“It works or fully functions when people pay attention to the production process. So if there is nobody it doesn’t do anything, like now.” Says one half of the design duo, Katharina Mischer, as we stand some meters from the neglected machine, which sits in sulky silence.
If nobody is interested it doesn’t do anything
Her work partner, Thomas Traxler, adds, “We make the distance quite short, the sensors pick up movement from about 30cm away, so you really have to be interested in the piece for it to operate.”
Sure enough as we approach the device, when about a foot away, it whirs into life. A wooden veneer-strip, 24 mm wide, is pulled through a basin of glue that coils around a 20mm thick wooden base. The base sits on a platform that descends on each revolution which allows for the veneer to slowly build up a basket. What makes it more interesting is the addition of felt tip pens positioned around the basket. There are four, each a shade darker than the preceding one. When one sensor is triggered the wooden base turns to allow the wooden veneer to wrap around it, however, all pens remain dormant.
When two sensors are triggered, i.e. two people have approached, one pen drops onto the wood, like a needle onto a record player, marking the veneer as it wraps around. When three people approach, two pens drop onto the revolving veneer and so on. As the pens are different shades you can tell at the end of the process how many people took an interest in the design. Mischer says, “The more people coming the darker the gradient, because the pens will draw on top of each other. It shows abstractly how many people are involved. By the end you can tell approximately when and how many people were involved in the process. It is a record of interest.”
The platform can descend 45 cm so a basket has a finite height but if there is very little interest it will be a lot smaller. The amount of people and at what times they were there can be discerned by looking at where the pens have marked the basket and how dark they are.
Traxler says, “We developed the project for the Designer of the Future Awards last year and the briefing was on conversation pieces – how to bring strangers together and interact. We wanted to show that the more people involved in the conversation the more colourful the outcome is.”
After the basket has been made it is varnished and a label is attached saying where it was made and how long it took to produce.
We make the distance quite short, the sensors pick up movement from about 30cm away, so you really have to be interested in the piece for it to operate
Another project they have been working on is called ‘The Idea of a Tree’ which relies on solar power to work. Like with ‘Collective Works’ there is a descending platform, while the material, this time thread, wraps around a mould.
The difference with this design is that it descends at a constant pace. Paint also drips from above onto the object at a constant speed. The solar energy only determines the speed at which the object revolves. Traxler says, “The turning speed depends on the sun’s intensity so if there is more sun it turns faster because there is more energy and in less sunlight it turns slower. If it turns faster the thread doesn’t have as much time to absorb the paint, so it becomes paler.”
Traxler points to a rocking bench that was created using this process. Darker areas appear at certain points along its vertical axis indicating when it became more cloudy. As with the baskets made by the ‘Collective Works’ machine, the history of the design process is printed all over the objects.