'The Language of Process: how new materials and technologies are changing product design' is the current exhibition in the Special Collections section of the All Saints Library of Manchester Metropolitan University. The exhibition ends on December 20th.
I was asked to speak at the opening -
I am a maker; I could call myself a designer, a craftsman or an artist, but I prefer the term Maker, as in Creator; someone who straddles the grey area between those disciplines.
So that’s the perspective from which I view the ‘Language of Process’ exhibition.
To those of you who have been along to the exhibition, it may appear to be a strange selection of odd items. Some objects on display are practical and functional, others whimsical. Many are aesthetically pleasing, yet one or two might be described as ugly. So why have they been brought together?
I feel strongly that this exhibition provides extremely timely evidence of the emergence of a new language of making, where the traditional barriers between craft and design are dissolving.
A lot of the objects on show have been created using new and emerging digital technology. Employing these new machines is not a case of simply pressing the button, as many people seem to think. They are expensive and sophisticated, but they are just tools, with all the same idiosyncrasies as traditional tools. And that is part of the attraction for me and the new generation of makers who are leading the way by making these machines do what we want them to.
As all makers know, we have to explore materials and processes in order to develop the skills and sensibilities necessary to turn an idea into a resolved 3-dimensional object. And we don’t stop exploring; the journey never ends. As a potter I was never totally satisfied with what came out of the kiln; we search for a perfection that we will never achieve. That’s what gets us up in the morning. And it’s this striving, this insatiable curiosity that attracts us to explore new ways of making.
But why is this important? For me, craft and design aren’t just about the creation of beautiful bespoke objects, The most inclusive definition of these activities and one that I subscribe to is ‘the application of creative thinking and tacit knowledge to solve a problem’. Which means that we engage with them from morning ‘til night; we rely on those skills from birth to death, the midwife and the gravedigger employ them; they are fundamental to our very existence and we all have the potential to exercise them. One example of this is my dentist. He was telling me of the part that craft knowledge plays in his work. He regards it as a fundamental and central part of his skill, something that was kindled not at Dental School but as a teenager in the Art Department.
So, it’s fundamental that students at all stages are allowed to get to grips with materials and processes and not just sit in front of the computer screen.
Take another, closer look at this exhibition. You’ll see designers really getting down and dirty with messy materials, and craftspeople hacking technology. The rulebook is being thrown away and it points to a healthy future of innovation and creative thinking.
Manchester School of Art is very fortunate in having traditional workshops and increasing digital making and research facilities. They go hand in hand, the new tools do not replace the old. And they are both vital if our students are going to play their part in the UK’s economic revival. The doors of the workshops must be open to all and I would hang a big sign in each of them, simply saying ‘What if…’
MMU could be an important cradle of the next Industrial Revolution as long as the teaching and provision of resources not only embrace the present cutting edge, as seen in this exhibition, but also helps to shape the future direction of craft and design.
I don’t see this activity centered solely on the Art School. The projects that I’m involved in MIRIAD are in conjunction with material scientists, Learning Innovation and Engineering, including a project to formulate 3D printable Graphene. There’s a lot of common ground to be shared between the disciplines, but we can also challenge and stretch each other and that’s where the advances happen.
I hope I’m preaching to the converted, so if you have any influence on decision makers at any level please bring them along to the ‘Language of Process’. Show them the beauty, the skill, the innovation and the creative thinking. This must be one of the most tangible ways to demonstrate that Innovative Making has an exciting and rightful future in the cultural heart of this University.