Techno-ology: Disruptive Tech and the Human touch (If the bicycle came after the automobile we would call it progress)

It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to.

Bridget's BDay-3

Cry with joy that is!

For I find myself from time to time haphazardly embracing new tech with a childlike wonderment that betrays my aging skeptical Luddite heart, laden with a bouquet of blossoming William Morris ideals (Sorry, I had to drag him into this, you’ll see why. And it really is my birthday. I have one every year. Even when I was three, see that photo?). Today is the day to talk about such tech new or not. Rather than dive directly into say talking about the melting point of Alumina or decal emulsion set times or jigger speeds and torque, yes, the breadth in esoteric topics under the rubric of ceramic tech is overwhelming, I’ll endeavor here create a bit of a framework for the future by questioning what tech means to/for the potter.

Someone once told me that if the bicycle came after the automobile it would be considered progress. For the steady march of time and human desire for newness pumped up by our economic models ensure that change is the constant. The truth is that no matter what age, we humans are an adaptive sort with very short memories and thus culturally meld with the new regardless of it being in our best interest. Ceramics can not run from its past. Where the hype and applications of rapidprototypers, object scanners and 3D printers are infiltrating the personal studio the mud on the hands of ancient ceramicists is attached to every mechanically rendered vessel and re-fab molecule. Ceramics is a beast that breathes the fumes of industry like oxygen. But when is the hand too far removed? The studio potter is a result of all that is modern. Esoteric and marginal the studio potter is validated by its ancient roots and justified by the application to new tech. New tech however is what propels us forth, stuck in the cogs of time.

The great William Morris father of the Arts and Crafts Movement ( his reaction to the not so distant industrial revolution) focused on the humanizing of design through simple, crafted forms and the honest expression of material values aka. the human touch. With the hand (the original tool) so removed from material and now dedicated to the manipulation of tech it is clear to argue that it is the psyche that delivers needed human touch. But is this material craft? Design? Hence the endless mashing of labels “Designer Maker” and oh “Artist Craftsperson”. Is it the application of tech to make small numbers of things that keeps studios studios and not manufactures? Craft often crosses disciplines, crosses material boundaries, though our Arts Councils and Galleries and search engines still categorize by material and production method the field is moving against those definitions. It is however those definitions and the intimacy with the hand and material that make for craft. I am concerned for the presence of the hand, the human touch. When our many daily objects manufactured in the greatest numbers are seemingly devoid of human touch, through use it is hard to imagine them as being inextricably linked to a human maker, designer, machine operator, grandmother. The web of object production may be massive but it is human. Does it come back to Morris’s preaching of the importance of joy in labour and my urge for a joy in use- a lasting joy in use and not the disposable, to define craft?Does the direct intimacy of creating something by hand for another combat disposability? For is finely crafted not to denote speciality and a long existence through time? Is it not something made to last? Stuck in the cog of time indeed.

The dichotomy of cutting and edge and ancient is so intriguing! Dare I commend ceramics for being just as adaptable as humanity but flaunt it still being greatly about the ideals of Morris, small numbers and intimate making? This may be a new way to consider the growing presence and excitement of tech in the studio environment. I’d muse that it may come down of course to what may simply be a machine esthetic- but that is no solution. For we have people intricately hand making objects that look machined and objects that look made by hand mass produced.

The waters are muddy, but lets dive in and actually talk about melting points and emulsions and torque speeds.

Techno-ology: Info. on the technical aspects of ceramics. From melting points to expansion rates and sharpening tool tips to peeing in clay. All the treacherously techo terms and not so nonsensical garb will be dealt with.

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