Online Studio Week 1, 8th July
Online Studio week 1, 8th July, Stephanie’s journal
Our first online studio came out of a need, felt by several of the group, to dedicate time to making in a way that legitimated it and meant we would spend time making. I, Stephanie, in particular knew that I would not find it easy to make time otherwise, if I did not put it in my diary and count it as a part of my week’s work. Ricardo also wanted us to explore a problem of ‘how spirals grow’ using basketry or looping as a making technique. In Ricardo’s Art and Math study group at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), we been talking about D’Arcy Thompson’s work on the growth of the Nautilus shell, from one end only, and how this might link to the ratio of phi. This seemed to link to Geraldine’s work on looping and her interest in the Fibonacci series and spirals. So we decided to try this out to present to the others at the Art and Maths group MMU a few weeks hence.
Geraldine sent out some of her special wire to each of us beforehand, and she also sent some diagrams and an example of looping. This was the beginning of us receiving special parcels through the post, – magical parcels with beautiful surprises inside. For the group it was also an opportunity to explore how to share skills and work together online, since with the advent of coronavirus it was impossible to get together as a group. As the original aim of our project was to explore the value of handwork and social learning for mathematical cognition, and to do all our work together in person, this was a way of seeing how we could achieve our aim by doing it through virtul techniques which we ( or this anthropologist at least), were concerned might provide a restricted experience for learning.
The first challenge in making the spiral was presented by the fairly accepted practice of starting looping from a circle and working outwards. The wire material seemed unyielding, the circles were hard to make, and there were these little steel caps which were meant to hold the wire ends together that would shoot off all over the place across the room, necessitating leaving one’s screen to try to find them. Eventually, we decided to leave out the initial circle and make the loops in rows, which was effectively what we would be doing anyway.
I think Ricardo and I (Stephanie), in particular, found this very hard. It was so simple, and yet that was what seemed to make it so difficult. Mary and Hilary seemed to know what they were doing. But then, they had practised. I recall a point where Geraldine asked me how I was doing and I had to tell her that I had undone all my work almost to the very start, a bit of a blow, but also part of the learning process. Geraldine was a good teacher and she has developed a lot of valuable ways to convey her skill – the use of a shower hose to ‘diagramme’ the loops by working at a reasonable large scale is something that will stay with me for ever. It works so well and marked the beginning of us finding new and valuable ways to teach when not in person.
Mary too showed us some new and great ways of communicating skills online. In her case I probably won’t forget her hanging an iPad round her neck so that she could show us how to make a loop from the maker’s point of view, a perspective one lacks access to usually when trying to learn face to face on an online platform. I think Mary has developed a lot of her techniques from her maths teaching which she has had to redesign for teaching online recently.
The aim had been to expand the loops row by row to see if this was a way of creating a similar spiral to nautilus shell. I didn’t get that far, and this activity led us to two conclusions.
- For our work with the Art and Maths group, we needed to keep the task simple to for everyone to learn over the Internet.
- We also felt the materials made a difference, and wanted to try the loops with rattan, wire, fishing netting……..
So we resolved to have another session next week where we tried all sorts of different materials, sending them to each other in advance to see how each one worked with the looping. During the session we would make a plan for how to convey this to the Art and Maths group.
The group’s resolve in general was to develop what we hoped to do this time for next week. That is, to see if by increasing either in terms of number or in size of the loops each row, we could create the spiral of a small shell-like form.
I ended up with a row of wire loops, and with excitement came the realisation that these loops were formed in just the same way as the spirals in Jason’s Borneo baskets. (These were a special collection of baskets that Jason Gathorne-Hardy had collected about 10 years ago in Borneo, another strand of this project to develop.) It crystallised in my mind an understanding of how to make the sides of these baskets, and I resolved next week to use these skills at least to learn to make one side of the Borneo backpack.