From the floor: I have a question for Human Beans. How do you think it changes from you doing Grandma’s to other people videoing their own Grandma’s and how does that affect what you are trying to do with the project?
Chris Vanstone: The stuff where people video their own Grandma’s you can see actually how much richer it is. Really the only reason that we videoed Grandma’s was that we felt we needed to create some content to catalyse the stuff happening and we thought that was the best way to do it. If you look at Nannie Webb it’s charming because there is years of interaction there and you know what the best stories are. Eventually we will put a video up of Mick’s Grandma cooking her speciality which translates as ‘Donkey’s Ears’ – that is a really sweet video. How is it going to change? Well, hopefully it’s going to get better because we won’t be doing it.
Keith Brown: This question is for Lionel - you said that you were having a conversation with a client who had actually seen your product and you hadn’t and it wasn’t quite the same thing. I’ve had RPs [rapid prototype parts] made that I’ve never seen that have been in exhibitions. There is something that is not quite the same between the CAD and the actual object when it is output. I just wondered if you could say a little bit about what was it that wasn’t quite the same maybe? It’s a difficult thing to try to…
Lionel T. Dean: Scale is a large thing. You know how big this thing is on screen and you can measure it but it’s not quite the same thing as having it there in your hands. Being able to just tumble this thing around is not the same thing as having to use some device to tumble it on screen. There is something that is much more direct or intuitive when you are actually holding these things in your hands. Generally what I miss is the presence in the space. I have a studio in my home and I habitually wander in there before bed and check things out and you see it in a different light than when you are working with it through the day. If you just wander in there when you haven’t been working on it and just look in the door you see it in a slightly different way…
Keith Brown: With a generative system like that which will output possibly within a particular kind of set parameters do you find other things that are going on that are possibly surprising, you don’t expect or whatever that a potential end user, consumer might choose? Most of the time my experience is that I am delighted with the output when I do see it but on occasions I am disappointed because it is not quite what I thought it might be. Is there any way of compensating for that within the software design maybe that is going to generate these possibilities?
Lionel T. Dean: I think it is one of the compromises with having a generative system is there are ones that I won’t be one hundred percent happy with. What I would like to do is generate hundreds and pick my top ten all the time. But that is something that I just have to step back and let go and say "No you set the rules if it meets the rules it should be good enough". That is what you have said and they always won’t be your favourite one. That is something I have to come to terms with and I’m not always comfortable with.
Keith Brown: It is just such a shame it is such expensive stuff – well it is getting cheaper but not quite affordable enough to do that.
Lionel T. Dean: It is getting a lot cheaper the printing systems are getting a lot cheaper – I remember when you couldn’t afford a desktop system – it is going to happen very quickly.
Keith Brown: Thanks.
Tavs Jørgensen: I’ve got a question for Human Beans again is there an element of some information is best forgotten? [laughs] Some of the recipes could carry a health warning. Another thing – I can’t remember who said it – the most important ability of the human brain is the ability to forget otherwise we would be scrambled. Is there some of this information – the recipes – that is best left to the past? In the information age we have so much information we are trying to record everything – we are recording this today – some of the information is best forgotten.
Mickael Charbonnel: Yes, I suppose your question goes two ways. We had discussions with these Grandmas and they had other recipes and some of them I wouldn’t have tried [laughs] and sometimes some of them are very unhealthy. So yes, those are probably best forgotten. I think the second thing is about information and how much we can submit ourselves to. It is a matter of choice really and this is exactly what is happening. I don’t see my Grandmother that often and I don’t really miss it but I know that when I spend some time with her I do connect with something and I do enjoy it. Now whether I will remember that recipe or not, that we cooked together is a different thing. But if you take the recipes as almost a pretext then you have a good reason for taking on this information.
Paul Rodgers: I think what is great if you look at Gordon Ramsay that is in these programmes like "Hell’s Kitchen" and you get these people that put themselves up against him – like your Granny’s scone recipe…
Chris Vanstone: He wouldn’t stand a chance against Jackie [laughs].
Paul Rodgers: Well, he wouldn’t. I would imagine that Sonia’s Lancashire Hot Pot would beat his. It is a bit sad that people will go and do Ramsay's Hot Pot as opposed to someone who is more aptly – it has been passed down and down and down – and got roots in real Lancashire Hot Pot as opposed to ‘virtual Ramsay’…
Chris Vanstone: Then it’s about amateurism, I guess. It probably is as good if you think it is as good as Gordon Ramsay. I guess Gordon is putting it against the best Hot Pot ever but that is not what everybody wants – the best ever. They want something that tastes like how they like.
From the floor: It’s about nostalgia. People on the Ramsay programme do not taste "is it good food?" They are tasting "does it taste like what I know Shepherd’s Pie tastes like?"
Mickael Charbonnel: It is quite funny because when you start looking at – we did about six Grandmas already and when you have been watching it you realise that actually they do it in their own way and even the traditional Lancashire Hot Pot – although Sonia tried to make it in the most traditional way she could it still is her own way to do it. So I don’t chop onions like that but fifty years ago they probably didn’t chop onions like that either and I have no idea how they would because I’m not from here anyway so I’ve never seen it. So, nostalgia goes out the window I’ve got no links with that. Maybe the only element is that I miss my Grandma from when I was a kid.
John Marshall: I think that is a really good metaphor for something that is running throughout all the presentations. A lot of people have been saying "I’m not an expert, or I haven’t invented this technology – I’m not a NASA scientist" and almost apologising for that. I think you are all using technology – as Aoife said, not for technology’s sake but in order to reach some other end and you all have your own ‘recipes’.
Mickael Charbonnel: More as an enabling thing and it doesn’t really matter what the technology will be as long as there is a good ground for something to happen.
Justin Marshall: I think it is important that you remember that there is quite a lot of people with backgrounds of making here that technology might be a tool but it is a tool that effects what you do. I’m very conscious of when I’m doing things that it is having an impact on what the actual result is. It is not "I have a goal and I will then reach it." Maybe that is the craftsperson or the sculptor in me rather than other methods – I’m not suggesting it is the only way of thinking about it but it is definitely the way I think about it. It’s quite easy to forget that sometimes because - it doesn’t become transparent – but you can forget that you are engaging with things in a particular way. When you meet people that are not using that technology I think it becomes much more prevalent – you suddenly recognise what it is in your practice that is different – not your practice just about the way you think that is different than other makers dealing with similar issues maybe.
John Marshall: Can I just ask you on background – how do you feel about being on this panel with these other people – coming in contact with other people, other makers with very different practices?
Justin Marshall: Obviously, its incredibly interesting to be anywhere where you can see a whole range of approaches but what is amazing about this exhibition is it’s diversity and it is not centred in – there has been other exhibitions about digital technology but that aren’t just about exploring potentials of making things and it has a sort of craft bias, or it has a sculptural bias and it sort of seems to cross many more boundaries. So it is much more difficult to situate yourself easily but at the same time it is much more exciting in terms of how you can consider the issues of the boundaries and perimeters. I wouldn’t have imagined some of the things I saw here until I came here today and how they fit in with that blurring or the agenda that you and whoever was involved in the curation of the show had. It’s quite interesting to see how Human Beans fit into the blurring between architecture, design and sculpture for instance.
Paul Rodgers: I think this is a typical thing in Britain. When I was interviewing (particularly) Dutch designers in their studios and asking what they were doing next a lot of them were taking on pretty sort of big art projects – sort of urban scape art projects. I was asking questions like "There is a lot of risk there - it could fail or damage your reputation as a designer" and they didn’t see any distinction between design, art and architecture. They see it as something bigger or that is not such an issue – they commented on that quite a lot – I think in Britain (ok, I think it is changing) but people still see themselves as designer, or architect or artist. Someone like [Thomas] Heatherwick doesn’t want to be labelled by anything – I think he’s on the other side of the coin. I think he’s very protective of what he is.
Aoife Ludlow: Someone asked me five or six months ago was I an artist, a craftsperson or a designer and I kind of looked at her. I don’t know how to answer that question anymore and I wouldn’t even - from a textiles background there are textile designers and there are people who use textiles that are craftspeople – I always feel I’m between the two anyway. I still don’t know what I’d answer to be quite honest.
Paul Rodgers: For many designers the "Craft" word is almost as bad as the other "C" word.
Aoife Ludlow: For many craftspeople it is as well, they don’t want to be called craftspeople they want to be called designer-makers.
Keith Brown: A question for Lionel and Justin – I’ve always thought of a tool as something that is used skilfully towards a known end – that might be some sort of loose definition of what a craft is. I think the way that Lionel is using the technology I see that as more of a medium than a tool although you use tools, but it becomes a medium and not just a tool. You are exploring possibilities within it towards unknown ends a lot of the time.
Lionel T. Dean: Yes. You are using tools that the rules are going to work with but yes you’ve got these rules that are above the tools and yes they are much more of a medium.
Keith Brown: It somehow transcends that in a way, certainly for me when I’m using it anyway. The unexpected surprises that come out that you don’t somehow skilfully produce them they come about through your practice through using the technology.
Lionel T. Dean: I think you do but you can’t visualise that at the beginning. One huge thing that this is throwing up for me is that in the traditional design process you visualise the design to start off with and you do a concept sketch and you sell the design on the concept sketch. Now you go into a client with some doodles and some calculations and it’s just not sexy. So it is trying to convey that to a backer whoever that might be whether it is an exhibition or a client or whatever. It is trying to convey what you can potentially do without having done a part of it already because there is no short cut to it. You can’t rattle off a little bit. With the generative stuff it goes in the reverse way round – traditionally you’d start with these wacky concept sketches and it gets slowly a little bit toned down and quite often the output is quite ordinary. Whereas this goes the opposite way round and you start off with some quite mundane, simple relationships and slowly builds the complexity up and ends up with something as you say that is very unexpected.
Justin Marshall: I wasn’t using the word ‘tool’ in a very functional manner I did think about tools as a much broader thing. I was trying to get over the point that I don’t think it is a simple, functional way of getting from one thing to another. I do recognise it as I suppose you could call it a medium in which things change or you think about changes. It is a much more iterative process using technologies than simply "here’s the end point and I’m going to get there using this hammer, computer, whatever." Yes, I’d agree with you in terms that its impact is beyond the simply functional.
Tavs Jørgensen: We probably need new terms to describe the many conduits – technology is breaking down the barriers between traditional practices and maybe also breaking down the traditional concept of what is a tool, what is a medium. We need new terms for what we are doing and the categories that people inevitably want to place things in.
From the floor: I think ‘tools’ is the term to use if you recognise that every task is changed by the tool that you are using. So the task that you’ve all described – the tools that you are using change the nature of what you are doing. I think I would agree that Lionel’s use of the tool is something a bit further and your intention is then shaped by the use. They are tools but the nature of what you are doing is shaped by your choice in the use of that tool.
Robb Mitchell: I wanted to ask, this is mainly for the potter – is it Tavs?
Tavs Jørgensen: Yes.
Robb Mitchell: When you are developing these techniques how focused are you on thinking about the particular piece that you are going to make that day or that week, using this new technique or how much are you thinking I’m going to develop a technique and then other people might use my technique and then go on to make more things? And if it is the second, then how much effort do you put into or what is the best way to share these techniques? Is there a YouTube™ for computer aided ceramics?
Tavs Jørgensen: Well I do a lot of talks and presentations and I tend to be very open with the methods. They are incredibly simple – the methods – I could get my four year old daughter to move the MicroScribe® around and do that. That is also part of the attraction of new technologies that you do share – I think that is important. That is the way that research and knowledge works – you are standing on shoulders. In research departments you do get points and funding according to how much you disseminate that research. You learn a lot by sharing information. I do think you have to make the process available but I do enjoy these pieces I don’t mind making excuses for making things that are beautiful.
Julian Malins: How important is it that at some point or other (perhaps as undergraduates) that you learned skills as makers – I see it as a bit of a paradox going on between the need to learn about materials and that sort of thing and at the same time these technologies really allowing you to do things without ever touching material. But it seems to me that you all have strong sensitivity to volume and form and everything else which must have come I think from actually handling materials at some point or other. So you still need those kind of basic skills and at the same time you need these advanced skills if you like moving on to use the technology in other ways - is there a bit of a paradox here?
Tavs Jørgensen: There is – and that also comes back a bit into what Human Beans were saying that skills will become redundant. And I think there is a value in terms of forgetting skills and finding new ways of doing things – I think material knowledge is particularly important – knowing the qualities of what glass does when it is heated up or what clay does.
Julian Malins: Can I ask what the future of education is? Where do you see it?
Mickael Charbonnel: I think that ties up with something I wanted to say earlier on about what we were discussing. When you actually create these tools that you guys create where there is quite an element of randomness - you establish rules - it is a bit like when the first synthesisers were created: you pressed a button and you wouldn’t really know what would come out. But the thing is that through that particular complexity you actually develop a certain sensitivity and then you develop a skill and then you develop some instinct and then off the back of that you end up creating something that in terms of skills and sensitivity and understanding of that process is as valuable as handling something physical, I think. It is a matter of developing these techniques or tools or processes or mediums whatever we want to call them enough so that others can share them and in turn teach it and make it something that can be exploited.
Tavs Jørgensen: But I want to add to what I’ve said that none of what I have done here I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t have grounding in material knowledge. My skills with 3D software is - I think going back to what John is saying - is really quite limited. What I am bringing to the table is my background as a maker and using the technology in that context.
Aoife Ludlow: I’d have to agree with that I think you can’t lose sight of the importance of the material skills and the handling and forming and setting well in textiles – there are so many craft elements and there are so many basic things about the make up of the cloth that you need to know before you can know how it will behave. I think you need to be taught that but then you need the freedom then as you progress to maybe go and work in a different department the freedom to move from that but I think you are missing out of a huge amount if you jump straight to computer based design. Digital printing is actually prevalent at the moment in textiles - they take a photograph, they mirror repeat it and they print it out and there is something really soulless and there is something really missing in that process.
Justin Marshall: I think what Julian was asking about the future I find it quite difficult to measure the time none of these things are quick – I’m maybe just a bit slow but it takes me a long time to learn things. Especially, there is a lot of computer stuff that it has taken me a long time to get to not a superb level but a level in which I feel I can use certain things usefully to do interesting projects maybe. But also it takes a long time to use clay and what can you fit into a BA or even a BA and MA. There is a limited amount of time and actually it is very difficult to imagine how you can get to - I mean, Tavs I know has had a particular education based on some very definite grounding in traditional skills and then some art school and English training – it takes a ridiculous amount of time to get to a point where it becomes useful. So I don’t know how you construct courses to fit it all in, basically. I don’t know. As for the future of courses, you could pretend that you could do a BA in ceramics and digital technology but actually what skill level people would get to?
From the floor: Maybe we should have an apprenticeship system or something like that – intensive training in craft skills alongside the digital?
Justin Marshall: I think there is an element of how much you can pack into a traditional degree structure so I don't know the answer.
From the floor: I think there is also a concern that there are less students interested in the crafts – certainly in ceramics there are a lot less students going in to it. If you need that underpinning how is it going to effect people that come in, students that go to art school and just embrace technology from the word go?
Lionel T. Dean: I think that you also have pressures from institutions because are resource-hungry in terms of workshops.
Keith Brown: Do you think it could also be liberating maybe for people that don't have those sorts of craft skills? I'm dyslexic I can't spell my name longhand but I appear in academic journals because I've got [Microsoft] Word. It's not that I don't have ideas I have got something to say but I just didn't have the skills to do it until the word processor came along. I'm wondering if that might also apply to these new technologies and making, or producing? I happen to have a traditional background I happen to have been making sculpture for forty years so it is difficult for me to answer that question as a maker because I've got that. I'm pretty sure that this must be an absolutely liberating technology to enable people to do things that they otherwise wouldn't be able to. Have you any thoughts on that at all?
Lionel T. Dean: All of us have come to this from starting off with a grounding in traditional skills and moved into the digital side. I think we'll only know in the future when people have maybe just purely gone digital.
Chris Vanstone: I think just in terms of home movie making just making software that is easier to use as well as the cost of the technology dropping enables people to make films that wouldn't have been able to make films before. I think a lot of the roots of the skills we've picked up are because of using consumer software and moving on through that rather than any real training in it.
Julian Malins: Now you've got people who are just doing it themselves: DIY - so in the future the equivalent of that then would be people making everything themselves you'll be able to mock up your own crockery and furniture and into a microwave-like 3D printer. It would be an interesting world.
Chris Vanstone: I don't think the fact that people are making their home videos means that they have stopped watching feature films I think it means they probably watch them more intently.
From the floor: I'm just wondering as an integration of technology in a craft discipline – a question to Tavs, have you ever considered using the glove in traditional craft? I know it would get a bit dirty throwing a pot with the glove on, but you could throw the pot and record the throwing action and see what that maps out.
Tavs Jørgensen: That's not really my interest. My interest is in extending... I can already throw a pot it’s not a problem if I want to make a pot I can throw it just like that. I want to extend the possibilities of my making beyond what I can already do with physical material. There is no material available for me to do this with my hand and define an edge.
From the floor: Maybe a new vocabulary of form would emerge out of taking traditional processes: a saw, a chisel, a hammer mapping it and seeing what that meant?
Tavs Jørgensen: It is not what I am interested in. It would give a static representation of a motion and that is quite a distance from what I am trying to do.
Paul Rodgers: I think Robb raised a really interesting point actually. I think the thing I am asking because I wandered round [the show] this morning and everything is really exciting and I was really intrigued by the approaches that people are taking. But what I am thinking about is almost sort of a kiddie’s question of "What is the point?" The questions we ask our students are what market are you operating in? What is the contextual framework? Is it critical, or is it commercial or is it a bit of both? So I know Robb started that by [asking] is it the process that is important or is it the outcome? I'm sort of thinking there is a couple of sets of chairs in the exhibition there is yours Lionel and yours Tavs. I think the little recipes in a jar are great products – they are sort of the kind of thing you'd see on 'Dragon's Den' being really successful. I'd love to buy one I think there is massive commercial possibilities in it. But in terms of the two sets of chairs what is the market, what is the contextual framework, what sort of boundaries are you setting for yourself at the outset? Is it to explore the process or is it a real critical or commercial proposition?
Lionel T. Dean: It is not a commercial proposition. It is a chance to escape – from a research project I wandered into the commercial realm with the projects for Materialise and Entropia because you've got to make some money somewhere to fund your activities. With the chairs it was a chance to do something that was more personal and a chance to create a beautiful object.
Tavs Jørgensen: Until very recently I made my living from my professional practice. It is an interest – you have to keep your professional practice going by feeding it somewhat. Things feed down from my research into the commercial area. Superficially, you take certain aesthetics of what you develop and apply that in a design or in your craft practice.
Cezanne Charles: I have a question for Human Beans. One of the things that is great about cookbooks is that you can annotate them. So you have your Grandmother's cookbook and in it you can write "It needs a bit more salt." Would you be happy if someone remixed the videos on YouTube™ and sort of spliced them together?
Chris Vanstone: [Laughing] That would be brilliant. Wow. So you take the best from each Hot Pot and you make a... yeah. Sure. Do it. That sounds great.
Mickael Charbonnel: You can even make new recipes out of a few different ones.
Chris Vanstone: Or a complete three course meal.
Mickael Charbonnel: You can comment on YouTube™ you can say what you want about the recipes and perhaps perfect them that way. Say "I looked at the video and put as much salt as she did but mine is too salty."
Chris Vanstone: But remixing – that's good. Free ideas. Brilliant. More free ideas.
Julian Malins: You know you are almost going from not just different products to services the idea of a customer having their say in the whole thing as well. So it’s not just changing the boundary between what is a service and what is a product but shifting the relationship with the customer.
Tavs Jørgensen: I would agree with that. I think it can democratise in some way you are with YouTube™. You are giving up the ability for everyone to create. I think that is what is really exciting about new technology. You talk about the fact that a camera is very cheap and with 3D modelling packages there are lots of free ones. All of a sudden you can...
Mickael Charbonnel: I think what is also quite interesting at the back of that is that very quickly... YouTube™ is a platform where you can have the worst like the best. But somehow it is dragging it towards either the funniest or the most entertaining towards actually trying to do better than the others. The risk with having enabling technology like that is that in the future I might be able to print my own sofa but it might look utterly horrible because I might be really bad at it. I could pick someone else's design who has been trying to do better than everybody else and get a decent quality shape or sofa or design. So I think the good thing in this is the central interaction between people who are willing to make these things and willing to show them as well to others.
Aoife Ludlow: It is the Shareware ethos in a designer.
Justin Marshall: Isn't your FutureFactories project – I know a little bit now about the software you have used – you could have made it hugely interactive if you chose to but you made a conscious decision where to draw the line.
Lionel T. Dean: There was a lot of discussion about should we have slider bars so people can adjust ‘parameter x’ to their liking. But I decided that was not the way I wanted to go with it. This was going to be mass individualisation rather than customisation. There is plenty of merit in mass customisation it is just not what I want to do.
Aoife Ludlow: I think something that is really important is the idea of design as something that is inspirational in the marketplace especially with people aspire to own things, people aspire to have their own creations... they aspire to have that thing that has been put there as the best. I just don't see people wanting to make their own chairs.
Paul Rodgers: It is the cult of the celebrity – 'Design Idol'. Look how many people watch 'Pop idol' on a Saturday.
Robb Mitchell: But look at how many people still do Karaoke. As far as I am concerned on YouTube™ a lot of the most popular and successful things are not necessarily the worst quality but they are of questionable taste.
Chris Vanstone: I think people are going to be too busy filming their Grandma’s to print their sofas.
John Marshall: On the schedule, I was supposed to summarise all of this but to be honest you've covered almost everything I had written down. We're looking at the sea of information we are surrounded by and how that becomes physically manifest through processes and through practice in some form. How this information becomes tangible through the interaction of objects and the relationships we have with objects is something that this show grew out of. We wanted to bring disparate practitioners from communities that don't normally have this kind of discourse together. There is an all pervasive technology but it seems ghettoised so we wanted to try and address what lies on the perimeters, boundaries and borders between disciplines that are using common technologies. I think this has been a really valuable discussion and I would certainly welcome more inter-, multi-, trans-disciplinary forums like this.