This session focused on the genesis of forms. This was a very debate-sparking session causing a bit of conflict between the product designers and the fine artists concerning the role of the material in making. The aim of the session was to think about the process of making or designing from the perspective of materials and our environments. This was a very relevent session, relating back to my practice and how I use materials and the role of materials in making.

We began by thinking about the fact that materials and matter responds to our bodies movements when we work. What we ‘create’ cannot entirely be understood in terms of a human intention working upon the world, but also a history of activity from within the world working upon us. When we design we may overlook the importance of the process of designing in the first place; what we used to design, so the table and chairs, the pen we use to draft etc.


Aristotle addressed this question of matter and form; hylomorphosim (hyle-matter, forme-form). He said “By the matter I mean, for example, the bronze, by the form I mean the arrangement of the figure, and by the thing composed of them I mean the statue […] the compound.” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1029a8).


One can limit design to oneself but this would be a muting of materials, a separation of ‘design’ from the world. As Ingold said  “To think in this way leads to an assumption that events follow a certain chronology: that we can trace back the genesis of a form to the mind of the individual practitioner that makes it”. However, as Pallasmaa pointed out the problem of already conceived plans, tools and procedures; “at the same time that we acknowledge the benefits of the computer and associated digital technologies, we need to identify the ways in which they differ from previous instruments of design. We must consider the limitations and problems that they may pose. For instance, in the mental and sensuous aspects of the work of the architect.” Using computerized tools is very different to making, we need to realise the limitations. Digital technology trains us to understand the world as a package of procedures; click on button on screen and create line, the coding of the package does it all for us, we don’t connect with line, there is no physical activity going on. Physicality is important. Machines take away trial and error of us doing things. We end up following a set procedure, missing all things in-between. As you can see below the House by Ikea layes out instruction making it look simple but it misses everything in between.


The image below shows instructions for weaving however it is missing out that the hand is doing something as well as the materials. We have become trained to think that there is instruction for things in life.


Woodward suggested that in some way, what we create with materials is in part determined by what the materials allow us to do – it is a hybrid of hand and material. Creativity is not just a case of putting over, or imposing, a pre-designed form onto ‘inert’ or ‘dead’ matter, although some may believe it is. The genesis of form is not a single starting-point (in the mind of a maker) but rather a coming together of processes and energies together; imagination, materials, environment.” We cant trace form back to single stating point but rather from a process of different things combining together to create. Ingold summed up Orthodox design; “Form is fully explicable in terms of the design that gives rise to it. Once you have accounted for the genesis of the design you have, to all intents and purposes, explained the form”. It was this idea of not being able to completely impose a form onto materials without the materials having their own input, that the product designers had a issue with and the fine artist completely agreed with! Product design used prototyping, cutting into foam an 3D printing to crete a form the they have pre-though out and designed, where as fine artists and makers to an extent as well let the materials take more of a hold on the form and outcome of the design. I feel I fall somewhere in the middle. I might come up with a design the I have modelled on the computer or sketched out and then try and model this in wood or another material, but I will let the material speak to me and inspire and develop that idea depending on how it responds to my interactions with it.

Agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or a soul in religion) to act in a world. Can we say materials are dead if they can have such an effect on us? They degrade over time, the are made of organic matter; Materials have agency because the have a capability to act in world. When you are throwing a pot, agency is continually going between the wheel the potter and the clay. This is a dance of agency.

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What we recognise as ‘design’ is more like a ‘growth’. When we make a object like a basket, whilst the idea may be preconceived, the activity of making cannot be predefine or predetermined. Ingold had some very interesting pints to make on this. He said “The actual concrete form of the basket […] does not issue from an idea. It rather comes into being through the gradual unfolding of the field of forces set up through the active and sensuous engagement of practitioner and material. This field is neither internal to the material nor internal to the practitioner (hence external to the material); rather, it cuts across the emergent interface between them. Effectively, the form of a basket emerges through a pattern of skilled movement, and it is the rhythmic repetition of that movement that gives rise to the regularity of the form.” To add to this he added “[T]he forms of objects are not imposed from above but grow from a mutual involvement of people and materials in an environment. The surface of nature is thus an illusion: the blacksmith, carpenter or potter – just as much as the basket-maker – works from within the world, not upon it. ”


When we make a baskets by the shore, we have to deal with the wind on the shore, so the shape is not preconceived by practitioner but by environment and the tensions that this creates, you cant say practitioner is one that decides what happens whilst making. So the basket (1) Requires the movements of a practitioner- which requires a body –with a subjectivity- who’s muscles tense, ache, contract, push and pull,fatigue and tire.(2) Requires the material (the willow) that has a tension and resistance of its own that works against the movements of the practitioner. (3) Requires an environment in which the basket is oven, in this case the sea shore, through which the movements of the practitioner and the material are bent, pushed, pulled and partially shaped by the wind and environmental pressures.

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The session ended on some vary nitrating questions; Can we really say that ‘ideas’ always come fully formed prior to activity? Or do we have to recognise the entire history of our activity with materials in order to understand them? What becomes of the notions of ‘design’ or ‘making’ when we think this way? What does the study of ‘designed’ or ‘made’ artefacts (such as a willow basket) in this way tell us about the process of creativity?

I really liked this session and found it particularly interesting to think about how materials and the environment we work in has an effect on us and therefore what we make. I think one should always respect the materials that you are working with and let them speak to you, not trying to necessarily impose the form you want on them, if the material is not responding well then either change the material of choice or adapt and develop your design to suit the material. I think it gets really interesting when you look at something like injection moulding, 3D printing, Laser cutting and other fabrication process, where you are using great force to impose a digital design onto the material, and how the material responds and what objects that have been machined look like compared to something that has been moulded by hand with respect the materials. I feel this could be a possible topic that I could write about in my essay at the end of the year.


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