I’m a research fellow in 3D digital production at Falmouth. I work alongside Tavs and two other researchers and we are interested in some of the things that Paul Rodgers mentioned earlier. One particular area of concern is the connection between the use of digital technologies and craft practices; how new forms of digital production might aid the development of more sustainable forms of craft practice.
This project came out of the Autonomatic 1 symposium run at University College Falmouth early in 2005. This [slide] lists some of the issues that the Autonomatic competition sought to address, the specific questions I attempted to address are at the top.
I’ve been working with digital technologies for quite a number of years on and off, from the perspective of a maker/craftsperson/sculptor. I have also been interested in the integration of craft practices into architecture. So, I wanted to try to work with a related industry, to see how my skills as an independent maker that uses digital technologies may impact on their work practices of a company that makes ornamental plasterwork and uses predominantly very traditional craft processes. I also wanted to look at how my practice as an independent maker – as Julian flagged up earlier – might be made more sustainable by finding some sort of practice that involves working in collaboration with industry without being a designer just embedded within one company.
Hayles and Howe are a Bristol based company. They make this sort of thing: cornicing, ceiling roses, strapwork ceilings – everything from domestic, small scale stuff to large scale, multi-million pound restoration projects and new build tends to be retro stuff. You can see here that apart fro the use of silicone moulding rather than gelatine moulding and other minor stuff that their practice hasn’t changed hugely, certainly since the Nineteenth Century, and perhaps before then. So this is the sort of stuff that they would routinely produce, this is Sting’s music room ceiling which they produced, which is a new design, but very much within a genre - using very traditional, hand modelling skills and moulding and casting.
I approached the Managing Director and described who I was and what I wanted to do. I wished to undertake a number of small scale projects that investigated using different forms of digital production technology, and to see what functional use they might be to an industry that has no use for digital production technologies at this time - everything pretty much is hand done.
There are four projects and I’ll quickly run through those. Alongside my interest in working with industry was developing designs that are modular and allow flexibility within the arrangement of things in order to let users have a unique product or a unique outcome through providing units which can be arranged an infinite number of ways. Roger Penrose developed the tiling system on the left in the 1970s which allows that. It is called an aperiodic system because it allows the arrangement of basic units in an infinite variety of ways, so that you can produce an infinitely number of different designs which will always tile a plane completely. So you can see there through putting a pattern within those tiles you can develop new forms of patterning which can be quite symmetrical but also be completely random. These designs are based on the two tiles you can see at the bottom of the slide. These designs can obviously be modelled three dimensionally within a CAD modelling system.
In terms of computer output none of what I have done is very high tech at all. I purposefully tried to keep these strategies or methods I developed quite simple so it wasn’t going to scare people into thinking "Well I’m a plaster maker, I’m not a computer modeller." Actually, the only computer controlled equipment I employed in this project was a CNC milling machine to cut profiles for a traditional plaster spinning process. On this slide on plasterwork development, you can see the CNC the milled metal profiles which can be used to spin plaster circles, or create ‘runs’ if you want a straight elements in a design. These were just tests for me to fiddle around with, I actually use a slightly different method of cutting whole circles at specific angles which then fit together to create the same designs as you would get using the individual tessellating tiles. So this is what is installed –or something very similar – in the show and these are the units used to put it together. This slide illustrates the first exhibition that I showed the piece at. So although the underlying structure of this work is an aperiodic tiling system you can’t see this in the finished work, you just see the overlaid pattern. You can just about see my layout lines there and so the underlying tessellation. This is a different design based on a slightly different pattern within the tiling system.
The other project was trying to not use any sort of 3D software at all, but just use very simple, image-based software. In addition it did not use any sort of drawing, I used text to generate a pattern in Illustrator which I arranged to produce a section for a repeat for a ceiling rose. From a greyscale image, which in quite well known and easy to use software, a low relief form can be created and then CNC mill the reliefs to produce new designs. This is something that is used very widely in all sorts of industries but wasn’t known by this plaster company. Again, I wasn’t inventing anything I was just applying existing methods to a new area. That is the final result shown alongside a traditional ceiling rose produced by Hayles & Howe. It was trying to get them to think that using Photoshop and Illustrator isn’t so difficult and you can see some sort of ‘in’ to producing 3D form through this sort of system. rather than thinking "I’ve got to go off and learn 3D Studio, or other 3D modelling software."
In another project, I used a different form of digital output as well as not using any three dimensional modelling software. I used Illustrator to produce another modular pattern which allows people to create a sort of low relief drawn line wandering around a room. It’s like having a cornice going off one wall and coming down another, going round a sofa, along the floor and back round the ceiling. It allows you to draw in a 3D space using very simple units. The units were made up of laser cut in layers. So everything was 2D. The cut elements where reconstructed by hand into a relief which could then be cast to produce units which could then be configured in an infinite variety of patterns.
The other project was the ‘Morse’ project which again there is some of it showing in the show. It was a quite light hearted thing really, about the nature of ornament and the fact that a lot of ornament that was used at some point had symbolic significance and that now has slowly disappeared into the mists of time and we just use classical forms in quite an ad hoc way. Morse code is one of those things that has lost its ability to be read to some degree. So the idea that you could use this as a decorative order and be quite abusive in a ceiling decoration and actually most people would read it as an interesting kind of visual aesthetic layout. The master models were CNC milled again. In my first exhibition I had them strung up so they could be rearranged and we had kids’ workshops and I was trying to encourage them to start rearranging these elements into whatever texts they might wish to do. Most of them couldn’t be bothered. It was a light hearted idea of fridge magnet poetry but stuff you couldn’t read.
So these four projects have been running over the last year or so and culminated in this exhibition, (that most of these slides are from), held in Bristol over the summer as part of Architecture Week. We are now getting to the point, both me as a maker and the company are reflecting on the experience of me working with them. Trying to see what has been useful in terms of extending my practice beyond my capabilities as an independent maker by working with industry; to make things at a larger scale and use skills that I haven’t got, and what has been useful for the company. One of the functional outcomes is that they are interested in laser cutting and they are looking to adopt this technology in certain types of production. However, this is not considered as a technology to replace their clay modellers, but a method by which they can transfer their skills to something more complex and creatively challenging than modelling very straight and angular elements in clay, which is what they do at the moment.
Hayles & Howe and myself are trying to develop the Penrose Strapwork into much larger units which can be configured in an infinite different ways to make a viable product. This would have an impact on me as an independent maker – it would have some financial benefit to me and they would increase the range of what they do. My new designs aim to hit a market based around modern, contemporary architecture, rather than restoration and esoteric and peculiar rich Americans who can afford to reproduce classical rooms on a very large scale, which is Hayles & Howe’s principal market at the moment.
So that is where we are with the project at the moment. I will be continuing to work with the company and try to develop some more financially viable products and instigate new commissions.