Digital Fabrication and the Significance of the Hand – WIP

What *is* craft and what *are* the prerequisites for craftsmanship to exist?

Reflecting on a growing body of work characterised by its immersive qualities, thoughts relating to the production of our work and the significance of first and secondhand inputs, be it ‘hands on’ or ‘hands off’ stubbornly persist – furthering a questioning of our collective understanding of craft and craftsmanship in a time when digital fabrication can so easily create previously unimaginable complexity and form.

A note here that these thoughts vary from the current, more commercial appetite for all things craft; fed of course by less regarded marketing agencies and the incessant portmanteau’ing of craft with fast cars, furniture and formaggio – context is of course critical to reception.  The most misleading of advertisers use variants of the word craft to supplant many other well-worn prefixes that went before it, to add value and promote worth to the consumer.  One only needs to hear hand-crafted in relation to an obscure factory made product to acknowledge that this is some kind of all encompassing reaction to an ‘era of austerity’ and this is now an arena of promoted faux-simplistic-living as ‘protective blanket’ to the apparent and very tangible sense of political instability.

Further, and in a time of dwindling home ownership as consequence of suppressed, affordably-priced quantity, coupled with a reaction to all-you-can-eat and straight-to-landfill items, one has to assume that there is a desire or need to make one’s own, or, if skills lacking, acquire the thoughtfully-made.  Surrounding ourselves with the skilled-handmade and the memorably-produced can offer a continual echo of an item’s embedded stories; stories and worth that are able to transcend taste and trend.

Within the discipline of architecture, particular interests revolve around the significance the role the skilled hand plays in demonstrating, and bringing craftsmanship to be.

With the march toward and adoption of digitally controlled methods of construction, one questions whether the hand needs to be present and ‘in direct control’ to warrant true craftsmanship? Can craftsmanship exist in the assembly of autonomously cut or additively-formed items?  Can the result of amassed or assembled digitally-fabricated objects, that have benefitted from iterative review and subjected to the judgement of a trained eye, be categorised as a work of craftsmanship?

Is an analogue, firsthand approach, ‘closer to ones soul’ and where does the line sit as to whether the hand involved becomes either direct or distant?

It’s exciting to explore these new thresholds; adopting with skill, the most contemporary methods of production whilst weaving or indeed hybridising them with the most traditional of techniques and the accumulated experience of building.  Outputs will always require rigorous interrogation and iteration supplanted with an eye governed and aware of artistic and historical reference.

Carl Trenfield 15.01.17