Co-Creating Heritage is part of the project that is running in Birmingham and Dublin under the care of our community partners, Craftspace.
You can see what the separate Dublin and Birmingham groups have been doing under their separate headings. However, a very exciting development took place in May 2014 as a couple of members from each group came together in a workshop at the Makernow lab at Falmouth, to find out about digital possibilities for their work and to try out some of the processes that might be available. Katie Bunnell and Justin Marshall led the groups in their explorations, and Katie has written about the two days spent in the workshops here:
CARE @ Makernow, Cornwall’s open digital making workshop at Falmouth University
7/8 May 2014
CARE project participants from Birmingham and Dublin were welcome guests at Makernow on May 7th/8th this year. Each group had been in communication with the workshop sending CAD files and receiving samples by post in the weeks before their visit. With the end of the project in site this was a great way to speed up the production of designs inspired by Soho House (www.bmag.org.uk/soho-house) for the Birmingham group and Rathfarnham Castle for the group from Dublin. The groups’ enthusiasm for sending files and receiving samples was such that both Justin and I were becoming slightly nervous that it might be tricky to get the participants to stand back and do some design thinking when they arrived but that definitely wasn’t the case. Given that each group had only around 10 hrs over the two days to work directly with us in Makernow we covered a lot of ground technically, creatively and socially.
The Birmingham group arrived on Weds morning ready to share their design ideas and samples created over the last few weeks. We kicked off with a great show tell session that developed into design brainstorming and prototype development in relation to the digital kit available to them in the workshop. We worked on expanding ideas through exploring alternative materials, functions and possible contexts for their work. This phase developed into more individually focused co-working with Justin, Natalie and I working one to one with each of the participants to develop CAD files and outputting tests in a range of materials that would visually inform the next stage of design development.
Robin, who had been expecting to work with fabric was surprised to find herself working on a brooch prototype and really excited by the range of samples that she was able to produce relatively quickly using CAD software and laser cutting plywood and Perspex.
Viv worked with Natalie in CAD to break the symmetry of her brooch design derived from the Georgian interior of Soho House. She created a series of laser cut plywood structures with delicately etched and cut through design derived from a plasterwork ceiling rose. Her intention was to embellish these with handstitching on her return to Birmingham, introducing an organic handmade element to contrast with the precision of the newly disrupted symmetry of the wooden base for her brooch design.
Alec worked with Justin on developing a lamp design that would incorporate a range of leaf designs cut out in vinyl and that could be added and arranged onto a sheet of semi translucent material as part of a kit for making a lampshade.
In the middle of the afternoon on the first day we were joined by the group from Dublin, Liz Nilsen, artist and Shay and Yvonne, participants. We started a discussion with all participants using an ice-breaker activity: everyone talked briefly about something of their own that they had brought with them, describing physical characteristics and value and inviting the rest of the group to guess what it might be before revealing the actual thing. People were keen to talk. Objects were diverse and their stories were intriguing and imbued with personal significance and included: a large block of malachite brought back from the Congo in the 1960’s and presented as evidence of a very different life and a reminder of a brother long dead; and a very old address book held together with a rubber band that had travelled the world.
The Dublin group went on to tell us about the work they had done together to make two large textile wall hangings using a series of handcut rubber stamps, sharing the design issues that had emerged through that process and talking about how they had resolved them as a group. They then went on to share the individual project ideas that they wanted to develop while they were at Makernow and the Birmingham group talked about what they had achieved so far in the workshop. The working party ended at about 6.00pm and was followed by a social evening event in Falmouth.
On Day 2 everyone was keen to make the most of their time with the combined support of the artists, technicians and Justin and myself in Makernow. The Birmingham group were more confident about what they were doing and able to continue work started the previous day with the support of Natalie. Yvonne from Dublin focused on experimentation with pattern and scale cut into a variety of fabrics with the support of Liz and myself. Once a number of samples had been cut, it was possible for her to play with these to understand a variety of visual qualities that could be achieved through layering pieces of fabric together: a whole new set of possibilities for designs began to present themselves. Justin helped Shay make a version of the Celtic cross he had designed in CAD and thought would not be possible to make. He was delighted with the results.
The Birmingham group spent half an hour before they left reflecting on their experience of Makernow and more broadly on the whole project. Participants’ comments on their experience were at once enthusiastic and frustrated:
“It’s been a fantastic experience. It’s whipped me up – I can do this and I can do that, but now I’m frustrated because I want to do it. It’s keeping the momentum going when we leave…”
“Its certainly shaken me out of my bed…I had no intention of doing jewelry at all.. It was seeing this (laser cut samples) and everyone else seeing it too…”
The shared experience of Makernow was important for them: “when we get back it means we’ll all be coming from a similar knowledge point and can help inform each other – being together in the space is very important”.
And there was a clearly articulated recognition of the need to develop software skills and a discussion about how this might be achieved through sharing skills online or in a one day group workshop that preceded working in the Makernow environment.
“Its the digital stuff that I really crave learning how to do. It seems that you can only really learn this stuff on a university course. I don’t have the money to be able to do a course and I’m not very good at self-teaching”.
When we talked about product development the group the group were clear that this was not really their main interest in being part of the group: personal expression, sharing and chatting were their real motivation for coming together. Both groups were relaxed, open and willing to share their creative skills and life experiences.
After the event, Justin and I reflected that the participants probably had the minimum amount of time to do something relatively quickly and respond to it. The participants experience of seeing the workshop via Skype and sending file and receiving samples prior to the visit had enabled them to establish a rudimentary vocabulary that they could build on in situ.
The groups’ first hand experience of producing their own samples and prototypes and being able to change their minds and make decisions as pieces emerged were really core to their creative development. The use of digital production processes enabled a lot of samples to be produced relatively quickly providing a body of material tests to reflect on and discuss before moving to the next stage.
This reflection on outcomes was further and significantly enhanced by the expert designing, making and leadership skills of the experienced artists in the group, enabling discovery, discussion and design thinking to develop through the process of sampling and prototyping. Being together as a group in the same space was vital for this and was re-inforced by the digital and traditional design and making knowledge of the Makernow team. The artists who had been working with the groups over the duration of the whole project not only brought there own creative skills, but provided an important social basis in which participants were confident and happy to share ideas with us right form the start.
The burning issue of the need for software training and support is one that we are aware of and are beginning to think about the ways in which community groups can develop their own digital experts: a CAD champion with the right support from an empathetic trainer could practice and pass on their skills by helping the rest of the group develop their digital design work. Overall Justin and I both felt that participants were leaving Makernow with a very positive experience of digital tools that they could use to extend their existing range of making skills. Seeing the workshop and understanding processes first hand and together will hopefully enable them to access and make good use of other digital production facilities in the future.
Perhaps our most significant reflection is that while the digital tools inspired and motivated participants, opening up endless possibilities for product development and new aesthetic qualities, the most important thing that was shared was design thinking. This was expressed through open and supportive discussion of the results of playful experimentation made possible by the capabilities of the digital workshop toolkit.
We were really pleased to see Viv’s final embroidered brooches completed on her return and tweeted to us from Craftspace.
( Katie Bunnell is a ceramic designer-maker, researcher and leader of Autonomatic, the 3D Digital Production research group at Falmouth University. Autonomatic was founded in 2003 and has since established a reputation for practice-centred research that explores the relationships between digital technologies and craft practices.)
Viv, a participant from Birmingham, also wrote about the experience – read it here.