Craft + Technology Residency: Research Report

Craft + Technology Residency: Research Report

CU High five dollar ring


By way of introduction, my name is Heidi Hinder, and I am an artist and maker. My artistic practice often draws on a previous career in film and television, by exploring the disparity between illusion and reality, as well as being influenced by studies in Literature, and Jewellery & Silversmithing, in order to create a narrative, or pose a series of questions, through the crafted objects that I design and make.

I first heard about the Craft + Technology residency scheme when it was launched at Assemble, the Crafts Council conference in September 2012. To me, the scheme represented a very exciting proposition. It seemed to be an exceptional opportunity to research new ideas, and to gain insight into emergent methods and materials, alongside a supportive network of dedicated technologists, producers, academics and partnership organisations, who would be in a unique position to facilitate such an enviable learning experience. Cutting-edge skills, knowledge and guidance are often even more difficult to access than innovative machine processes or facilities, while this residency was offering both.

Essentially, the Craft + Technology residency signified the occasion to work, for three months, in ways which I would choose to operate continuously, if finance and opportunity permitted; maintaining approaches which are predominantly conceptual and collaborative, as well as open, curious, free and playful.

As a result, I applied to the scheme with a proposal to explore the Internet of Things in the context of money and value, and the narrative potential surrounding these themes. I hoped to research a breadth of ideas relating to different types of economies and concepts of value in the broadest terms, including the supposed question mark over the future of material currency in an increasingly immaterial digital age. My intention was to reflect on a series of dilemmas, and to explore possible outcomes to some of the issues through the process of making, incorporating technology where relevant, and where (I anticipated) my manual and mechanical craft-making skills might limit my ideas.

Some of the questions I planned to consider included:

  • If material money becomes obsolete, and yet trading relies on trust, how can we trust what we cannot tangibly experience, what we can no longer touch, see, smell or hear?
  • What will we value in future, and how will we value it, if physical currency disappears, commodities evaporate and investment is largely in clicks, pixels and algorithms? How might this affect our perceptions and behaviour as a result?
  • How can creativity, ideas, art and culture be valued? How can human experience be valued?
  • What could affect or influence the creative value of a coin?
  • In what ways might digital technology embedded in crafted objects, mediate an emotional, sensory or narrative experience?

(Further to this edited list, I could have also asked myself ‘How much research can one person fit into three months?’)

My main aim for the residency was that any technology I incorporated should unite people, bringing them closer together by triggering some form of physical or emotional exchange between users. I hoped that the crafted objects I intended to design and produce, would not only raise questions conceptually about money and value, but also facilitate meaningful or thought-provoking human-to-human interactions, or sensory experiences, mediated by an appropriate form of digital technology, and embedded within a tactile, appealing and intriguing object, or series of objects.

I was absolutely delighted to be awarded one of the three Craft + Technology residencies and to be placed at Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol, in order to explore my research proposal called ‘Money No Object’. This residency scheme certainly exceeded the expectations and high hopes I had for the three-month period; it was an elucidating, fortifying, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable process at every stage.

The Project: Craft + Technology

Here is a short video produced by Watershed, which neatly summarises and illustrates the outcome of my Craft + Technology research, as it was at 28th March 2013, called:‘Money No Object’  The project outlined in this film represents just one concept amongst many that I had during the residency period. I intend to continue with my research, develop this particular iteration further (funding permitting), and at the same time explore some of the other ideas, too numerous to mention here, in more detail, now that the residency has officially concluded.

Given my background training in Jewellery & Silversmithing, the experience of bringing together craft and technology was not in fact new to me, where the word ‘technology’ is a very broad term, encompassing for example, chemical and machine processes, and manufacturing techniques. In this context, like many craftspeople, I have encountered and used an extensive range of different technologies such as: CNC milling, rapid prototyping, casting, electro-plating and electro-forming, etching, engraving, sandblasting, patinating, vacuum forming, kiln firing, drilling, pressing, stamping, spinning, polishing, soldering, welding, and so on. During a short residency at the Royal Mint, I also had my first opportunity to experiment with computer-aided design and haptic technology, modelling in virtual materials and in 3D on-screen, by using a stylus and graphics pad that gave tactile feedback. Arguably advanced for one of the oldest and most traditional companies in the world; the Royal Mint has an eleven hundred year history.

The experience of bringing together craft and digital technology, or craft and pervasive media however, was entirely new to me and consequently very exciting, as the possibilities and potential applications of this fusion seemed endlessly inspiring (not to mention more agile, flexible and liberating than something like CNC milling!) Thanks to this residency and to Watershed’s supportive and patient Creative Technologist Dan Williams, I was provided with an understanding and insight into smart networked technologies, and was able to learn about their capabilities, and equally important, their limitations. I could then experiment with different pervasive media, alongside developing my concept and series of interactive objects, selecting the most fitting technology to articulate the idea and facilitate the experience, as well as allowing the technology to determine my choice of materials and the object designs where necessary. (Solid metals inhibit radio frequency for example).

The chance to incorporate digital methods into my practice opened up completely new ways of working, and perhaps more significantly, new ways of thinking as I discovered in this opportunity, the ability to achieve some of the more experience-based ideas which I had long wanted to create through my artwork, but which my hand-making skills or access to mechanical technologies had either limited, or rendered inadequate. Acquiring a new understanding of digital technology and its creative potential has enabled me to see artistic opportunity, and fresh possibility which didn’t exist before, when pervasive media was not a tool, method or option available to me to use.

Working practices:

From my initial application to the residency scheme, in which I submitted a proposal for exploring a series of questions and concepts about money and value, through the medium of craft practice and new technology, the basis of my early intentions did not really alter –although of course I was able to explore a much wider context for my ideas, as well as research more fully into these significant and far-reaching themes, while both ‘money’ and ‘value’ remain largely indefinable.

Owing to the unwieldy and nebulous nature of these subjects, I found it extremely helpful to engage with some uniquely positioned people in order to hear their professional opinions, personal thoughts and critical perspectives on both digital and material currencies, and concepts of value. These conversations crucially informed my research. This residency scheme, being supported by highly-regarded and internationally-established partnership organisations, gave me the confidence and opportunity to meet and discuss ‘Money No Object’ with leading individuals, relating to my line of enquiry. For example, I recorded separate discussions which took place between myself and the Technology Manager at the Royal Mint, the Curator of Modern Money at the British Museum, and two independent consultants who advise on future economic thinking, one for the UKTI, and one for the International Futures Forum. I am very grateful to them for their generosity, openness and expertise.

Parallel to this research and information-gathering, I found it was equally vital to share, discuss and reflect on my own ideas and research findings, in order to begin to assimilate the great volume of material with which I was trying to contend, and in turn translate some of it into meaningful design interactions, based on the themes of money and value, in context with craft and technology. I particularly valued and appreciated the warm welcome, attentive listening, insightful questions and supportive comments from Victoria Tillotson, Dan Williams and Clare Reddington. Their good humour, energy and enthusiasm, not only contributed to the residency being such a brilliant and positive experience, but also helped to ensure that my approach to the project and subsequent outcome was as rigorous as possible within the three-month timescale. The same can easily be said about the Pervasive Media Studio community as a whole. Conversations and discussions with all the studio residents, as well as the studio’s extensive network of partner organisations and associates (Autonomatic, i-DAT, Crafts Council, Universities etc) and my fellow Craft + Technology residents, Chloe Meineck and Patrick Laing, were each critical to my learning experience and to progressing my thinking, whether this was formally (such as the three work-in-progress events) or informally (waiting for the kettle to boil, chatting over lunch or a coffee). The Pervasive Media Studio itself is the most dynamic and exciting place to work, almost entirely due to the incredible group of people who are based there, everyone dedicated to their remarkable projects and ideas, while maintaining a friendly, open-handed and encouraging approach to newcomers like myself. It is a truly unique environment and one that I cannot recommend highly enough, through the diverse programme of collaborative opportunities available, such as the Craft + Technology scheme.

The regular requirement to document my research activities and to share widely my experiments, learning processes and conceptual explorations was very beneficial. Writing the series of journal posts online became a distilling and clarifying process, and proved to be an effective catalyst for creative direction and decision-making. The number of presentation events at the Crafts Council, Pervasive Media Studio, Autonomatic, i-DAT and Watershed, also assisted in fortifying my confidence and ability to better articulate my artistic and conceptual ideas, at their rapidly evolving stages and in front of an audience (a very different experience from teaching and lecturing I discovered). These methods of continuous dissemination throughout the course of the residency, also provided a chance to reflect on my own artistic practice and the context in which I am currently working, as well as the context and way in which I would prefer to work in future. Previously, if I had been given the time or occasion to examine my own working practice, I think I would have considered this quite a self-indulgent and introspective activity. Actually it has been incredibly useful and revealing. It has reinforced my desire to collaborate whenever possible (I like working as part of a team, as well as independently) and to maintain a research-based, concept-driven approach, in order to create enriching experiences and design interactions, triggered by my wearable or crafted objects.

What next:

Following the Craft + Technology residency, my next steps will focus on applying for further funding, to enable me to continue with this relevant and timely body of research about money, and to develop the series of artistic interpretations that relate to it in greater depth. Ideally, I hope to have the chance to test out the ideas and interactions in a museum or gallery context beyond Watershed, as well as progress the craft-making and wearable technology dimensions of the project. (Contentiously, I made a decision to set aside my craft practice on the whole, until the last three weeks of the residency, as I felt it would be better to spend the brief three-month period exploring the new technologies available to me, and test out alternative approaches with prototypes, while also establishing collaborative relationships as much as possible, all of which I would not necessarily have such unprecedented access to, beyond the timetable of the residency).

Inevitably, with such sizeable subjects as money and value, and a pervasive media novice’s approach, I felt I was just beginning to get started when the residency concluded! I am hoping to secure development support from Creativeworks London who attended the Craft + Technology showcase at Watershed, and approached me after the event, inviting an application for funding. Elsewhere, at the beginning of May 2013, I have been asked to take part ‘in conversation’ with Victoria Tillotson and chaired by Tanya Harrod at the ‘Pathways to Making’ symposium, organised by Craftspace in Birmingham, and to be held at the University of Wolverhampton. In June, I will present ‘Money No Object’, and discuss my experience of working with new technology from my maker’s perspective, at the Contemporary Craft Fair in Bovey Tracey, Devon.

The experience of taking part in the Craft + Technology residency scheme will continue to have immeasurable value for my artistic practice, and for myself as an individual, from this unique process of creative professional development. It is difficult to measure and express – appropriately, where value is concerned – just how much this exceptional opportunity represents, with its far-reaching, supportive and inclusive network of inspiring people and intensive experimental learning curves. The residency experience has already expanded my artistic horizon and provided me with a much greater scope and a more dynamic, collaborative way in which to work. In fact, this is a way of working towards which I feel I am most naturally inclined, but perhaps have regularly (although not entirely) lacked the opportunity to operate in this manner, through intermittent professional and financial support that together provide the necessary confidence. Without wishing to sound too effusive, the residency experience has been akin to finding my professional and artistic soul-mate.