What is Digital Craft?

They make substances dance like bizarre creatures: Henrik Mauler is part of Zeitguised, an eight-person collective of designers, artists and technologists in Berlin. They mix textile design with sculpture and algorithms — and create a unique structural look in videos and images, which they present as digital art and design.

Pascal Johanssen interviews Henrick Mauler.

Draft, zeitguised

Is there such a thing as digital craft?

Of course. Most people think you press a button and the machine produces the rest, but everything that is done with the help of computers is extremely handcrafted, it’s like glassblowing or model making. The linkability and manipulability must be worked out, then something new emerges.

Draft, zeitguised

In your opinion, what are the similarities and differences between digital and classic craftsmanship?

The hand-eye-coordination with a determination by the medium, the hand gestures and all the mistakes and complexities that arise is part of the craft process. This initially has an intellectual starting point. We noticed this in a series with algorithmic design. It was about trying to model a design process that works for you and can produce unexpected results that have a recognizable signature and yet are unpredictable. These are the two approaches we have pursued in recent years: on the one hand, there is the challenge of maintaining the complexity caused by human error and the non-repeatability of muscle movement — on the other hand, we simultaneously see the complexity caused by the mathematically modelable process that generates something new. It’s about mistakes and traces.

 

Draft, zeitguised

So authorship is the decisive element of craftsmanship?

Absolutely. The hand-eye coordination, the intellectual game, the knowledge, the experience and the authorship — all this goes hand in hand with the machine, there is a kind of equality on the horizon, except that the machine does not want anything and only represents. We are designers who do both, the algorithms and the handcrafted design. We easily underestimate the importance of the craft.

zeitguised, ALCA Roomplan

Can you pick out an example out of your projects where the handicraft of digital craftsmanship can be grasped?

That would be our virtual fashion line Void Season. There’s practically nothing of it, it’s all artificial geometry — but it has to be created by hand. You almost have to draw classic patterns and put them together. The colours, the surfaces have to be created, it’s a very handcrafty process, just with digital tools and without physical feedback. It gives us a whole different kind of control, a new kind of narrative that you can show in its degrees of abstraction that is possible. On another project we call Intersections, we worked with artists and artisans. Our bags, for example, were designed by an algorithm in hundreds of variations and then sewn by hand into patterns. Worlds collide in this process.