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.