The possibilities between the interaction of code and technology and the emergence of disruptive technologies is enabling an infrastructure that is replacing the need for highly skilled labor and is placing knowledge in the hands of the community, the artists, the end-users. Artifacts are now created in workshops and collaborative practices lead to interactive experiences in galleries and museums.
Malcolm Ferris – curator Making Futures says that there is a ‘transformative return to small-scale making’ and so new products and tools can be easily transmitted via digital means and reproduced. The third industrial revolution is paving the way for designers and makers to create innovative products that can be shared and transformed by the users.
Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet are contemporary artists who are innovating the gap between the physical and the digital world. Last year I had the pleasure to curate the Spam Poetry exhibition at the Contemporary Gallery Maribor which showcased Mar and Varvara’s Knitic work – spanning from the hacking and development process of a Brother machine using Arduino to Neuroknitting, a project that combines technology and craft to display brain activity.
The Estonian-Spanish duo however creates many other works and their practice goes way beyond this project. Only in the last year the artist duo had two showcases and one exhibition in London. Their next destination is Russia where they will create an experimental textile factory, a showroom and educational platform, Dallas and Malmö. And when they are not touring, they enjoy developing new artworks in their studio in Tallinn, Estonia. I’ve had the chance to interview Varvara during the V&A Digital Design Weekendas part of the London Design Festival that was running on 26-27 September 2015.
Jerneja Rebernak: Just this month you won the 3rd prize at the FabAwards and now we are here at the V&A Digital Design Weekend where you are presenting Circular Knitting. How did the inspiration for a knitting machine start?
Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet: We have been working with knitting and knitting machines since 2012 and we had a vision about a contemporary knitting machine, which follows the principles of digital fabrication – it is replicable and uses open source technology.
We started our research on knitting machines in 2012 by hacking and developing a new interface for the Brother electronic knitting machine. We developed a board called Knitic, which enables the control of obsolete machines and knit patterns via a computer.
Our idea became reality towards the end of 2014 when we released Circular Knitic, which demonstrates that 3D printers are able to print different machines apart from the 3D printer itself. We are very excited to see how this project will evolve. And actually there has been a real impact among the community of knitters.
A fashion studio in New Zealand has bought one machine, as they wanted to produce their winter collection with it. And The Chicago Art and Design University and MIT Lab have also built a Circular Knitic. To be more precise, Circular Knitic is another example of our aim to integrate textile manufacturing into the contemporary makers’ culture. We call it soft digital fabrication. Circular Knitic lays in open source design and digital fabrication.
Jerneja Rebernak: Have you seen different uses of Knitic since you uploaded the open-source files on GitHub and what has changed in the 3d printing world since you started using it?
Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet: There are many benefits to this new field, to name a few: desktop fabrication or knitting is still an undiscovered area; and let’s not forget the fashion sector, where designers are eager to work with knitted garments and make unique productions and since this are expensive to make, digital fabrication changes that. Also largely it is impressive how the fashion world is starting to use this technology, to make very artistic and sculptural shoes, even garments are being produced with 3D printers nowadays.
Innovation is a constant in this area. DIY spaces such as Fablabs and makerspaces are focusing on the production of hard-surface objects, while the first digital fabrication tool, the electronic knitting machine, which dates back to 1976 has been forgotten and discontinued. We strongly believe that craft can benefit from contemporary technologies and also the other way around, we believe textile production has lots of potential in terms of innovation.
It is a pity we are forgetting such primary knowledge. Producing clothing or make food connects different generations and genders with simple crafts. Someone sees innovation and other see memory in the uses of it.
In terms of changes to 3D printing, the machines are now more stable and reliable; in terms of technology, it is the price of course as they are much cheaper now. There are also a variety of materials to choose from and there are many companies, which are using 3D printing technology, and the users are discovering different tools, for example they are creating prosthesis from 3D printing technology.
Jerneja Rebernak: You won a very prestigious award last year, the Google DevArt award. Has it been challenging to produce new work for the Digital Revolution exhibition launched at the Barbican Centre in London?
Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet: We’ve been commissioned by Google to create a new piece of artwork, which is now touring globally as part of the Barbican Centre exhibition – in London it was named as “the most comprehensive presentation of digital creativity ever to be staged in the UK” and so Wishing Wall represented a landmark in our work.
The development phase of this piece lasted 9 months and we had to take into account different opinions as the process of production has been very different from what we used to do before. We are very happy with the final result and it influences the conceptualization and new development of our future work.
Wishing Wall uses technologies, which are very expensive and you need a private type of funding opportunity to produce the work we’ve conceptualized and imagined. We’ve been working for a couple of months to research and to implement Wishing wall and we enjoyed the process.
Jerneja Rebernak: You’ve recently presented the Speed of Markets at the ArtFair Art15 in London and during ArtBasel Miami. What opportunities there are in the art market for digital artists nowadays?
Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet: We are represented by Priveekollektie Contemporary Art and Design Gallery. This is a very different investment for us, especially since the gallery has been showcasing our work only for one year now and it takes longer to receive acknowledgments from the collectors. You need to start selling to see the results.
The art market world works different than an exhibition setting in a museum, it has different value and it is totally different from public art. Here the artwork needs to be sellable and good enough in all aspects for them to be acquired. So we are learning a lot, making mistakes of course, and spending/investing quite significant amount of money in this. But we are doing it because we want to explore new ways of making our practice sustainable.
The work we have been displaying is called Speed of Markets, this is a very unique artwork in terms of material it uses: we are working with actual live financial data. The art installation talks about the volume of transactions in the stock markets. We are used to seeing prices of shares and how they have changed over the time. However, this information does not tell us everything about the financial market.
In the age of innovative financial models, trading with future contracts takes place. Hence, a market can be really busy and prices of stocks very stable. Therefore, we got an idea to use the volume data of stock markets to underline the actual situation and flux of the financial world.
Speed of Market makes use of big data that enables us to uncover stock markets’ pace of life. We have connected metronomes with a code that directly imports the level of transactions at each second of time, thus making the metronome quicker or slower, according to the speed of transaction. We would also like to thank Bloomberg for their kind collaboration on this project.
Jerneja Rebernak: A few years ago you were commissioned to do a digital public installation by FACT Liverpool within the large European cooperation project Connecting Cities. How different is the world of private and public commissioning?
Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet: Public commissions are more work intensive, but they are permanent, the installation lasts at least for 20 years and the outreach is the greatest. This is something very valuable for an artist’s career. The city of Sydney is commissioning new works for the green square at this moment and only 9 projects have been nominated to the second stage of the competition and for us to pass this round in the competition came as a big surprise.
We were not expecting it, and we are already happy with the result. We are entering the world of architecture, where your ideas are on a drawing scale with all the details, you need to think well in advance and precisely about the material, the construction service and be attentive to the budget.
Compared to five years ago, when we did a lot of applications, today 70% of the projects are coming through invitations, but of course we are still applying to open calls. In the fields of art and culture nowadays you cannot let go of any opportunity. Big pieces of artwork are expensive, technology wise, and we are always searching for new funding opportunities.