27th June 2019: Encounters on the Shop Floor: Embodiment and Knowledge of the Maker – symposium at the V&A, Day 2: Making, Knowing

Sadly, I could only stay for the first session today, but I did get to see two speakers – Tim Ingold and Pamela Smith.

Tim Ingold: Making Growing Learning

Ingold presented a number of conceptual models regarding learning, making and the transmission of skill.

He began by challenging the idea of the ‘transmission’ of knowledge. The usual model of ‘transmission’ is that a body of knowledge is taken from one individual (teacher) and passed onto another (student) through mechanisms of observation (abstraction) and copying (individual learning).

Ingold points out that this is not an act of ‘transmission’ as the student is coping the actions of the teacher, not receiving the knowledge directly into their head. What the student is doing is perceiving the actions of the teacher and attempting to apply that action to their own → this is an act of correspondence not a downward transmission. And that this act is a contiguous one, each generation passing onto the next – Ingold used the metaphor of ropes forming from interlocking and overlapping fibres (isn’t that a bit like the idea of splicing I was discussion with Yuen 16th April 2019: Supervision meeting with Yuen)

Ingold moved on to discuss this copying process as a creative one, arguing that creativity is not innovation (making new things) but an improvisation→ building on what others have done before, new things being discovered in the process of copying, thus knowledge is rediscovered in each generation.

Building on these ideas of correspondence and improvisation, Ingold went on to talk about the problems he sees with the term ’embodied’, arguing that the ’em’ implies an absorption, leading to a common conception that the craftsperson cannot speak about what they do, that their actions are somehow beyond their ability to communicate. But, as Ingold points out, the craftsperson is more than capable of describing what they do.

Related to this, the term tacit knowledge denotes this absorbed embodied knowledge, implying settled form of knowing but Ingold points out that in reality it is a constantly moving, evolving and adapting form of knowledge – what he describes as hapticality – a knowing-in-feeling.

Ingold bundles this reconceptualization into the term skill which he defines as “coordination of perception and action”, meaning the skilled person is able to adjust in the moment while the unskilled person needs to think.

This, Ingold argues, means that skill needs to come before knowledge → skill enables you to find your way around, what he describes as wayfaring → a mode in which you are continually exploring and finding a way through, not iteration (the repetition of process) but itineration (journeying from place to place).

Therefore, skilled practice is a longitudinal process of feeling out an finding a way through.

This longitudinal practice extends into the makers relationship with materials → making in this sense is no different to growing, we ‘join’ with the material and see where it wants to go, taking the material form from one life into another. This, Ingold defines as habit, not a repetition but a way of dwelling within ones practice and this changes not only the material but also the maker → the doer is inside their own actions and is changed by them:

The maker is made in the making.

And this reconceptualization loops back into Ingold’s ideas about learning → it is a process of undergoing in which the agent is produced by the action.

Pamela Smith: The Making and Knowing Project

https://www.makingandknowing.org/

This research project concerns the reconstruction of material techniques and knowledge of historical practice (artisanal). The projects focus is the creation of a digital critical edition of a 16th century artisanal and technical manuscript.

After giving this brief background to the project, Smith drew attention to the difficulty of writing down experiences and descriptions of actions:

“… the more minutely you describe it, the more you will confuse the mind of the reader…” Leonardo da Vinci

So, the aims of this project are:

• Explore the intersection of craft making and scientific knowledge through research in libraries, archives, museums and the laboratory (text-, object-, and laboratory-based research).

• Research on MS. FR. 640 for a critical edition (2019)

• Explore collaborative interdisciplinary research

• Consider the strength of evidence that is produced by reconstruction of historical processes in the lab

• Digital possibilities – what is the scholarly critical edition for in the 21st century?

Smith then outlined the collaborative research process and the ‘digital edition’ which contains scans of the original text, translations, research essays etc. (Note: this is a multi-modal, layered digital object!)

The research process involved:

1. TEXT WORKSHOP: intensive training to transcribe, edit, interpret, translate and mark-up the manuscript.

2. GRADUATE LAB SEMINARS: research and reconstruction of recipes in the manuscript.

3. WORKING GROUP MEETINGS: scholars and students meet to review student essays.

4. DIGITAL DEVELOPMENT: construction and prototyping of the digital edition.

Smith then outlined in detail the reconstruction process. Some key points I noted:

• EMBODIED EXPERIENCE: sensory tools → interpreting qualitative statements.

• ARTISANAL KNOWLEDGE:

1: experiencing and improvising

2: articulating categories of material properties through experimenting and improvising

3: understanding material by imitating

4: presenting the ephemeral

Smith concluded by summarising the value of reconstruction as embodied experience, learning through failure, collaborative iteration and asking new questions.

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