Designer & Technologist
New.ances - Computationally Augmenting the Craft of Pottery
New.ances is a series of critically designed, computationally augmented making experiments in pottery; resulting in a collection of vessels with altered, nuanced forms. The new.anced ways of making reside in the gap that exists in the leap from hand made, wheel throwing method of making clay wares to ceramic 3D printing. These experiments seek out the polarities between the machine as a connoisseur of speed, control & rapid iterations, and the human hand which serendipitously imbibes subjectivity and self expression to a piece of craft - offering a dialogue between technological production and traditional pottery techniques.
The project reimangines handmade crafts by leveraging the benefits and inconspicuos imperfections of computation to demonstrate human-computer collaboration.
Experiment 1: Data Texturing
With this experiment, I intended to build a computational tool that would allow a potter, in this case me, to manifest their own signatures in the surface level form of the vessel itself. The tool was a small metal attachment to an existing electric pottery wheel that could be fitted with differently shaped tips to puncture and/or texture the wet clay on the wheel immediately after giving it a desired base shape. The metal attachment was driven by a microcontroller with sensors listening for audio data.
Not having to depend on highly complex and expert clay handling and glazing skills, computational texturing would help in layering the thrown vessel with unique patterns which, ideally, would be derived from various types of data and thus give the end product a personality unique to the artist.
Experiment 2: Manu(frac)turing
The hardware consisted of a simple wooden frame housing a clay extruder that I had 3D printed (conflicted, i know). But this time around, instead of a fully mechanized and a 3-axis hovering machine, I attached the frame over an electric pottery wheel. The wheel rotates as it does while the extruder, stationary above it, extrudes coils of clay on the wheel, essentially repeating the ancient wheel coiling technique.
The fun thing about this experiment is that it’s not complex in its technology but it becomes extremely challenging to do both, work on shaping clay on the wheel while simultaneously being cautious of the clay extrusions. I struggled to keep up as the consistencies of both the clays (from the extruder and on the wheel) were really different and even though it was the same material, they didn’t go well with one another. This was a reality check; it was a challenge that I didn’t quite conquer and maybe, I didn’t want to. This whole project has been about embracing the imperfections too, after all.
Experiment 3: Breaking Muscle Memory
A TENS unit that is controlled by a microcontroller, sends electrical pulses to the nerves under the skin and makes the fingers and at times, my wrist twitch. For the purpose of this experiment, the muscle twitches happen in a pseudo-random way but ideally, it would be interesting for me to explore if some specific type of data can be used to send muscular impulses; for example, if an experienced potter was to see me unsuccessfully throwing a pot, their brain could control the movement of my hands in order to salvage the clay vessel.
New.ances was my final thesis project at Parsons School of Design. In its final form, New.ances offers experimental approaches to the craft of wheel throwing pottery and makes a parallel commentary on human-machine collaboration when it comes to the act of ‘making’ or ‘manufacturing’ things. I dare to think that each of these would become tools and craft ‘skills’ that a ceramicist could hone, practice and perfect; just like a beginner might learn making simple pots or knitting or any other craft. All the three experiments had clear distinctions when it came to what has to be done by hands and what the machine would take part in, making it clear that making crafts is not a solo gig; it requires collation; and in my case, I envision Computation as the Collaborator.