About

Our overarching research question seeks to understand if makers can directly support biodiversity and habitats through their making practices (?)

Implicit within notions of ’sustainability’ is the betterment of animal and plant species as one of the main underlying ambitions of ‘environmentalism’ and a key pillar of the 'circular economy' is the active regeneration of natural systems. However much of the response in design and making tends to focus on mitigating the indirect, negative impacts of human behaviour (for example the prevention of waste and negating pollution and reducing emissions).

The Making Nature project works with maker practices in the UK and Indonesia (initially) that may directly promote biodiversty through their making activities and processes in ways that demonstrate more symbiotic relationships with nature and natural systems.

The map above navigates and plots some of our participants and this site content below features some initial findings from the study and associated publications feature further research details and foci.

The project has received funding and support by the British Council Crafting Futures Digital Collaborations programme - with further acknolwedgements below.

Methodology / approach

Reflective collage

We share methodological approaches to Making Nature as a mutually beneficial new-knowledge-network that serves to facilitate exchange as a community of practice that co-produces insights. Initial research used design ethnographic approaches observing practitioners in working environments and engaging semi-structured interviews and comparative analysis.

We use open-access-digital-mapping to geographically position the practices (wiki-GIS) across disparate locations in support of networking, dissemination and developing a community of practice.

Eco-system drawings proved useful in helping to make connection with the making and resourcing processes and the nature interactions and to support sharing between disciplines and different cultures and languages. An international knowledge exchange workshop (April 2022) promoted the sharing and co-production of drawings and mapping of eco-systems and the co-design of propositional and speculative products that integrate co-defined Making Nature methods.

In the absence of direct documentation and formal ecological surveys the use of collage helps to highlight and discuss notable interactions and relationships. These are based on observations and anecdotal experiences and log identified and / or possible interconnections between products, processes and different species of plant and animal.

The next phases of research will broaden the geographic reach and collaboration in research internationally as well as deepen the interaction and exchange with and between ecological and making knowledge.

People

Nick Gant
Prananda L. Malasan

Nick Gant and members of the University of Brighton’s Community21 research group have led or partnered in a range of practice-based projects, research forums and networks that have included local, regional, national and international organisations seeking to support wildlife.

Prananda L. Malasan with his team in Design Ethnography Lab in ITB have long been collaborating with diverse maker communities across Indonesia. The team attempt to investigate the socio-cultural aspects both contemporary and traditional craft practices, and look further whether the making practices has coexisted with the nature and see the underlying value of this coexistence.

Making Nature was originally concieved in 2014 as a ‘Design for (Bio)Diversity’ curriculum development and research strategy that sought to grow an academic framework for design that has a direct impact on nature and natural systems. Making Nature provides a platform and network on which to base further studies, evolve broader partnerships and co-define research questions that support the underlying ethos.

Inital participants in the research were identified based on how they approach making and / or present their practices, which may include (not exhaustive) explicit associations with nature, use of self-grown and natural materials and / or engage directly with the landscape. We refer to all of them as makers - a term all were happy to associate with.

Throughout the collaborative project, both parties in the UK and Indonesia (and beyond) investigate and exchange insights and the value of coexistences of making practice and nature in different localities.

Workshop recap

We conducted online workshops with four makers from the UK and three makers from Indonesia to exchange their knowledge and experiences regarding making practices and their relationship with the surrounding ecosystem.

Before the workshop, we asked the participants to make a drawing to describe the "Making Nature Eco-system" by including elements or supporting systems, ranging from a group of people, and workshop tools to insects, animals, and plants that directly or indirectly involve and impact on the making activity. Through the drawing, the participants were also asked to describe their feelings and experiences with these supporting elements.

On the day of the workshop, we held discussions and knowledge exchange sessions with participants by using drawing as a medium for discussion. Some interesting points that often arise are that the makers have a close attachment to the surrounding environment and how biodiversity can help explore the makers in making their work. Making activity is also a moment for makers to continue sensing and immersing themselves in the environmental conditions.

Community of practice

Reflective collage

We share methodological approaches to Making Nature as a mutually beneficial new-knowledge-network that serves to facilitate exchange as a community of practice that co-produces research. The network explores what might represent ‘true’ sustainability when consumption and production cycles exist that might directly foster 'productive habitats'.

Our evidence suggests that active support for nature is being actively engaged with by craft, design and grow-and-make practitioners as a sustainable development goal. Through the instigation, mapping and development of a community of practice we seek to elevate the status of these practices, reinforcing their critical relevance and value as an authentically ‘multi-localised’ (Manzini, 2009) contribution to global demands for bio-diverse methods and solutions. We provide a critical but celebratory and supportive framework for collaboration and knowledge exchange that will consider the role collective communities or 'mass-micro-manufacturers' (Gant, 2020) may have in the macro context of mass extinction and habitat loss.

Asking the question

Working in the landscape (Lorna Singleton)

Makers recognised the value in the (research) question and in reflecting on and discussing their relationship with nature through their practice. For many of the makers, despite what is often a daily interaction with nature within the landscape it is (evidently) not a point of view or perspctive that is neccesarily, routinely reflected on.

For some makers consideration and consciousness of nature and natural systems forms part of tacit knowledge and experience and yet noticing or observing specific aspects of the eco-system or species might come through indirect means. Some had undertaken surveys as part of requirements, with limited data being developed on habitats and species directly benefitting through making or management processes.

To use the ‘prism’ of nature through which to view making was seen to provide a number of significant, latent opportunities for development. It was almost universally considered an area of great potential for further enquiry. This includes, for example (not exhaustive) areas of visualisation and materialisation, eco-system mapping and greater cross-fertilisation of different expert knowledge(s) and cultural interpretations. (Now outlined in the next phases of research).

Scale

The scalability of working methods (and any assumed benefit) often feature around multiple local, regional versions of locally situated enterprises that engage directly with local land resources, provide opportunities for knowledge transfer through local apprentiships and more widley through connections with other national and international makers.

'Ecologies of scale' (Gant, 2010) would in effect be achieved through 'Multi-local Societies' (Manzini, 2009) of interconnected, non comeptitive communities as 'knots in the larger net' of localised benefit and diversity.

Makers demonstrated willingness to collaborate, co-operate (not compete) and share intellegence and experience of issues associated with growing and producing across localities.

Access and land management

Makers in this context characteristically have a direct relationship to the land and are often directly contributing to the growth as well as harvesting of resources in a range of private, public and more ambiguous settings.

Some contribute to the interconnection of the patchwork of different typologies and habitats that diversify the landscape and often form strong relationships with owners or managers of land and in some cases own the land itself.

In the UK makers routinely commented on the inherent risks, politics and latent opportunities associated with different rights of access and ownership.

Noticing, observing, indentifying

Ant infestations encouraged
Cut bamboo regulating humidity
Ant infestation strengthening bamboo
Cut bamboo water retension

Participants present different ways of acknowledging or interacting with the nature within the landscapes in which they work.

These range from cultural routines related to formal meditation, breaks and pauses to listen to the nature, listening at night if camping onsite and in some cases active spotting or recreational walks to observe the nature.

The majority of makers had not directly deployed ecological science and / or expertise in the direction of their practice or as an integrated or formalised part of their processes. Two practices were undertaking surveys and gathering data as part of the co-operative management of woodland. Some UK makers identified investing in knowledge outside of their disciplinary area in support of increasing their understanding of ecological systems associated with their work. They often relied on the authenticity of approach and knowledge base of suppliers to legitimise the low-impact and / or beneficial nature of resourcing.

Identification of specific species was often limited at first and further questioning would reveal partial association and anecdotal acknowledgement of certain species and movements of animals and existence and distribution of plants as a result of interventions within the landscape. The strongest observations were made due to positive or negative natural associations that either improve or inhibit the practice (for example the degrading effect of over populations of deer in UK or the benefits of ants to the strengthening and nature preservation of harvested bamboo materials).

Materialisation

Makers basically interact with materials in an everyday context, starting by harvesting materials from the field by carefully considering their impact on the environment, treating the materials that would be processed, classifying them, and finally turning the materials into functional objects that can benefit users and the environment. Indeed, the whole process of making the object will always be influenced by vernacular knowledge that is formed and passed on through generations, therefore, it often becomes a cultural asset of the craft community.

In addition, the knowledge behind craft making is also a manifestation of an everyday ritual, in which the works result from the rhythm of engagement between the makers and the material. In this case, makers participate in the emergence of the objects, in which the emphasis is not on the final form of the objects, but on the process of emergence and becoming (Ingold, 2013).

Objects and products often deliberately deploy a visual language as an integral material relationship to the natural resource and / or the landscape from where they are derived. In some cases this is considered a part of an engagement between the maker's sensibilities, the landscape and material and a perceived audience. 'Mediating matters' (Gant, 2016) communicate complex interrelationships within and through material manifestations in relevant and engaging forms. The processes are seen as having agency in the cultural shift towards more respectful and sympathetic means of consumption and connectivity to the natural world.

Makers often refer to the materials dictating or 'telling them how to work it' as a 'material first' (as opposed to a 'design first') process with customers required to ‘go on a journey’ and even be educated through processes of respectful resourcing rather than pantone-perfect specification.

Relaying knowledge

Making activity by the makers is an effort to maintain the values ​​that have been formed and built by them from generation to generation. Maintaining the knowledge is not only manifested in the textual documentation but also embodied in the form of everyday making practices, as well as the dependence between makers and various cultural rituals and the dynamics of the environmental conditions.

For instance, if we look into the making of rice-cake packaging using pandan leaves is closely associated with religious rituals, such as the Eid Fitr celebration or various sacred activities such as weddings ceremony. There is a number of weaving patterns for the packaging depending on the type of activity. These kinds of rituals can directly impact the need for rice-cake packaging products and maintain craft-making knowledge to continue to exist. Another example is the ‘sacrificial skin’ rain screen cladding, or the skin of buildings represented by Steve Johnson’s works that will degrade naturally by the local climate. The degradation of the skin of buildings needs periodical maintenance, which ensures the continuation of the craft skills and knowledge through generations.

In sum, the continuity of craft knowledge cannot be separated from cultural and natural conditions that affect making practices in the daily context of the makers.

Life

Community engagement in harvest

Makers routinely referred to perceived life enhancing aspects that their work provided being based literally or ideologically in more natural settings.

Many makers presented a humility and modesty around their contribution and impact. They defined expectations regarding the 'sustainability' or 'low-impact' characteristics of their work as an integral part of their personal and professional philosophies and associated notions of 'success and happiness’.

References to 'lifestyle and romance' fed into their individual and professional identities and the way they are perceived externally. Many connected their practice to wider relational notions of community cohesion and enhanced relationships that share or unite around common concerns. Products and processes demonstrate agency in helping facilitate active public participation in accessing nature and the outdoors with cascading social, cultural, environmental and identifiable economic benefits.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank all of our inspiring participants for their generosity, candour and keenness to engage with this creative enquiry. Thanks to The British Council Crafting Futures team including Katia Stewart and Sevra Davies, the Crafting Futures network. Thanks also to Carol Sinclair and Inge Panneels and to all at the University of Brighton Research Office and support team and to The British Council Making Matters team Parvinder Marwaha, Hannah Robinson and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation for on going support, inspiring programmes and introduction to networks and to curator Ligaya Salazar and The Crafts Council. Thanks also to Design Ethnography Lab ITB and supporting team, Virliany, Rolly, Martha, Saka, Syahrul, Dinni, Fathimah, Salma, and Rhea.

Making Nature / Gaining Ground exhibition

Making Nature featured as part of the UK Crafts Council's Gaining Ground exhibition at The Crafts Council Gallery in London in April 2022, curated by Ligaya Salazar.

Making Nature in practice and research

Reflective collage
Speculative sketch amendments to practice - Nick Gant

Makers have consistent aspirations to enact low impact behaviour in different and personal ways. They integrate processes that may be considered beneficial to nature as part of their productive practices and express ambition and need to gain further confidence in developing synergy and the multiple benefits that may arise for biodiversity and sustainable development.

Examples exist of maker’s perception of nature as a ‘co-worker’ (Collette, 2020) and in developing ‘partnerships’ (Fletcher et al, 2018) adding amenity and / or natural, technical advantage to materials whilst rejuvenating or conserving habitats. Initial findings indicate strong potential and authentic ambition but limitations in terms of scientific data / ecological surveying in support of direct beneficial impacts on the landscape and its associated wildlife afforded through making practices.

Our next phase of work aims to support furthering understanding of these critical interrelationships and interactions between makers and nature and their implications - socially, culturally, economically and environmentally.

Opportunities were revealed that potentially elevate and optimise the benefits to nature (and makers) realised through our eco-system sketches and collages that highlight interactions and propose possible interventions and / or adjustments in processes. We aim to build on this through the development of propositional models and studios that correlate and support ecology and making alliances to further progress this fundamental question and need for symbiosis.

Minda #1: A Short Documentary of Sapu Ijuk Making

Minda