‘A Wretched, Lop-sided Creature’

IMAG0244This project addresses the gulf between my desire to write and a finished text: ‘black box’ technology mediates the liminal space traversed after an initial spark of creative impulse. As a writer I conceptualize each of my published works as products, and have discovered similar sentiments in other writers. This approach raises concerns voiced by Dieter and Loving: current institutional models support individual achievement, with no place for making for making’s sake. Writing longhand and illustrating a text therefore challenged my current model of creative production, lending the project – to borrow from Simon Penny – a ‘prototype’ feel, and exploring the near-primal pleasure and sentimental temporality of making by hand.

Writing this project in longhand reflects theories about the creative influence of mediums, a crucial consideration as digitization overtakes many aspects and instances of writing by hand. Friedrich Nietzsche, who was forced by his blindness to switch from longhand to a proto-braille typewriter, noticed a new writing style arose from this transition, concluding that: “our writing tools are also working on our thoughts” (Kittler, 208). I intended to write and illustrate an autobiographical story, but as I am finishing my second book, writing my short piece for this class felt like occupying a room within a half-built house (the way the book exists in my mind.) This piece therefore become an epilogue to my book, rendered markedly different because of its uncomfortable materiality, guiding the content to reflect the form: the epilogue takes place in a near future in which humanity is forced to return to analogue technologies. Sometimes when conceptualizing a character, I sketch their faces. The impetus to illustrate reflects theorist W. T. J. Mitchell’s assertion that “pictures…have always been with us, and there is no getting beyond pictures which…access a more authentic relationship with being,” (Mitchel, xiv).

William Morris writes that “a certain part of the cultivated classes of to-day regret the disappearance of handicraft from production, they are quite vague…as to how and why it should or may reappear.” This project presented, then, simultaneous and contradictory opportunities: both the opportunity to use long-lapsed skills to make something as beautifully as I could, and the project’s potential for disruptive imperfections – from scratched-out misspellings to shaky drawings – therefore providing an earnest entry into a philosophy of making and the productive potential of making for making’s sake. Because the object is so significant, its final presentation is just as important, reflecting Morris’s concern that “the general public is grossly ignorant of all the methods and processes of manufacture,” mimicking the start-to-finish thoroughness that Penny commends in artists who eschew black box technology, and my own process in handing text off to an editor. I am therefore mounting the pages on foam board, and have uploaded an image of the work-in-progress, and a full text transcription is available in Dropbox. 🙂


Rescued from the heap: ‘The Makerly’ turn in the humanities

This paper explores how design as a field of practice and third discipline within academia can contribute to the work of the humanities. This is particularly timely as humanities scholars take on a ‘makerly’ way of doing research, a constructionist orientation to learning and knowledge production. While design has often been viewed as a lesser discipline within the academy, it has two conceptual and methodological tools that humanities scholars may wish borrow as they set out to remake their discipline: the prototype as an open text, and the design workshop as a site of inquiry. Using a structured design workshop as a case study, this paper explores these two concepts, thereby affirming the importance of design as a discipline well-positioned to bridge the science-and-art divide.

photo (2)

A participant reading aloud responses to one of three generative design activities that took place within the workshop.

photo 4

An up close snapshot of a design template used to guide conversation throughout the workshop.

photo (1)

The final prototype titled, Make Space. A toolbox of odds and ends that members of the general public could use to temporarily transform public space (e.g. chalk and seeds). The kit also includes a series of inspiration cards designed to prompt those who stumble upon the box to use the materials in new and novel ways.

The Penelope: Exploring the Mind and Body Connection in Craft

The Penelope

What does it mean to understand the process of craft making as a connection between the mind and the body? In drawing from Richard Sennett’s (2008) philosophy that the physical aspect of working with the hands is intertwined with thinking, problem solving and feeling, this paper explores the mental, physical and emotional experiences of makers participating in craft projects. An interdisciplinary literature review of craft studies research and an auto-ethnographic study of my own experiences making a cloth tote bag serve to compare discourses of crafting as embodied knowledge and crafting as a therapeutic tool.

Academic literature from philosophy, psychology, health science, education, as well as occupational studies and social work frame discussions of craft process, the object, cognition, health and well-being in handicraft practices. The therapeutic craft literature reveals that engagement with craft practices can produce memory recollection in patients suffering severe symptoms of dementia as well as manage emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. Studies exploring craft as embodied cognition show that the craft process is a fluid performance rather than a series of individual steps and that the automatic motor skills involved in crafting can be recalled even when believed to be forgotten. Findings support the intertwined relationship between the mind and body in crafting and the connections between discourses of craft as embodied cognition and craft as therapy offer alternative understandings of the interconnections between the mental, physical and emotional aspects of making.


Sennet, R. (2008). The craftsman. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

The Sound Sensorium

IMG_4680Grasping Sound: An Exploration Through Making

By Emma Sharpe

 The Sound Sensorium is an experiment. It is an attempt to reintroduce tactile materiality to digital sound, bridging the gap between human and technology. Using a Makey Makey interface, conductive materials are linked to computer software, generating digital noises when triggered by human touch. Soundplant, an open source computer program, was used to assign specific sounds to corresponding keys. The sounds were chosen from an online database of samples from the Yamaha DX analogue synthesizer. The materials – conductive fabric, copper tape, tin foil, paper – were chosen for their varying textures and inherent physical noises. The sensorium is meant to remind the user of the physicality of the medium they are interacting with. The rustling of the paper or the crinkling of the tin stops the “player” from forgetting about materiality in the digitally created soundscape. The varying constructed levels and “zones” of sound force movement and exploration upon the hand. And most importantly, the element of touch unites tactility with sound.

Noise is often the site for interpretative explorations of current states of society, politics, and technology. Futurist artist Luigi Russolo created “intonarumoris,” instruments meant to mimic the sounds of the newly industrial urban life of the early 1900s. Similarly, current day circuit benders respond to their technological surroundings by repurposing discarded hardware to create new forms of music. The current digital revolution, much like the industrial revolution of the turn of the century, creates its share of human anxieties, responses, and interpretations. As digital ubiquity progresses, tangible connections with media become increasingly rare. The current maker movement seems a resistance to this state, embodying a desire for the tangible by embracing materiality, taking technology apart, rebuilding, and reconnecting. The Sensorium marries the tradition of noise exploration with the tinkering of the makers as a response to the waning presence of tactility in digital sound. It is an attempt to make tangible the intangible, to touch technology, to revive texture in interaction and form in sound.



The LED Hindenburg


The LED Hindenburg is a non-functioning electrical circuit build as a final project for the Issues in Cultural Studies graduate studies course at Ryerson University. Consisting of one transistor, three resistors, five diodes, two audio jacks and a 9-volt power source, the circuit was meant to function as a distortion guitar pedal called the LED Zeppelin, so named because of its high number of LED diodes. Distortion pedals add ‘graininess’ to an electric guitar’s audio signal, creating a certain sonic effect. While this particular circuit did produce a bright overdrive effect when assembled on an electronics breadboard, it ceased to work after an attempt to finalize its assembly via soldering the components to a small piece of perforated circuit board. After I realized the project would not be successful, I rechristened the LED Zeppelin the LED Hindenburg in reference to the infamous German airship that crashed and burned while attempting one of its landings.

The working LED Zeppelin circuit assembled on my breadboard.

Drawing on the works of Stiegler and Fernandez & Iazetta, I believe such a non-functioning circuit can be seen as an example of failure’s role in de-proletarianisation, or reversing what Stiegler sees as society’s general loss of knowledge. Being passive, consumerist activity is easy and usually rewarding; this ease and general convenience is what allows general proletarianisation to occur as a result. It is therefore useful to note failure’s excision from the consumerist process, despite its benefits in learning and motivation. I argue that closer inspection of failure’s contribution to learning can aid in understanding strategies for de-proletarianisation.

On a personal level, I found my failure in constructing this circuit before the project deadline valuable. Not only do I feel as though I learned exponentially more about electronic circuits than I knew previously, but my lack of success is, even now, encouraging me to learn more. I have resolved to eventually complete the LED Zeppelin project and to hopefully move on to more complicated projects. It is important to recognize the role of my personal response to this situation – individual responses to failure may be far different and inhibit motivation – but I think it is generally significant to look at non-success as carrying potential for active contrast to passive consumerism.

Josh abstract

Art and Kraft: A Workshop in Two Parts: (I) Heidegger as a Maker-Materialist; (II) Violin Making, or How to De-Instrumentalize the Instrument

The paper offers a reflection on the relation of art and craft that extends in two directions. The first part approaches the question in both a philosophical and makerly way. I read Martin Heidegger’s famous essay “The Origin of the Artwork” from the perspective of maker-materialism, the latter term referring both to the flourishing of “new materialist” philosophies in the recent decade and to the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of creativity, doing and making that explicitly enter the artistic practices and art-science collaborative models of scholars, artists and craftsmen working within a new materialism paradigm. Heidegger is often cited as a figure who anticipates many of the concerns of new materialism, “things” and maker culture through his philosophical questioning of things, tools and the earth, as well as his methodological rejection of conventional conceptual categories like subject/object and form/content, all of which have numerous affinities to contemporary materialist philosophy. But I suggest a more cautious appropriation, or a make-over, of Heideggerian philosophy (at least in the case of the artwork essay) that recognizes what aspects of his thought might be re-tooled for maker-materialist use, and which ones might have to left out as raw material for another kind of philosophical project.

In the second part, I sketch out a theory of musical instruments from a makerly perspective, based on my ethnography with master violin maker Stephen Quinney at his shop in Toronto. Inspired by Jane Bennett’s notion of “vibrant matter,” I was drawn to Stephen’s thoughts on the vitality of the instrument, its basis in the unique and largely mysterious material properties of individual pieces of wood which form the basis of a constantly changing process of crafting that is continually re-defined from instrument to instrument. Thinking about a recent article by sound and media theorist, Jonathen Sterne, I also propose how the handmade violin works as an alternative to the implicitly mass-produced conception that Sterne works with, and how the handmade violin might be thought of as a “permanent prototype (a term I borrow from musicologist Lauren Flood) and a reservoir of potential that the maker himself can shape, but never exhaust completely.



Theoretical Eloise

Handcrafts have gained popularity in recent years, with the rise of internet sites like Etsy.com and indie craft fairs and festivals. Many scholars have related this resurgence of DIY as a response to the isolation felt in the increasingly digital world. However, these crafts bring up romanticized images of the past and nostalgic yearning for returning to a pre-digital world disrupt the ability for these crafts to be used for political or productive purposes. Using primary, Toronto-based handcrafts, my dress form, and academic research surrounding political crafting and indie or “twee” craft culture, I expose these naturalized notions of gender and nostalgic images of the mystical past. I analyze craftivist trends from the 1970s -1990s, and the surrounding research around these trends. Craftivism, though politically active, assumes inherent feminine qualities within traditionally feminine crafts like knitting and quilt work. Indie “twee” culture presents itself as superior to mass-produced consumer culture, focusing on the unique, handcrafted nature of small-batch artisanal items, however it situates itself in a neoliberal regime, which lends itself well to consumerism and capitalism. The Indie Craft Movement pushes for the consumption of a traditional image of female domesticity, as postfeminist makers create and sell homemade aprons and fabric bunting and other popular domestic wares. Contemporary craft culture naturalizes gender roles traditionally seen through history, specifically notions of masculine strength and economic prowess, and feminine emotional caring, softness, domesticity, and “prettiness”. These gendered traits are not only present in the materiality of the crafts themselves, but are also present in discourse surrounding crafting and DIY culture. The making of my dress form made clear gender roles in crafting, through its traditional “masculine” materiality, of wood and metals, and through its feminine ideals of domesticity, made clear in the dress form’s intended purpose of dressmaking. My dress form, Eloise, has the ability to offer a radical and political alternative to mass consumption, yet in contemporary society, the dress form is often used as an “authentic” souvenir from an idealized past.