Cheatle & Jackson (2015) provides an interesting view into how the funiture artist Wendell Castle uses 3D scanning and digital fabrication tools in his work. Usefully (for me) the description is situated in the larger field of human-computer interaction, and computer supported work, which I’m trying to get a handle on, to see if it will help me in studying Web archiving practices (more on that below). The article is definitely worth checking out if you are interested in a close look at how a small furniture studio (that has built an international reputation for craftsmanship) uses 3d scanning and robotics to do its work.

One fascinating piece of the story is the work of the studio director, Marvin Pallischeck (aka Marv), who (amazingly) adapted a CNC machine designed for pick-and-place work in the US Postal Service, to serve as a milling machine. This robot is fed 3D scans of Castle’s prototypes along with material (wood) and then goes about its work. The end result isn’t a completed piece, but one that a woodcarver can then work with further to get it into its final shape. The 3d scanning is done by an offiste firm that does work in scanning wood. They deliver a CAD file that needs to be converted to a CAM file. The CAM file then needs to be adjusted to control the types of cutters and feed speeds that are used, to fit the particular wood being worked on.

The work is also iterative where the robot successively works on the parts of the whole piece, getting closer and closer with Marv’s help. The process resists complete automation:

At the end of the day, it’s the physical properties of the material that drives our process, says Marv as he describes the way the wood grain of a Castle piece can be read to determine the orientation of the tree’s growth within the forest. I always say, this tree is now dead, but its wood is not - and it’s important to know that going into this. Bryon understands this in a similar way, There’s a lot of tension in wood. When you start cutting it up, that tension is released, free to do as it will. And form changes. Things crack, they bend, and warp.

There is also an impact on the clients perception of the work: its authenticity and authorship. On the theoretical side, Cheatle and Jackson are drawing attention to how the people, their creative processes, the computers and the materials they are working with, are all part of a network. As with Object Oriented Ontology (Bogost (2012) is cited), the lines between the human and the non-human objects begin to get fuzzy, and complicated. More generally the interviews and ethnographic work point the work of Wanda Orlikowski.

These arguments build in turn on a broader body of work around materiality and social life growing in the organizational and social sciences. Orlikowski finds that materiality is integral to organizational life and that developing new ways of dealing with material is critical if one is to understand the multiple, emergent, shifting and interdependent technologies at the heart of contemporary practice (Orlikowski, 2007). Orlikowski sees humans and technology as bound through acts of ‘recursive intertwining’ or ‘constitutive entanglement’ that eschew pre-ordered hierarchies or dualisms. Rather, human actors and technological practices are enmeshed and co-constituted, emerging together from entangled networks that are always shifting and coemerging in time.

and then from the conclusion:

… we begin to see Orlikowski’s notion of the constitutive entanglement in action. Suddenly, not only are materials understood as performative and unfolding through collaborative actions, they are also understood as entangled within sociomaterial flows comprised of all the various entities of the work process studio members, wood, Mr. Chips, RAPID, collectors of art, glue, 3D scanners, wood clamps, galleries, patterns, etc. Together, these actors create an object through a full orchestra of players uniquely different from any that could otherwise be formed. Though it was not Castle’s intent for the tool to …cross over into [his] space, it has surely met him there and offered a way to collaboratively evolve design together.

I think this is an angle I’m particularly interested in exploring with respect to my research into how archivists work with the Web. How processes evolved around physical artifacts (paper, film, audio, photographs, etc) are challenged and strained by the material of the Web. With respect to this work by Cheatle and Jackson: the ways in which our Web archving tools (crawlers, viewers, inventory/appraisal tools) have been designed (or not) to fit the needs of archivists, and the ways in which archival work itself is changing. How are archivists, the medium of the Web, and the archival tools/processes entangled? Can a better understanding of this entanglement inform the design of new archival tools, and the way we use them?

I think this article Cheatle and Jackson provides a nice pattern or blueprint for the how I would like to go about this examination of how archivists work with the Web. I’m imagining a study that applies the same ethnographic attention to detail to examine the work of Web archives. Granted its not an internationally known artist, but I do think it’s important! I also like how this ethongraphic work is tied in with issues of human computer interaction and the theoretical work of Olikowski and Bogost in particular. If you have any ideas of people or organizations doing Web archives work to interview, or theories, conceptual work that is relevant for archives please let me know! appealing.

References

Bogost, I. (2012). Alien phenomenology, or, what it’s like to be a thing. University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved from http://bogost.com/books/alien-phenomenology/

Cheatle, A., & Jackson, S. J. (2015). Digital entanglements: Craft, computation and collaboration in fine art furniture production. In Proceedings of the 18th acm conference on computer supported cooperative work & social computing (pp. 958–968). Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved from http://sjackson.infosci.cornell.edu/Cheatle&Jackson_DigitalEntanglements(CSCW2015).pdf

Orlikowski, W. J. (2007). Sociomaterial practices: Exploring technology at work. Organization Studies, 28(9), 1435–1448. http://doi.org/10.1177/0170840607081138