Crafting with hybrid textiles in virtual reality
Apprenticeship 2.0 is a digital tool and a hand-crafting experience in virtual reality (VR). The output from the experience is a series of hand-crafted virtual 3D textile objects. Occupying the space at the intersection of human-machine symbiosis and embodied learning, the project places Homo faber - man as the maker - at the heart of human becoming. In this experience, time and material know how were two primary considerations for creating opportunities to instill in the apprentice intrinsic values attained through craftsmanship - the enduring commitment and desire to do a job well for its own sake and awareness of resource limitations. By enabling the apprentice to leverage the benefits of computation and at the same time the creative possibilities of making in VR, this experience aims to accomplish two things:
To reimagine the concept of craft by investigating craft and technology junctures as possible seeds for craft innovation; and
To demonstrate the possibilities of human-machine symbiosis showcasing how human hand skills and technology can coexist in ways that preserve human culture and material know-how.
Material know-how is acquired when an apprentice becomes acquainted with the working material as the first step to improving a skill. Different materials have different properties, some easier to tame than others, and some even exhibit different characteristics as time passes, transforming in the hands of the maker. Wool gets stiffer with repeated beating, while wood gets softer as the warmth and moisture from the hands soften its fibers. These emergent properties of materials, the delight in their discovery and the ultimate reward of learning to manage the emergent behaviors of materials form the very essence of what makes crafting a valuable experience.
Inside Apprenticeship 2.0, there are a number of different virtual materials. All of them exhibit characteristics similar to analog textile materials, yet when working with them their behavior is augmented by computation giving birth to new hybrid materialities.
Using Leap Motion technology the apprentice's hands are tracked and simulated in VR enabling them to manipulate a virtual material with their hands. The virtual material has properties similar to analog textiles but with the flexibility and added intricacy afforded by computation.
The result is a unique handcraft experience where human hand skills and technology work in synergy with each other.
The main interaction mechanism in the experience is a pinching gesture. The user can grab points on the virtual materials with a pinch and move them around in the 3D space. A single thumb glove with two small push buttons on the inner thumb was designed to give the user additional input options to better control the material. Seen above is one of the earlier iterations of this glove.
HOW CAN WE USE THESE HYBRID MATERIALS TO FUEL CRAFT INNOVATION?
WHAT KIND OF ROLE WILL THE HANDS PLAY IN THIS HYBRID MAKERSPACE?
Time is a recurring characteristic of most traditional apprenticeships where a master craftsperson builds a personal relationship with an apprentice to whom he/she passes on their skill and wisdom. In Japan, the word Takumi, Japanese for ‘artisan’, is used to refer to master craftsman/woman who has an uncompromising commitment to their work. The Takumi spend decades honing their craft and it is said that it takes 60,000 hours of training to become a true Takumi. To achieve this level of commitment, the Takumi is said to embrace mindful repetition where crafting becomes intuitive and second nature.
It appears then that it is precisely this slow, repetitive journey to becoming a master craftsperson that eventually instills in the maker patience and persistence. It is these values that are devoid of economic and social conditions that Apprenticeship 2.0 aims to instill in the digital craft apprentice.
This significance of time is revealed in the experience using time-based elements in the form of day/night and seasonal cycles. As the apprentice spends more time crafting inside the experience, the visible, experiential change in the surrounding environment act as gentle nudges to the apprentice to continue making progress in what they craft - when not much time has passed, while also acting as compliment to the progress the apprentice is making - the sun sets when the apprentice has spent a full day's worth of time crafting. When the making is not going well, if the apprentice is struggling to tame the virtual material, well, there is always tomorrow.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the American Association of University Women for making this project possible with an AAUW fellowship.