Tim Knapen in collaboration with Unfold, explores Materializing the Digital through their work L’Artisan Électronique. The work incorporates an open source 3D printer that prints ceramic, upon the piece sits a virtual pottery wheel, where participants are able interact using their hands, molding and forming a distinctive shape. Each piece is then able to be virtually printed against the wall permitting contributors to view previous works, alongside the work being able to physically manifest through 3D printing.
What is the intention?
The work utilizes a unique take on ‘materializing the digital’. Pottery is one of the oldest human inventions, dating back to 25,000 BC. Pottery is made from forming a ceramic (clay) body into objects of a required shape and heating them to high temperatures in a kiln which removes all the water from the clay, from this, the shape hardens and forms a permanent mold. Tim Knapen in collaboration with Unfold (Claire Warnier and Dries Verbuggen) have taken a practice that has been traditionally the same for thousands of years and created a new and evolved practice. Process is for the artist a mental state in which they must understand conceptually before the thought can be actualized into the physical.
“While industry and craftsmanship are positioned as polar opposites, they would be more accurately represented as volatile points in a matrix of manual, mechanical, sand electrical forces.” (Unfold, 2010, L’Artisan Électronique pp. 1) Here Knapen is describing the intertwining of industry, correlating the digital with the physical, observing the amount of time industry’s have done things traditionally. As new technologies emerge it shifts the process and way we work dramatically, as roles change so do definitions, such as craftsmanship and industry, with L’Artisan Électronique it is visible the two practices have been combined into a more efficient and simplified process.
The intention lies within the digital makeover that the creators have made, bringing the traditional into the digital realm whilst speeding up outdated processes. The project also allows participants to be able to interact with the piece, demonstrating the digital manipulation that is possible through current advancements.
Creating something within a digital space to then have the object transform into the physical is a relatively new process. L’Artisan Électronique not only allows you to digitally create your design, but also creates a physical 3D printed object from selected projects. This transition between digital and physical is innovative concept, the fast paced nature of conceptual to reality is a process we are not familiar with. The intention is clear, showing the world new creative elements that can be implemented to change the way we think and act, solutions can now be solved digitally first before the physical aspects come into play, problems that once where only foreseen once the project was completed, can now be solved before the physical process has even begun, by 3D printing these object you are able to get a completed version of the end product via your computer before the process of printing even begins.
The other side of the intended purpose is to give participants a blank creative landscape for them to manipulate, the process is more complex than the images and videos demonstrate, the fine tuning of where to place your hand is pivotal, as not knowing where the right or wrong placements of your hand positioning can result in changes to the design that you did not intend on making. Although the design is easy to use in concept, the physical implications are more so of a challenge to the participant. Having this blank canvas is great for allowing people to be creative and show initiative in generating something different and useful, but the design does take practice to use correctly, and that on its own seems intended by Knapen and Unfold. As they reveal these new emerging technologies are useful, there is still a need for practice skill building, demonstrating how such new technologies are not an easy solution to old problems, yet can be a growing platform for efficiency and dynamic solutions.
What are the research, development and making processes involved?
The research process for artists, Tim Knapen and Unfold, would have started with the traditional process of pottery. Understanding what came before is a crucial element to reinventing anything, after understanding the process the following element to their design was A; how to make the process better/different and B; what materials and or monetary supplies are needed. The simple idea of lasers mixed with a digital representation of a canvas is the key idea that was a result of their research.
As represented in the image, the design looks aesthetically pleasing and is minimalistic. Traditional pottery involves a large kiln and large amounts of clay and materials involved in molding the clay. Tim Knapen and Unfold have reduced the amount of clutter needed for pottery and have created something that is more visually pleasing and sustainable for a modern environment.
“If industry is characterized by the displacement of advanced operations from hands to machines, then handicraft is defined by its retention of fine motor skills mastered over years of practice” (Unfold, 2010, L’Artisan Électronique pp. 1) as Knapen and Unfold explain, the characterisation of industry alongside the replacement of traditional craftsmanship and machines have taken over in a sense, but that does not remove the human implementation. We will always need to have a role in these industries even with the overtake of machines. Skills and ideas still need to be implemented by our touch, a machine by itself produces nothing, it is human beings that create from the recourses machines provide.
It is shown that the artists have considered this in their design, they know they aren’t replacing an industry, they are actually advancing it, although new skills are required to be able to use the machinery, someone that has spent their entire life creating pottery wouldn’t necessarily be able to work out the L’Artisan Électronique instantaneously.
“It’s is basically a factory in a box so it would be hard to ignore that aspect. l’Artisan Électronique is a very narrative installation meant to tell a story to a public in a gallery and let them wander about the various aspects that are embedded in it, it’s a spatial snapshot of what we are working on as designers. But we are not sitting still and working further on these various lines, unfolding them into different projects and products.” (Scott, S.J, 2011, pp. 1) The summarization of Unfolds answer explains how the concept has a variety of differentiating real world uses, though was designed in order to sit in a gallery first and foremost, not to say that the other uses are less than, or inconceivable, though the main purpose through their process is to create something that participants can explore for themselves in an exhibition space.
The development process would have had to considered the other side of the coin, this being real world implementation, starting with pursuing traditional techniques to get an understanding of how to develop a new age version. Creating pottery starts with the molding process, so the first question to be answered is how to implement an upgraded process, although keep the old already working techniques. This is where the laser and screen and display screen would have been brought into thought, the lasers act as a virtual mode for participants to shape their image, and the display screen provides a visual representation of how their movements effect the design, much like traditional pottery. The processes of creating these ideas and moving them into the physical world is another challenge on its own, the design would have to meet aesthetical challenges alongside usability. As seen, the lasers and display screen are very minimalistic and seem easy enough to comprehend and maneuver, the 3D printer is a mirrored aesthetic to the display and laser section.
Part of the development would have considered how the conceptual can come into the physical, here is where the 3D printer is introduced, being able to mold a design of your choice and instantly print the object was a large part of Knapen and Unfold’s creative sphere, without this aspect L’Artisan Électronique would not be as intriguing or shown as much innovative.
Besides the aesthetic process, the material rudiments are the most critical aspect of the entire work, the dynamic sphere of both elements of the work would of have to of been created with strong knowledge of the outcome, the open source 3D printer is a challenge on it’s own, Knapen and Unfold would have needed to match up both the systems with unique coding to their specific requirements, this system would have operated around a lot of trial and error, trying to create something from an unknown perspective is easily the largest challenge of the piece. Developing a system that outweighs the need to use conventional techniques seems to be the motive behind the work, so developing an easy to use procedure is a top priority, this process would have included both Knapen and Unfold to analyze how outdated systems are flawed and how they can be reinvented to create a smoother work flow, this is implemented throughout the blank square shaped 3D mesh material, it includes room to mold distinct new shapes, or common styles such as a vase. Having material in a digital realm is time saving, a basic shape now longer has to molded from scratch, the program provides the material bases to mold any design needed, this new development saves time and supplies.
What is the final outcome of the project?
The research, development and process that have been explored, shine a light into what the final project has become and how it has transformed into a fully functioning work. L’Artisan Électronique is in its simplest form, is a new way to sculpt. Pottery has been around for thousands of years, and as shown earlier in this post is a traditional form of industry, L’Artisam Electronique changes the format of how we go about pottery, a simplistic design allows people to easily create a unique design that can be instantly 3D printed, from concept to physicality an object can be created within the hour.
Is it viable to replace traditional methods? This is the question that needs to be answered so we are able to conceptualize this work as a practice replacement for pottery. The materials used within 3D printing are less of those used in traditionally pottery, if the works aim is to be able to compete in the same market, this is an issue, your traditional vase molded from clay and placed in a kiln creates a tough ceramic shell. Ceramic is known for its tendency to break on impact and 3D printing using plastic may be an option to replace this method, plastic would be more durable and therefore less susceptible to damage.
“l’Artisan Électronique tries to bridge both worlds and to actually materialize the world of virtual design both by researching the use of more tactile digital design tools where there is much more relation between what you do with your body and the forms you generate as opposed to traditional digital design tools that are no different in interaction than non-design tools like browsing or email.” (Scott, S.J, 2011, pp. 1) Their research demonstrates an emphasis on the contemporary boundary that we have created through the digital, only using tool systems that don’t explore the human body as a tool itself, L’artisan Electronique is creating an emphasis on the body and its form to generate their designs. These innovations correlate strongly with the emersive technologies that use body form such as virtual reality, therefore relevant to the current market.
“As to the gap between the two camps, yes we meet some people that are in one of the two camps (mostly craft) and oppose the other but I would rather not pitch them against each other as two camps. Far more people we talk with are interested in both (ceramic) craft AND digital technology but have difficulties finding common ground between the two or finding the appropriate tools to work in that space.” (Scott, S.J, 2011, pp. 1) The ideology of ‘camps’ is the main reasoning behind a split in the community, those who have fears of where humans now sit in the grand scheme of things because of technological advancements bring us to a holt as a growing species, but these groups are not without real concern, conflicts such as job replacement by machines is a relevant issue, and designs such as Knapen and Unfolds fall into this category of replacement.
As to where the design sits in world of industry, that is not certain, though it does have the potential to reach new limits in the world of pottery. The design in this current time is purely for the notion of an exhibition, for those interested to interact and explore the tools and features it brings to a growing technologically advancing society.
Scott, S.J, 2011, ‘Unfold Interview – The Virtual Potter’s Wheel’, The Journal of Modern Craft, January 10 2011
Unfold, 2010, L’Artisan Électronique, viewed on: 26 April 2017
Unfold, 2011 L’Artisan Électronique, online video, June 16, Unfold, viewed on: 22 April 2017 https://vimeo.com/25195019
Chug, T 2011, ‘Unfold-ing The Virtual Pottery Wheel’, Creators – VICE, April 27 2011, viewed on: 28 April 2017, https://creators.vice.com/en_au/article/unfold-ing-the-virtual-pottery-wheel