REVIEW: Museum of Craft and Design showcases Evolutionary Aesthetics in "Hands Off: New Dutch Design at the Confluence of Technology & Craft"
By Joe Ferguson
The field of evolutionary aesthetics asserts that our basic aesthetic preferences have evolved in order to enhance survival and reproductive success. According to philosopher Denis Dutton, a perfect example of this is the hand axe. Hand axes didn’t suddenly appear in our prehistoric environment--they were created by man. It took the desirable personal qualities of intelligence, fine motor control, and planning to produce them, and those who gained such skills displayed them as status and a reproductive advantage over the less capable.
This inherent appreciation for things skillfully made is probably the basis for why there is a degree of universality of attributes to things we call attractive or beautiful. We are in awe of the delicate stitching, fine brush strokes, and perfect proportions displayed in the craft arts and we admire people who can do these things. We are at a crossroads, however, in that some of what is being called craft is no longer made by hand. A tangential line of making with 3D printing and other emergent technologies is growing in popularity, but gone from its products are the subtle markings and unique aesthetic qualities of the handmade.
Hands Off: New Dutch Design at the Confluence of Technology & Craft in San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Design showcases approximately 20 designers whose work represents this new way of making. The exhibit features innovative production techniques and materials that reinterpret old technologies and forms.
So how do we explain, at least from the perspective of evolutionary aesthetics, the surging interest in new craft? Maybe we have arrived at a time when those who make craft art don’t need to use their hands at all. Perhaps we consider 3D printing just another tool, like the potter’s wheel or the paintbrush.
It is likely that our appreciation for contemporary, digitally-produced art lies not in the recognition of obvious manual skill, but in how the creation itself is situated in today’s artistic, intellectual zeitgeist. To produce a visually-aesthetic 3D-printed vase may not require the fine motor skill associated with a handmade ceramic version, but the intelligence, planning, and knowledge necessary are impressive and represent qualities that are necessary for success in our current economic climate.
Eric Klarenbeek’s Mycelium Project Chair is the result of combining organic materials with 3D printing technology. Instead of plastic, Klarenbeek used a mixture of water, straw, and mycelium fungus fibers to print a hollow chair form and then he introduced living mycelium fungus within in it. He writes, “We are the first in the world to use mycelium like a living glue for binding organic waste. Once it’s full-grown, it turns into a structural, stable, and renewable material.”
Anouk Wipprecht’s Spider Dress 2.0 has sensors that monitor an approacher’s proximity and intention. Equipped with an Intel Edison brain, 8 jointed, 3D printed legs respond to the wearer’s surroundings. Wipprecht writes, “Approach the wearer too aggressively and the mechanical limbs move up to an attack position. Approach the system under calmer circumstances, and the dress might just beckon you to come closer with smooth, suggestive patterns.”
Tiddo Bakker’s In Vena Verbum was a collaboration with physicist Henk Jalink and the Centre of BioSystems Genomics. A camera is mounted above a plant in the 661-pound, swirling installation--the camera optically records the activity of chlorophyll as a measure of stress. The metal sculpture then adjusts its speed and direction based on the stress level.
Technologies advance at break-neck speeds and their inclusion into the worlds of art and craft are inevitable because of our innate drive to attain and apply new skills and knowledge to the world in which we live. It is important to remember, however, that craft is a process and not an object. Our appreciation of the products of craft are fundamentally an appreciation of the human beings who possess the skill, intellect, and creativity to produce them--it is a response as old as we are as a species.
Hands Off: New Dutch Design at the Confluence of Technology & Craft is on display through September 13th.