Forces in Translation works at the interface between basketry, mathematics and anthropology. We explore how the bodily knowledge in basket-weaving enhances spatial and geometric understanding through the gestural moves we make and bodily skills we use. The making process, from material to artefact, from plant to basket, further reveals important links with innovative and design thinking, from planning and problem-solving, to dexterity, attention focus and creating narratives. This has relevance for education, spatial awareness, geometric understanding, and creativity.

We support all forms of learning, from the hands-on to the digital. A growing concern , however, is that developments in the digitization and stream-lining of education parallel a view that many hand-skills are no longer relevant for human learning and cognition. We propose that hand-skills are an essential complement to other forms of learning, of value for future work in design, engineering and maths. A further concern is how our human responsiveness challenges and differs from the kind of responsiveness we find in machines (reacting on stimuli without understanding what follows) – and how these reactions precisely may not involve memory, ideas, rhythm, constructive hand-work engagements and material-conceptual developments.

Our current themes include the relationship between form and material; curvature, line and diagramming; techniques and perception – from weaving and looping to plaiting; understanding difference; and rhythm and narrative. We are holding practical public mathematical basketry events during 2020 and 2021, including at Universities in St Andrews, Manchester and Copenhagen and at other venues including Kew Gardens and Whitehouse Farm Spring Festival in Suffolk.

This is a collaboration between anthropologist Stephanie Bunn, mathematician Ricardo Nemirovsky, technological anthropologist Cathrine Hasse and basketmakers Geraldine Jones, Hilary Burns and Mary Crabb. It is a Royal Society/Apex funded project.