MISCHER’TRAXLER- AND WHAT IF WE TURNED MACHINES INTO TREES OR CONVERSATION PIECES?
How can you convince a machine to socialize? And how can you bring it in step with nature? Questions like these brought the famous Vienna based Austrian design studio and duo Mischer’Traxler to experiment with machines that let their produce be guided by the amount of light they receive, like trees, or machines that only come to action when people come closer and show interest. One important result of these experiments was that the products that were the outcome were always different, adapting themselves to the situation, and answering some of today's major issues,such as the relationship between men, machine and nature.
The goal of The Idea of a Tree was to see how these qualities of a tree and its dependence on natural cycles could be transferred to machines and their products, combining natural input with a mechanical and serial process in an autonomous production.
THE IDEA OF A TREE
The oldest project, The Idea of a Tree, ongoing since 2008, started from the premise that every tree stems from a particular context, and is a product of a specific time and place, reacting and developing according to its surroundings, and constantly recording and integrating various environmental impacts in its growth process. The goal of The Idea of a Tree was to see how these qualities of a tree and its dependence on natural cycles could be transferred to machines and their products, combining natural input with a mechanical and serial process in an autonomous production.
Katharina Mischer (1982) and Thomas Traxler (1981) created a solar-powered machine that makes furniture, but with the shape and color of each product determined by the amount of sunlight available during the manufacturing process. The machine ‘grows’ benches, containers and lampshades by drawing threads through a tank of dye and subsequently a basin of resin, and finally winding them around a rotating mold. The speed at which the machine spins the mold and draws the thread is dictated by the amount of sunlight.
Each piece takes one whole day to make, the variations in thickness and color-saturation depending on the changes in daylight and shadow throughout the day. Like a tree the object thus becomes a three-dimensional recording of its process and time of creation, and the climatic and environmental factors of its surroundings. The outcome during a cloudy period will for instance be darker and thinner than that made in bright sunshine, and since the machine automatically starts producing at sunrise and stops at sunset, the length and height of the resulting object depends on the sun hours of the day, the daily ‘harvest’ in winter being shorter than one made in summer.
In 2009, it temporarily transformed the metrostation into an opera house, complete with a workshop space, conference room, bar, cinema, and art gallery. Invited composers, librettists and local residents collaborated on an opera in which the fears, hopes, dreams and memories of the latter went directly into the libretto, while the by nature highly artificial world of opera was put in a mix with the routine of the daily reality show, the noise of the highway and of the passing metro.
The concept of introducing natural input into a serial production process also suggests a new way of looking at locality or the need to go Glocal, says Mischer'Traxler: „This 'industrialized locality' this project pleads for for is not so much about local culture, craftsmanship or resources. Instead it deals with climatic and environmental factors of the surrounding. From the look of the objects you can tell somehow the place of production. On the equator, for example, the objects would have the same height and length the whole year through, whilst in North- and Middle Europe, the seasons help shaping the objects. In countries with a lot of rain the objects would be darker and thinner whilst in sunnier regions the objects would be paler but thicker. Etcetera“.
In a next project, Collective Works (2011), the production process only functions when people come closer to the machine and pay attention to it. Responding to its audience, the process translates the flow of people in the machine’s surroundings and the interest they show into the object that is being made. Production starts when a first person approaches: a wooden 24 mm wide veneer strip is pulled through a glue basin and slowly coils up around a 20 mm thick wooden base. As the turning platform with the base moves downwards, the veneer strip slowly builds up a basket. A mold is not needed, since the material supports itself and does not collapse when being coiled up. When another viewer joins to watch the process, color is added to the veneer with a marker, activated by sensors in the frame of the machine.
When one person is watching, one sensor is activated and the machine starts winding. When two are watching, a second sensor comes into action: a marker with a light tone color is pressed to the veneer, and colors it. When a third person approaches, another marker with a darker color is activated. Up to four markers can stain the veneer strip simultaneously. The machine and its produce thus literally become conversation pieces, with no words needed.The resulting outcome varies in color and size, in line with the level of the audience’s interest during production, and the overall interaction time. The more often somebody stops by to watch the process, the higher the basket becomes. Every spectator leaves a mark on the object so that each basket becomes a unique record of the people’s interest in the production process. A basket – a vessel made to collect– thus becomes a collection of data. If nobody is interested in the project, production stops altogether and no object is made. Collective Works thus questions the relationship between man and machine. Viewers are turned into workers though their effort involves only the time they spend with the machine. Also, machines in factories need only a single technician to monitor production, whereas in this work, a single machine needs various viewers –a collective- to produce colorful results.
Mischer'Traxler also continue to research similar issues in new projects, such as the Offsets series (2017), which we highlighted at last year's Berlin Design Week and State of Design, Berlin. This project was partly inspired by the way in which farmers keep parts of their crop to plant them as seeds for the next season, and partly by botanical offsets that can be used contentiously to regrow more plants that will grow differently. Sheets of felt, in various colors, are rolled into tree-trunk shaped objects. Once an object is finalized, a section is cut off and forms the inner core for a new object. Since the off-cut is always different, the shape of the new object is also different. The result is a series of unique objects, where each is depending on the one before, and manufacturing has become an organic process, mimicking man and nature.