With the increased prevalence of digital technology in design, this year’s London Design Festival saw an entire weekend dedicated to the phenomenon at the V&A’s Digital Design Weekend. Described as a series of events that aimed at celebrating collaborations in digital art, design and science, the weekend included a full programme of installations, labs, activities, talks and screenings which very much recalled the format and atmosphere of a final degree show. Artists, designers and scientists were seen describing and sharing their work with the museum’s visitors, including CSM’s own recent MA Textile Futures graduates showing their work in the Sackler Centre.
With its focus on craft, ornamental and decorative arts, the Victoria & Albert Museum might have seemed like an unlikely space for an exhibit dedicated to digital design, but as is described in the museum’s catalogue of the 2011 ‘Power of Making’:
“We are in a fascinating era, in which change is being driven by massive computational powers and social movements. New networks for sharing knowledge are creating new types of makers and fuelling new communities of practice. Crafts are mixing with digital practices and finding new audiences.”
The Digital Design Weekend was a curated reflection of the movement currently being experienced in the art, science and craft of making. With the proliferation of open source software and ideals, and the increased availability and use of rapid prototyping technologies, collaboration between designers, artists and scientists has become easier than ever. This current ‘revolution’ in production and manufacturing is described in Chris Anderson’s book Makers, in which he says the next 10 years will be about applying what we’ve learned in inventing, creating and working together on the Web to the real world of things.
An example of this collaborative and open mode of making could be found when first entering the exhibition space, where visitors encountered the ‘Bee Lab’, a project that uses the principles of Open Design in the hopes of supporting bee-keeping. With this goal the Lab brings together a community of multi-disciplinary people to actively monitor and share the health and progress of their bees to the bee-keeping community. The technologists, designers and engineers involved in the project are creating devices that they then share online for others to use and ‘hack’ for their own bee-keeping purposes. The data gathered from the devices is also shared online, which allows local communities to better understand the state of their surrounding environment.
Growing in popularity, ‘Hackathons’ and open source platforms of information are changing the connotations associated with hacking in its efforts to manipulate, push and reinvent products and technology. Normally two-day events, Hackathons – such as the recurring NHS Hack Days – bring together a group of people from seemingly disparate backgrounds and abilities to focus on a question, problem or challenge. One such question was central to the weekend’s ‘Climate Change & Fashion Hackathon’, where a group of volunteers with skills ranging from fashion design to climate science ran experiments and developed prototypes to explore the future of fashion in a world adapting to changing climates. Set with physical and virtual challenges, the teams asked visitors to address issues related to climate change in association to pressures such as, for example, an ageing population.
An interesting representation of the event’s focus on collaborations between digital art, design and science, CSM graduates Emilie F. Grenier, Yesenia Thibault-Picazo, Amy Radcliffe and Amielia Katze showed pieces from their final work in MA Textile Futures. As the programme lies at the intersection of craft, science and technology it was refreshing to see artefacts and pieces that at first glance were seemingly low-tech.
Emilie’s project questioned the future of luxury materials in a post-crisis scenario. She has produced a collection using the most prevalent mineral in the world – feldspar – to challenge the concept of rarity and value. With a similar interest in geological materials, Yesenia’s work investigates the impact humans have on the forces of nature. Resulting in the production of a collection of speculative minerals from aluminium, bones and plastics she has proposed what craftsmen may be manipulating in the future.
As we take more and more pictures of moments and activities in our daily lives we visually access our short-term memories on a more on-going basis. At the other end of the memory spectrum, Amy’s project ‘Scent-ography’ attempts to tap into our more emotional or deep seeded memories via our sense of smell. Using an analogue and easy system to capture odour and synthesise memories, she has created a new way for us to, as she explains ‘consume and record the world’.
With the weekend’s digital focus it was fascinating to find that much of the work on exhibit had a biological element or focus, such as the Organic Cinema – which used a bespoke open source sensor to display visuals generated by plants – and All That I Am – a speculative project that explores contemporary culture and emerging genetic technologies in proposing the cloning of mice with genetic and behavioural traits extracted from a speck of Elvis Presley’s hair.
Overall, what unified the variety of projects at the festival’s Digital Design Weekend were their attempts to push science, art, design and technology in the pursuit of questioning current and future states. Thanks to collaboration, both pre-established and at times unknown (thanks to open source and co-creation platforms), the Makers that filled the spaces throughout the Sackler Centre are able to continue to imagine future possibilities and scenarios – critiquing and using digital materials and technology as a means, not a basis, of their inquiry.
The Power of Making, Edited by Daniel Charny – V&A Publishing and the Crafts Council
Makers, by Chris Anderson