A conversation between maker and object

I have had a few days away from the studio visiting family, giving me a chance to catch up on some reading while travelling. A couple of very interesting things sparked my attention, both on the topic of the meaning of objects and materials.

First, the book Designing Things (1). This is one off our MADM recommended reading list (which I have not yet had a chance to really look at in depth).

The general gist of what I highlighted was a discussion on meanings, and how they are not “an inherent property of the things themselves, nor are they total fabrications of the human mind; they are suspended in the spaces between us and all that is around us”. I was very intrigued by the description of a reciprocity of agency between things and the makers of things. Although I am not sure I really understand properly what agency means. Another key point was on objects as signs, and how the form and meaning of an object are interrelated and how is is a fundamental concern of what an object says. Something must have a form in order to be seen, but it must also make sense in order for it to be understood and used.

“…designers do not create meanings – they create form; it is users who create meanings. The network within which things exist serves as a location where designers in the process of design and users in the process of use construct meanings. Each actor – designer, user, thing, meaning – in the context of the network and in interaction plays its agentic role in making.”

Meanings do not exist within people’s minds, and neither are they embedded within things. Meanings exist in a non-physical, non-psychical network that includes people and all things. Meanings should not be thought of as entities, but rather as structure in motion constantly evolving, heavily context-dependent and generated by individuals, social groups and things themselves.”

So, I can but simply suggest meaning in my making by choosing certain forms, materials, colours and textures – so to nudge users into constructing certain meanings. This brings us back to my Challenge of the moment – better understanding the materials I am using. I need to look at the suggestive meaning of materials beyond just its obvious touchable qualities. On the train home, with a surprisingly good 3G signal, I found an article by textile artist N. Nimkulrat (2). She talked about the material and its role as an active participant in the creative process. (This is what I think agency is essentially about – is that right?). Anyway, the core of the article was about giving consideration to the expressivity of a material in a given context.

Materials are not passive, nor are they instruments, but interact with the maker’s artistic intelligence when his or her hands, mind and eyes are engaged in a creative process….through the act of [making]…meaning was embedded in the physical material, gradually transformed into an artefact, which in turn articulated this meaning through its physicality back to the maker.

So again, the message to me is that I need to explore the expressive qualities of a material – knowing that materials with different tactile and visual qualities will express different things. On top of that many fibres have a long history and complex social context around their usage. This may be a help or hindrance to what I am trying to say.

Current thoughts are definitely focussed on fibres. I have started working with paper, predominantly for its ordinariness, and looking at using silk for its extra-ordinariness. My intention is to try to stay limited to allow me to explore more making processes, and not get too distracted by shiny new things again. I’m missing stitching though. Possibly I should also look at how I can utilise stitching with these two different types fibres.

(1) Designing Things, Prasad Boradkar, Bloomsbury 2010
(2) Nimkulrat, N (2012). Hands-on intellect: integrating craft practice into design research. International Journal of Design 6(3), 1-14


1 thought on “A conversation between maker and object

  1. eileen

    my thoughts here are in reverse order- does there have to be a conflict between what you pursue in your course and what you do outside it? Could you continue stitching as a relaxation – as a break from your course work ? eg making pictures to give as birthday/ Christmas presents? doing it for fun- simple pleasure? or are they too much part of each other?
    Re the idea of ” nudge users into constructing certain meanings” – I’m interested as to why you think you might need to do this? The maker can give her/his explanations – the users may also add/substitute their own
    I read this below-
    “reciprocity of agency between things and the makers of things” –
    as meaning “the essential relationship between them” -one can’t exist with out the other- but don’t think I could define the actual word “agency” in this context!
    These latest 2 images, esp the blue, had a clarity – sense of definition /intent ? I cant quite get the right word but I saw them and thought “YES”


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