Getting started on this website might seem a little overwhelming. If you are new to the discussions on Critical Making, this would be a good place to start.
About this Critical Making Consortium
In 2016, a group of people from a university, an art school, a cultural platform, arts and technology lab, and modern art gallery in the Netherlands (see partners) applied for funding for this project, because they are interested in how the field of arts and technology is shifting and wondering what to do about it. Together, this group of partners seeks to help bridge the gaps between arts, technology and design in the context of the Netherlands. This research project questions some of the current developments and offers a context for practice-based researchers to keep on developing and investigating the potenial of Critical Making.
1. What is Critical Making?
Critical in the sense of figuring out what is going on, analyzing beyond face value and challenging oppressive power structures (taken from “Critical Theory”). And making as in building things, especially using new technology (coming from DIY Maker Culture). Critical thinking + Making = Critical Making.
2. Why “Critical Making”?
The rise of the Internet and digital network technology has changed so much — and not only for people working with technology, also for artists and designers. There used to be ‘disciplines’ like painting, sculupture, photography, animation, etc. But nowadays, the entire field of arts, crafts, design and technology is impacted by the availability of digital tools, such as computers, 3D printers and cameras. Now there are artists making all kinds of work that just doesn’t seem to fit into boxes.
We can think of a bunch of artists that don’t necessarily fit into the boxes of traditional disciplines (or fit many of them at the same time).
Check out these examples:
Jonas Staal: When you build a parliament for non-state parliament in the Kurdish region of Rojava, Is it ‘real’ politics or is it just an artistic performance? (hint: the answer is both).
Paglen / Appelbaum: A Tor server in a gallery: is it art or is it technology? (hint: the answer is both)
Jeanne van Heeswijk: neighbourhood studios in Rotterdam: is it art or activism? (hint: the answer is both)
Hotglue: DIY web publishing: is it a tool or a design? (hint: the answer is both)
Is it Art? Is it Design? Is it Technology?
Overall, none of these projects exactly fits the categories of ‘art’ design’ or ‘technology’, so what are they, ‘both’, ‘neither’ or something in-between? None of the above, and some of each at the same time? These are just a couple of examples, but if you look around, the boundaries between disciplines are blurry for a lot of artists, designers, researchers and engineers. Nevertheless, the field is still full of ‘old’ institutions and labels, which simply doesn’t match the interdisciplinary nature of many projects that are a kind of hybrid. What they actually do is mix and match from different disciplines. The situation might seem quite confusing, because it marks a shift from old ways of operating and we don’t really have better ways of describing it yet. But it is also exciting, as it also means that there are many new combinations of media and powerful tools that can be used in different ways.
3. The Creative Industry, Critical Making and Artistic Research
At the moment in the Nethterlands, much funding for digital and cross-media art forms is being transferred to funding the ‘Creative Industry’. The only problem with this is that it ends up being more about profit and less about critical challenges to power structures. Without some critical adjustments, valuable kinds of research and collaborative art and design projects will be forced to enter the ‘industry’ logic (buying and selling as the main driver) instead of caring about social or artistic values. It might make more sense to think of a better name. Our current favourite is ‘Critical Making’. Matt Ratto and Garnet Hertz (both from Canada) made up this term, combining two kinds of activities that are often separated: making and thinking.
Can Critical Making provide a viable alternative to the Creative Industry, providing a new umbrella term for cross-disciplinary artistic research? At the same time, a new field is being emerging called Artistic Research, where artists are accepted to masters and PhD programs to do practice-based work at a doctorate level, also combining making with critical reflection and analysis. Can the new trends of ‘artistic research’ and ‘critical making’ work together to generate alternative ways of making and sharing projects? So not only do we get a mix of artists, designers, activism, technology (and more), we also get rid of the strange idea that thinking and making were separate in the first place. We can do both at the same time. Who ever thought that it was a good idea to keep all the good ideas separate from the skills to build things anyhow? A lot of people are actually trying to bridge this gap, and this project would like to help figure out how to do that in the context of Dutch arts, technology and education institutions.
4. Where does Critical Making take place?
The term ‘Critical Making’ was invented by Matt Ratto and further developed by Garnet Hertz. Both of them are Canadian. For Matt Ratto, the term comes from media literacy, combining hands-on tinkering as a tool for deeper understanding. For Garnet Hertz, the term also is useful for furthering the field of interdisciplinary arts and design, while also challenging major issues in society. For both of them it refers to design practices that critically engage with technology. This includes Open Source, and different ways of working and owning the rights to your work. Rethinking authorship and ownership are not limited to the Maker Movement, and can quite well travel to other domains beyond Makerspaces.
For this project, we are taking Critical Making to the context of contemporary arts and design. Here we see that technology is seeping into practices and there is a need for more ‘critical’ approaches. On the other hand, there is an existing wealth of critical resources critical to tap into, especially in the arts field that would be especially relevant for Critical Making. Why reinvent the wheel from scratch, when the parts are already available to continue bulding with?
5. Why an arts perspective on Critical Making?
Critical Making might just be the answer to a problem that’s been around for a while. Specifically, we come from the perspective of artistic research, where there is also a combination of thinking and making, of theory and practice. What can happen when we try and bridge artistic research and critical making, that is, working between arts, design and engineering in the context of the Netherlands? What does this mean for how institutions operate, how we teach, how we apply for funding, what the critical potential is for the field? Some people think that art is more critical than design. So can we update the “critique” in Critical Making by connecting it to fine arts? And what can the field of arts learn from Critical Making, such as working with Open Source software?
6. Where our project aims to make a difference
- Can Critical Making become more critical, that is, actually challenge and reshape power structures?
- What is the role of aesthetics (how we perceive things) in Critical Making?
- Can Critical Making escape the dangers of the Creative Industry?
Shailoh Phillips – Paraphrase of the Critical Making Position Paper, 2018
Co-edited with …
Context of this version:
In january 2018 Shailoh Phillips taught a course for 1st and 2nd year students at WdKA on Critical Tools. Reading the Critical Making Position Paper on this website with the group, she realised that it is full of jargon and practically illegible to them. The above text is an informal paraphrase of the Position Paper (link), not only putting the general gist into words that can be understood at an undergraduate level in art schools, but also relating the topics and issues to their frame of reference. Hopefully this simplified version will also be useful to make this project more accessible to people who hear of it for the first time, coming from many different backgrounds.
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