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Artengine symposium: Making under the influence of digitalism

By Danuta Sierhuis on September 11, 2016

Research and process image for Truncated Octahedron Bone Scaffolding (2013). Image by Del Harrow.

Research and process image for Truncated Octahedron Bone Scaffolding (2013). Image by Del Harrow.

How do makers make in the 21st-century? This is one of the questions that the Unhanded: Making under the influence of digitalism symposium being held next weekend will attempt to address. The theme of the symposium, “Unhanded” brings into question the touch of the makers’ hand in made objects – like the stroke of a brush or the mark of a chisel on wood – or the invisibility of their hand when objects are made by digital technologies and computers.

The traditional notion of “making” in craft is complicated in the 21st century, and the symposium attempts to unpack this through panel discussions of the language we use to talk about “making” today, the issues that arise from using digital tools and materials, and the opportunities and failures that makers encounter while using computers. According to Ryan Stec, the Artistic Director of Artengine, the first of the three panels is of particular importance as it will set the stage for the day’s discussions about making. He says:

We want to respect and continue to develop the wonderful tradition of European ideas of craft, but this language has its issues. We were very thankful of a conversation we had with artist Barry Ace who challenged us to think more deeply about this division of craft and art. For him this is a schism that resides in the many settler languages and cultures and is imposed on him. For all of us it is impossible to restore the past, but the key and very exciting question, is what do we need for the future? How can we build a vocabulary that builds bridges toward better making and thus a better world? This is one of the reasons why we are so excited to have Steve Loft join us for this opening discussion. Steve has been at the forefront of contemporary culture in Canada for years, moving between making, writing, researching at places as varied as the Urban Shaman Gallery in Winnipeg to the National Gallery of Canada to his tenure as a Visiting Trudeau Fellow at Ryerson University and now helping reshape the Aboriginal Arts Office at the Canada Council. He is such a provocative thinker it will be an incredible honor to have him get the day started.

Truncated Octahedron Bone Scaffolding (2013). Image by Del Harrow.

Truncated Octahedron Bone Scaffolding (2013). Image by Del Harrow.

The first in a series of panels will challenge the history and language of craft and making, while the rest of the day will consider made objects themselves, such as electronic textiles and reactive garments, ceramics, and granite and sandstone. Other panelists include Greg Sims, a Toronto-based artist, designer, and educator who has makes and investigates the role of jewellery in our society; Valerie Lamontagne, an artist-designer, curator, and PhD scholar conducting research on wearable technologies at Concordia University; and Del Harrow, a sculptor and professor based in Fort Collins, CO whose research investigates the intersection of digital and manual design in fabrication processes.

The discussions and perspectives that these panelists bring to the symposium will be pertinent to Ottawa’s burgeoning maker community and to anyone interested in maker culture. With more and more spaces opening, which are dedicated to tools and providing workspace for creative endeavours, the symposium invites Ottawa’s creatives to participate and share their enthusiasm for making with the panelists coming to town from across Canada and around the world. As Stec says:

Ideally, I hope the panelists offer some radical propositions (“The next Dominion Carver of Canada should be a nanobot!”). That you are inspired to disagree with at least one of the panelists (“I am totally against the biochemical manipulation of mushrooms to create leatherlike materials!”) and that the panelists might also be inspired to disagree with each other. There are too many ways to look at these ideas for everyone to be in agreement, and things are moving too fast for us to never change our minds. This should be a great place for that.

A great panel should be a performance. We should bring sincerity and thoughtful perspectives, but it should be a field of play for ideas. If debate is like sport for ideas then this should be more like theatre. We have invited a wide cast of characters. What will unfold… we are not exactly sure…

Best go to the symposium to find out how this day and its discussions will turn out! Unhanded promises to be a very interesting and enlightening day about making and makers in the 21st century.

Unhanded takes place from 10am–5pm on Saturday, September 17 at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave). For the full program, please visit artengine.ca. Tickets are available online for $20–50.