. The results and reflections around this activity are presented in the paper. Additionally, it addresses topics related to the global x local debate and knowledge transmission and access. The intention is to possibly pave new narratives in regaining a connection to making and consuming at local level, which later can be reflected on a global scale, attending to UN’s Sustainable Development Goals; especially the ones dedicated to ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ and ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’.

A design-led innovation approach was used to promote hybrid ways of making and working by supporting interdisciplinary collaboration within the group of designers/makers. Design-led innovation can be defined as the design of participatory activities and ways of working that facilitate innovative collaboration and reflective practice towards new knowledge creation. Design innovation approaches support new collaborative and interdisciplinary knowledge that ‘emerge from the creative recombination of existing assets (from social capital to historical heritage, from traditional craftsmanship to accessible advanced technology)’.

This was supposed to be a story about pockets. It was supposed to be a story about a musical sewing machine, wearable instruments, talking hats and musical handbags, and an invitation to collectively sew pockets into clothes. A story about a performance practice that stitches musical memories into the clothes we wear around our bodies, cutting up and rearranging textiles, in participatory scenarios where audience members are invited on stage to be part of a musical sewing world. But in spring 2020 everything changed. And as spring turned into summer and quickly into autumn, it still seems very remote that I will be able to conduct a performance where the audience and myself are entwined in cables and musical hats, multiple people are touching my instruments, I am touching their clothes, and we are touching each other. So, this has become a story about a different type of pocket, one that you can insert a filter into and wear over your mouth and nose, to protect communities from this new virus we are learning to live with.

In this paper, we, similar to Denning and other scholars (e.g., Dobson & Walmsley, 2020; Statler et al, 2015), propose that there is a need for alternative perspectives on management education, especially in the domain of sustainable and ethical business. We argue that without this, we are, again, “leading the parade to yesterday’s problems” (Dobson & Walmsley, 2020, p.2). Theoretically and specifically, we suggest that there is a need for art- and craft-based learning, and for crafters to act as engaged-scholars, in the sphere of management education.