BA Design Degree Show 2021: Saundra Liemantoro, “Black Box- White Clay”

The BA Design class of 2021 are presenting their outcomes this week, under the title “My Friend, Oh! It’s Been So Long.” The blog continues to give you a peek at the work being showcased. Today, Saundra Liemantoro:

“At the end of 2nd Year, I had been working with clay a lot. When lockdown started, the ceramics labs shut, and the world went online. I felt that the difference between working with the patient, warm, tactile clay and with the overcrowded, cold cyberspace was jarring. In the contemporary, technology feels so far away from craft and I intended to bring craft and computing closer.

Craft, textural, embodied, layered, materialised handicraft.

Tech, unthinking, unflinching, mechanised technology.

One was conceived from the other. Technology morphed from tekhnē, the art, skill, craft, or the way, manner, or means by which a thing is gained. The focus had been on the making and the method by which an object is created. The vocabulary spotlights the tinkered tactile tacticality.

Richard Sennet’s philosophy of the importance of the connection between the head and hand made me realise why I felt disconnected with the computing technologies around me. He said, “when the head and the hand are separate, it is the head that suffers”. In Karl Marx’s terms, I am estranged and alienated from the act of labour. Making in an ‘unalienated praxis’ is never separate from thinking. In my project I explore the relationship between craft and human labour, algorithms and the people who design them.

When I am making with the 3DPotter, I de-alienate myself from the act of labour, reclaiming the connection between craft and human labour. When I press start and it starts extruding, we begin our collaboration, but my participation starts at the beginning. Each morning I spend an hour and a half preparing the machine; cleaning, wedging, tightening—a ritual that made me feel at one with it. With my head and hand connected, actively listening and commanding you, I reject the notion of becoming a mere ‘tender of machine’.

In a video I draw parallels between Black Box algorithms with the creation of White Clay on the 3DPotter. The designer and the designed, craft and human labour. Musing about the power and dangers of Machine Learning algorithms, I subvert the notoriously mythical nature of black box technologies through storytelling. Through this, I aimed to highlight the importance of questioning the viability of the technologies around us and pushing for better online policies.”