Bending technology: a collaborative approach towards digital fabrication
Zamora Barroso, Diego
This practice-based research investigates how interdisciplinary collaborations can help creative practitioners overcome perceived barriers and the notion of risk when approaching emerging technologies. This research aims to present an understanding of methods and theory that focuses on the exploration of technology within creative, collaborative contexts. More specifically, makers and craftspeople using desktop 3D printing in Scotland. The fluidity and unique qualities of this technology challenges established notions of expertise, labour and materiality. I explore the rhetorical notion of ’disruptive technologies’ through contextual research, collaborative workshops, one-to-one experiments and reflective practice. Information and communication technologies are blurring the roles and participation of audiences and producers (Gauntlett, 2011; Ritzer and Jurgenson, 2010; Toffler, 1980); as a consequence, online communities are becoming centres of development and innovation. These communities share some traits with Von Hippel´s definition of creative communities in which “user-led innovation” emerges (Von Hippel, 2005). However, the role that these communities of practice play, such as hackers, makers and users on the fringes of technological adoption, remains under studied. The debate on how to analyse these environments is split between Science Technology Studies (STS) Scholarship and design-centred approaches (Pinch and Oudshoorn, 2008). STS scholarship is dominated by the argument that technological development is not independent of social factors (e.g. Pinch and Bijker, 1984). However, cultural explanations remain anthropocentric and fail to recognise the role of the industrial drive in engineering and design (Sporton, 2015). This thesis explores this divide by proposing a framework developed through case studies, workshops, ethnographic research methods and participatory action research. Craft-related practices are exemplary for their relation to process and material exploration (Adamson, 2007a). The modernisation of local economies and the models of post-industrial production could displace the role of those practitioners who lack opportunities to explore emerging technologies (Atkinson et al., 2009; Bunnell, 2004; Marshall, 1999, 2008a). In an increasingly digital era, the relationship between collaborative creative practice, direct material manipulation and digital fabrication technologies need to be the subject to analysis. As an example of an emerging and purportedly ‘disruptive’ technology, 3D printing has been touted as a revolution in manufacturing, allegedly captivating the mind of consumers and creatives (Anderson, 2012; Berman, 2012). 3D printing and the online communities coalescing around it are creating new territories through collaboration, and this emerging technology brings to material practice a fluidity that belonged to the digital alone. Early adopters and artists, such as Michael Eden, Neri Oxman and Geoffrey Mann (Johnston, 2015), contributed to the development of a narrative that is still being contested by creative practitioners. This context offers a fertile environment for understanding the role of creative practitioners in technological dissemination. This relation is explored through hybrid research methodologies in which I act as a facilitator, a hacker, collaborator and sometimes as a technical service provider. This thesis sets out to question the materiality of 3D printing, its role as a creative tool, and challenge the perception of its impact on handmade practices. From this body of creative practice and reflection, longitudinal collaborations are presented that analyse different stages in creative, collaborative relationships mediated by technology - that is when a technology is at the centre of the creative relationship. Case study one focuses on the development of a method for creating a hybrid between 3D printing and textile design. Case study two examines the development of an image-based approach towards generating geometry that amalgamates painting, 3D modelling and printing. Case study three focuses on the potential use of 3D printers for generating media to accelerate processes within embroidery. These case studies and workshops have provided an opportunity to develop digitally mediated collaborations, leading to insights into collaborative practice and perceptions around emerging technologies within craft-based practices; thus, providing a creative context for the research and positioning this project within the field. Reflective practice is used as the primary mode of inquiry. This offers a unique insight into the development of a reflexive approach towards collaboration. The original contribution to knowledge of this research project lies in the proposal of a method for creating and analysing digitally mediated creative collaborations, as well as challenging techno-deterministic conceptions of technological dissemination. I propose to ‘bend technology’ as a low-level approach towards emerging technologies. This thesis includes a series of workshops, a portfolio of creative experiments, case studies and a body of 3D printed samples and works that range from conceptual artistic interventions to novel methods for 3D printing.