Knit scientific

When people hear that I am both interested in design AND research I often get a lot of puzzled looks. In everyday thinking design has become this crazy, random activity; messy and impossible to tame. Research on the other hand is white, clean and highly tamed. Every step measured and prescribed. One person can impossibly do and like both. The truth – as always – is blurrier than that.

What combines both design and science is the sense of curiosity and the will to explore. Both scientists and artists will often tell you that they start a project with a question and look for ways in which they try to find answers. And even though the in which these insights are generated are different, who is to say that one is better than the other – more creative, more insightful? Scientists as well as designers need to be creative to come up with solutions, to find the right questions to ask and to move on when the research seems to be ‘stuck’: Artists and designers on the other hand may go through uncountable repetitions with the vigour of a lab series, noting the different outcomes, changing their behavior to enhance the outcome.

The often quoted STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics is currently turned into STEAM as art takes its rightful place in the explorative cannon. Science and art move together closer (again one might argue) and are both more and more seen as both a creative as well as rigorous process. This is by far not as far-fetched as it seems on first glance. One of my all time favorite craft projects is the hyperbolic crochet reef  which has been grown with the help of participants all over the world. The ‘corals’ mimic the beauty of the natural shapes, while doing something extraordinary: exist as a flat and three-dimensional shape at the same time. If you read through the description of what a hyperbolic plane is, it might make you lose the will to live. But there is one way of increasing stitches in crochet when going in the round, and you can touch it, feel it, experience it.

One of the most interesting projects I have come across recently was Anna Dumitriu’s exhibition “The romantic disease: An Artistic Investigation of Tuberculosis” at Watermans in London. I am still sad that I have been unable to attend the workshop and felt lungs with (killed) TB bacteria. I am quite sure that the repetitive motion of felting would have helped to get an understanding of how the bacteria intrude the body. Much better than any textbook or illustration could ever do.

This is in my experience the great power of arts & craft projects that deal with complex scientific issues: it can be a communicator. It can trigger interest in complex topics, which most people do not have when looking at a blackboard. It might show the beauty of insight and patterns to new spectators. I believe once you have seen the beauty in something, you lose your anxiety of it. It might allow you to approach subjects that had been closed to you earlier. It might be a starting point for something entirely new.

I have been lucky enough to talk about this with Nicki Merrall, a knit designer whose cable pattern based on chance has been published in ‘The Knitter’, Issue 68 . But I met her at Nottingham Trent University, where she took her Masters degree, while I knitted my way through the BA. She describes the work on her final collection as a “transition” from her former work as a biochemist to a knit designer:

“Evolution of Form: A Hi-tech Approach to Craft” is my favourite project so far. The final pieces are far better than anything I could have imagined when I started my MA. This project pushed me to try many new things: machine knit rather than hand knit; form rather than colour and texture; synthetic yarn rather than natural fibre and making installations rather than garments. And in the process I underwent a transition from “scientist” to “artist”.

Have you come across people who are surprised by your choice of inspiration?

No, but many people from an “arts” background are surprised that a scientist would choose to work as an artist or designer. They don’t see that scientific work requires creativity and imagination; without these you only think of the obvious and may not be able to take advantage of serendipity.

Is there a mathematical problem / occurrence you would like to work with in future?

I think that knit could be used to understand the way in which things grow. That would be interesting!

Do you feel that your work might help others to see the beauty in logical and natural structures?

A lot of people do see the beauty in logical and natural structures, but they may not understand why, just as they don’t necessarily understand why they like certain man-made objects. So my work might help people understand why some structures are beautiful.

How do you think generally about arts and crafts as communicators?

The aim of scientific research is to advance our understanding about how things work. Therefore scientists communicate knowledge and understanding based on observable or measurable facts. Scientific papers are written for other scientists, rather than the public. Most people learn about scientific advances through mass media, but media is edited to argue a particular point of view, often by incorrect use of statistical analysis or ignoring some facts. And some journalists do not understand the science themselves, so might inadvertently create misunderstandings. Also people struggle with science because they do not understand the terminology and find it confusing when different scientists interpret the same facts differently.

Whilst art can be used to communicate factual information, art can also be used to communicate abstract or conceptual ideas. However, this often requires an explanation in addition to the actual installation. And, even though art is displayed for the public, the explanations are often written using language that is only understood by other artists. If people don’t understand visual symbolism or the way language is used by artists then the ideas to be communicated are lost.

In contrast, when I design and make knitted items I work from inspiration. I’m trying to make something aesthetically pleasing that is also functional. I usually write about the inspiration and design process because it helps people connect with me as a designer, and appreciate the skills required for and the technicalities of that craft. So, I’m communicating about craft rather than using craft to communicate. If I try to communicate about something else, then I’m using craft to create art and therefore using art to communicate an idea.

So, I guess the main thing about communication, regardless of field, is to understand your subject and write for your audience!

Thank you very, very much,Nicki, for your time and your insights!

Call for participation: Dementia & Art Zine

I feel I have complained long enough how much I dislike the way in which dementia is often represented in the media. Instead I want to take my own advice to ‘Stop talking and get on with it’ and showcase creative work around dementia.

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Dementi A rt is planned as a 16page zine, published both online and in limited print edition. In this brochure I want to feature artists work related to dementia – by people who experience dementia as well as those who do not. It will be distributed free of charge to raise awareness about the more subtle aspects around dementia.

Some pages have already been taken, others are still free for grabs. If you would like to get your work out there and feel you have something to say about dementia and art, please do get in touch via info@brifrischu.de or contact me via @brifrischu on twitter.  You do not have to be a professional artist to take part in this project – I am looking forward to combine texts, drawings, crafty projects – everything as long as it can be represented in print. Deadline for submissions is the 1st of May 2015. I am looking forward to learn about all your ideas and projects – let’s change the image of dementia!

 

10.000 hours of knit

I have recently seen Whiplash. Let me re-phrase that: I have recently fallen in love with Whiplash. This movie sounds amazing , looks amazing and tells a strong story of passion, talent and the will to become the best. The movie resonates with me since I saw it and it opened up an old wound.

You know how they say that masters of their craft, of their talent need to practice 10.000 hours before they become masters? I think I am nearly there. I can feel myself getting better. I have gone through blisters, through muscle pains and through working late nights, just to get on.

With knit. I am a really good crafter. I can make a sweater from scratch that people will love and I can make conceptual pieces that really mean something to others. But how unlikely is it that someone is going to make a movie about that? How unlikely is it that people will see my piece and will be completely off their feet?

I am not saying that this is not possible. I am not complaining that I do not get encouragement and recognition for what I do, because I do. I love what I do. But sometimes, in times like this, I wish I had chosen a more expressive, a more direct way of expression that would touch people in their hearts. Sometimes I wish I could stand on a stage and make the crowd go mad.

But then, then I get my graph paper out, settle for a good movie and plan the next master piece. That will cause blisters on my hands, my muscles ache and might take me up all night. Because of passion. Becuase of talent. And because I want to be one of the bloody bests!

Scarf of the month: February – Funghi

There is a part in my head that I do not really like. A part that does not seem to belong to me, but still dominates my life. A bulli. An agressive voice, arguing with me, trying to hold me down. Every achievement is diminished, every compliment is turned around, every idea trot on until it breaks.
The older I get, the more I achieve, the more I reject it. Try to fight it back. Argue and answer back. I used to call it ‘my head’. But I have recently called it ‘funghi’. Because it grows on me. Grows off me. It twitst and turns in intricate layers, unpenetratable patterns.

February_final_fullI had a really bad patch this winter, when the funghi grow strong and thick. I had finished my studies and was unemployed for a while, giving up a lot of the independence I formerly enjoyed, without a task, feeling useless. I could not enjoy the gift of spare timem could not motivate myself, but just sat and listened. Listened to the funghi grow, making me smaller and smaller. I had no way to fight it.

February_final_hiddenBut I took up my yarn and a hook and crocheted against it. I made the funghi and took it out of my head. I made it visible, so that I could address it.
It goes round and round in circles. Not in a clear line, but in layers that fold and crease and are hard to make sense off. Hard to get through.

February_final_giftEven though the funghi stands in my way, it also urges me forward. It is so much a part of me that I am afraid to lose it. Afraid to remain empty. So I am not really sure if I want to get rid of it. But I want to learn what is me and what is not. Want to learn again what is true about me, my achievements. Want to let myself grow, not the funghi. Use the funghi, not let it rule over me.

February_final_cushionFighting the urge to give up is what occupied me a lot during winter. It took up such a great part of my life that I decided to turn it into a scarf of the month. At the moment I do not know yet what will happen for the March scarf. Any suggestions? Get in touch via @brifrischu on twitter or via email info[at]brifrischu{dot}de.

 

Scarf of the month: January – Stop talking

For 2015 I set myself the goal to knit a scarf each month, commenting on a topic in the news or something that happens in my own life. With this I want to see if I am able to react quickly to events, and let them inspire me.

When the terrible shootings took part in Paris last month, I immediately started knitting. It was a heart-felt response, a strong wish to share my grief and to vent my anger. And I felt that this needed to be the scarf of the month.

je_suis_charlie2But when I later tried to collect my thoughts in a post about this topic and tried to explain my motivation for doing this, I could not do it. Still too much went on, personal thoughts and emotions, mixed with larger pictures I could not fully fathom. And I felt that this scarf on its own was in danger of becoming an empty symbol. Something I did not feel comfortable elevating like this.

Therefore I turned back to what @suzyopenheart asked me to do on twitter: Knit a “Stop talking and get on with it’ scarf. Which fitted me perfectly. This idea of knitting a scarf a month has been derived from my life-long habit of overthinking things. I normally spend so much time thinking what could possibly go wrong, that I do not have enough time to do the thing I thought about in the first place. But  I start to change this slowly but steadily.

Suzy Webster, who is @suzyopenheart wrote about her wish to make things happen:

“There is a lot of talk about dementia., its time we stopped talking and put words into action. My Mum has always said: ‘Stop talking and get on with it’.”

So there we are. I have started to make something without overthinking it. What can you do?

January_final

 

Zen & the art of unravelling

illu_zen_knit

Unravelling is lived zen. It cannot be done in a hurry, it cannot be done it anger, it cannot be done to erase a mistake. Unravelling for me only works as the conscious decision to start new. To learn from my mistakes.

People who tell me they cannot knit are normally the ones that cannot unravel. I cannot draw, because I cannot erase. It feels like a failure, like giving up. But when I unravel – as annoying and sad as it may be – I feel the need to grow. It comes from the understanding that this is not the end, there will be more and I will get there. Even if I have to do it one bl**dy time more.

Even though knit can be quite forgiving, because of its stretch, it cannot be cheated. You can hardly ever go back a bit and only ‘paint over’ the mistake. More often than not, you have to really destroy what you have done and do it all over again. It teaches a lession of patience, of mindfulness, of committing to your work.

I had to learn that I do not have to be perfect in the end. I had to learn that learning from mistakes takes time. That it is annoying, that it is important.

Unravelling is lived zen. It teaches a lession. About failure, about success and about life.

 

 

On being a pirate

When I was a kid, I used to play ‘Pirate’. A tree in our garden was the ship and I was the pirate steering it through the sea. Which inevitably led to a princess in need of rescue, and – as I was playing on my own – this was me too.

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The books and TV series I watched at the time showed men and boys as pirates, but that did not deter me. As I already imagined to be a pirate, I might as well imagine to be a boy or the first female pirate ever.

I have been lucky enough to have parents who had me run off and play for hours on my own without questioning who or what I wanted to be. They are still supportive while I go from punk to librarian, from a knitter to fashion designer, from academic to developer. Which is not a straight path and leaves me struggling at times how to get it all into my head and how to make sense of it all.

But I manage and I force everyone around me to adjust or leave me alone, because I am unwilling to decide whether I am pirate or princess.

This post is for everyone out there who struggles at the moment to find themselves represented, to find the role models that tell them they are on the right track. Because somehow it seems to have become the prevalent idea that you follow someones paths. That you have to find yourself in what others do.

Which I think everyone does. But I question the conclusion that you have to follow someone who is exactly like you. By doing so we lose empathy. We lose the imagination to be another. We lose the connection to all that is human and force ourselves into an ‘us’ against ‘them’ position.

I encourage everyone not to search for the perfect rolemodel. But rather go with a pick & mix. Take strength from super-heroes. Inspiration from artists and researchers. Build your own personal role-model. To follow your own way. If you are lucky no one before you will have had the same way. And you make new ground. I hope that one day I will be there. That people say about me, that I am just like myself. And not like me to anyone else. That is one of my dreams.

I have found this TED talk by iO Tillett Wright recently and think it makes a compelling argument. Even though boxes are important, we need to find the humanity in everyone.

Making time

Today I have said three times ‘I would do X, if I had the time’, yesterday it was five times. I have started to listen to myself since I have been to a talk by Rohan Gunatillake on Monday. In his talk Rohan spoke about planning digital design projects and the hesitations of people to start them. As part of the NearNow KnowHow Think module, Rohan challenged the general answer that instituions ‘have no time’ to invest in new digital solutions and projects. His argument is that if you want something, you make time for it. You may have to drop other things, but time can be made, can be found.
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We discussed this later during the workshop and found that anxieties and the perceived pressure to start something big is behind many ‘I have no time’s. It is most certainly behind most of mine.
I tell myself I have no time for volunteering, but I am just afraid to meet new people.
I tell myself I have not time to finish off the fiddly bits on projects, because I always start new things which is easier.
I tell myself I have no time to exhibit my BA and MA work, because I am terrified people will not like them.

To remedy this, I will start to listen to myself and find out, what I do not have time for. Sort out the ones important enough for me to make time and not regret ditching the ones not important enough. And I will start to make small steps. I do not have to have the whole concept ready in one go, but I can start with an email and take it from there. Well, I am definitively going to make time – and then there will be time to make!

Craft – what is it good for …

Yes, I have to agree with most people: It is much cheaper to buy a sweater, than to buy yarn and make one. Knitting and sewing at home are not the most efficient ways of making clothes. But there are a couple of reasons why I still do it. And will go on to do it. So, craft? What is ist good for? Absolutely everything!
craft

Firstly, I enjoy the process. I love knitting, which gives a good excuse to sit down and enjoy a movie. I find it hard to ‘sit down and relax’, so I am quite thankful when my hands can work and my mind can rest. I find it helps me to concentrate when I chat with others, giving me a feeling of still being productive and chatter away without regret. But I also love the planning phase. For me this is a way of self-expression. I cannot draw or compose, sing or write expressively. But I can create patterns and stitches, bring colours together and choose garment shapes. Experimenting with materials and techniques is a way of escapism as much as a good book. And sometimes even more productive.
It is way of telling people what I have to say, about my person, but also increasingly about things that bother me. As I grow more confident in the technique, I am experimenting much more joyful and expressively. Sometimes too expressively and then the piece is only a good motivation to start fresh. Sometimes I enjoy going for a piece of kitsch. It is not all high-brow art. But creative nonetheless.

The other thing I do not want to be without anymore is the flexibility. Pieces I have made fit me like they have been made for me. Because they have. I grow increasingly annoying when I go shopping, because bought things are hardly ever exactly what I am looking for. What is have made is exactly the colour, material, shape and fit I want. I have stopped blaming myself when clothes do not fit and have started to blame others.

I generally feel more in control. Even though I still buy my materials and cannot fully know whether they are sourced as ecological as I want, I at least know that I can guarantee that they have been made without child labour and other appauling working conditions. I know that I will only make what I need. Nothing will be produced (and shipped) on the chance that people might like it. If I do not like what I have made, I unravel and start again. And yes, this leads to less waste as I care for my garments much more. I know how much effort it has been. (And I mostly find it very boring to do things a second time …)

And I feel more. I love touching yarn and fabrics. It is like looking at paintings for me. It gives me joy and wonder, makes my life richer. Even though it might not be commercially viable, for me it pays off. Especially since I do not have to make everything myself. I Can still go out and indulge in a shopping spree. Enjoy what others have done. But I do not have to. It has become a choice. And believe me: The day you get a compliment for wearing something you have made yourself, you will not want to compromise anymore.

So, these are my reasons. What are yours? Or even more interstesting: Why have you not started yet?

Scarf of the month

Knitting is a way of making things. Practical things like sweaters and scarves. Crazy things like knitted superhero costumes and microbes. Political things like jockstraps and scarves with invisible messages. Knit is flexible. But somehow knit is often perceived to be a boring old-fashioned thing. A technique stuck in the past. A craft threatened with extinction.

I am never really sure where this perception comes from. For me knitting is as much a way of expression as is drawing or writing. It can be used in pre-determined ways like ‘drawing by numbers’ when following a pattern to seek relaxation through the process. Or it can be a way to push the boundaries of how we perceive the world by using new techniques, new materials, creating a new visual language. Knit is not to blame for ugly sweaters. It is the medium, not the message.

Scarf_month

During this year I want to design and knit 12 scarves – one each month. Each scarf will be based on the current news, social media trends or my own circumstances. I want to show that knit can be flexible and contemporary – a medium useful to comment on trends and occurences. A medium to take a stand with. Scarves are highly useful for this as they can be subversive. Looking inconspicuously on first glance, they reveal they hidden message only over time – adding an element of surprise to their power of persuasion.

A first idea has started to form in my head for the January scarf, which is highly personal. But I am looking forward to explore topics personal and political, fun and serious, small and large. I hope you join me throughout the year, send me your ideas and your comments on the scarves. Happy Scarf Year 2015!