Unhanded: Making Under the Influence of The Digital

We are working on a new symposium at Artengine about making… about making things… as in objects… and it is tricky… How do we talk about making physical things in the digital age? What frames of reference do we use to understand the change around us? Through which lenses do we look to understand the creative landscape we are in?

If we look back to the transformative days of the industrial revolution, we may focus on the impact of mechanization and the momentous shift from making to manufacturing. This focus creates a certain kind of gravity that draws the conversation into European, and perhaps even more specifically French and English history. Perhaps it is of no small significance that the English language has most deeply cemented a division between art and craft that gathered such force amidst the radical change of 18th century England. The linguistic divide is certainly felt far beyond the borders of the English language. It is reflected in the institutional structures for both the production and presentation of culture. However, the divide suggested in English, and in French, is not so clearly marked in other European languages; German, Italian and Spanish, for instance, still allow for the same word to be used for both “art” and “craft”. The difference is even more pronounced as you move around the world where a range of cultures do not accept either of the European concepts of art or craft.

The European history of art and craft is an important one, but we must be careful not to mistake the European story for the global condition. There are many more characters in the story of making today that need to be considered. Art and craft (and design and making too) can still play a part, but a new story is needed for the 21st century.

One of the boldest set of characters in the new story we are discussing is the variety of new technologies enabling faster and cheaper making, in everything from biochemistry to furniture. However, this is an increasingly familiar and popular narrative encouraging overstated proclamations of a third industrial revolution. Desktop manufacturing and rapid prototyping are a cultural and creative force that cannot be denied, but perhaps they too encourage a kind of gravity that traps thinking into a fairly narrow orbit. One in which the noisy exclamations about speed and efficiency make it difficult to voice ideas about what is truly new, and perhaps more importantly what is valuable and meaningful in what is new.

We are suggesting the title Unhanded as a provocation for a discussion on making under the influence of digitalism. It is a reference to the perceived distance between the hand and the tool in many new processes of making, and thus also the hand and the materials themselves. It is also a suggestion that perhaps we need to let certain things go in order to pick up others. What is taken up and what is left behind we are not exactly sure, but we are certain we need to rethink the relationship between tools that make, the people making and things that are made.

We are assembling as smart a group of people as possible. We will see what new questions we come up with….


Find out more about the question we grapple with at http://artengine.ca

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