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  • Madeline Gannon / ATONATON

Craft Innovation: Systems that make things

In this interview Andrew Sleigh talks to two makers who are concerned – not so much with making things – but with making things that make other things. They’re building technologies that can enable new kinds of making.

Craftspeople have always had to think about systems of production. They have to set up their working environments and tools; experiment with and record their processes so they can understand how to produce a certain effect. And not once, but many times, with consistency. Where these makers take things further is in thinking about how entire systems for making – from the artisanal scale to mass manufacturing – could be changed by designing new technologies that enable new ways of working.

First, Andrew speaks with Natsai Audrey Chieza, a design researcher who’s  using synthetic biology to rethink the way textiles are produced; taking the natural properties of a streptomyces strain of bacteria, and adopting them to — in this case — dye fabrics. She currently works at an artisanal scale, producing up to 5 metres of dyed fabric, but her ambition is to change the systems by which textiles are produced at a global scale. This application of craft processes, scaled up,  could have a dramatic impact on the textiles industry, one of the most polluting in the world.

The second guest works at a much larger scale. Madeline Gannon works with industrial robots – the kind that is used to assemble everything from circuit boards to cars. Madeline imagines a future where robots like these can share our workshops as collaborators, even apprentices, and extend our craft skills with the super-human powers that machines can bring.

But to get there, we need better tools for controlling them and giving them expression, so we can read them, figure out what they’re doing, and learn how to share a space with them.

Madeline’s building tools for controlling robots to help us expand our creativity by enabling a more fluid, direct communication between maker and machine. She believes that if we could control and respond to robots better, we could take them out from the restricted spaces of assembly plants, and work with them together in our studios and workshops


About the host and guests: 

Andrew Sleigh is a researcher and writer, maker and producer. His research work includes mapping makerspaces for Nesta, exploring creativity in DIY technologies for the University of Westminster, and projecting futures in digital manufacturing for the Royal College of Art. He is the host of podcast series and radio show Looking Sideways in which he interviews makers, thinkers and critics about the role of craft, handwork and manufacturing in contemporary society. He’s currently taking part in the global Fab Academy programme at University of Brighton Fablab. His interest lies in making and grassroots innovation; from the maker movement, through craft, to hardware start-ups and manufacturing. www.andrewsleigh.com 

Natsai Audrey Chieza is a leading designer, change-maker, and TED speaker working at the intersection of design and synthetic biology. She is Founder and Director of Faber Futures, a creative R&D lab and consultancy that is building real-world intelligence on the applications and implications of emerging life science technologies. The creative lab's pioneering body of work on bacteria-derived pigments for textiles has been exhibited internationally,  including by Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Microsoft Research, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Gallery Dublin, and Fondation EDF Paris. 

Natsai's unique vision has evolved through critical experimental work on residency programs at IDEO, Ginkgo Bioworks, and Konstnärsnämnden IASPIS. In wanting to carve new territories for design exploration, this spring Natsai launches the Ginkgo Creative Residency with Ginkgo Bioworks in Boston MA, USA, as curator and mentor of the program. Natsai's role as an educator in Biodesign has also seen her teach on programs at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Central Saint Martins. www.natsaiaudrey.co.uk

Madeline Gannon is passionate about inventing better ways to communicate with machines. In her research, she develops human-centered interfaces that transform industrial robots into sentient companions, that transform bodies into interactive canvases, and that illustrate an embodied vision for the future of digital making. Her work blends disciplinary knowledge from design, robotics and human-computer interaction to innovate at the edges of digital creativity. Madeline leads ATONATON, a research studio scouting the untapped potential of emerging technologies, and is a Research Fellow at the Frank-Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University. Her work has been internationally exhibited at leading cultural institutions, published at ACM conferences, and widely covered by diverse media outlet across design, art, and technology communities. She is completing a PhD in Computational Design from Carnegie Mellon University. www.atonaton.com


Thanks and Credits:

Music is by Komiku.

Thanks to the Trampery Republic, for hosting us. Trampery is a co-working space in East London for creative entrepreneurs. thetrampery.com/workspaces/republic/

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