Maker Seminar 1- Relativism vs Formalism

We started the seminar by defining the meanings of both words. The conclusion that we came to was that formalism is all about shape, form, mass and colour, removing the artifact from all or as much of the contextual information as possible, provoking a visceral and non-intellectual reaction. Relativism is the opposite end of the spectrum, relying on the viewer’s knowledge and previous experience to place it in the world it sits in, creating a network of implications such as epoch, culture politics and representation that define the artifact.

We were asked to split into halves, choosing the side we thought best described our own work. although I wasn’t completely sure which side I belong on, I chose to argue for the side of formalism, because colour, form and shape are important in my work. The task was to choose 3 famous artists who fit into our category, and argue that they truly belonged there, while debunked the opposition’s arguments.


The relativism team chose to defend Alice Kettle, a textile artist who stitches politically informed illustration onto one side, but displays the side she has not seen. We argued that the practice she chose was based in formalism, but eventually they won that round.


Our team chose to defend Thomas Heatherwick, since the inception of his design work is rooted in experimentation and happenstance, which is the built upon to become something else.

Overall, the conclusion that we collectively came to is that one cannot exist without the other. Form exists in artistic choices such as practice, process, colour and material, but these choices do not exist in a vacuum and each choice we have is impacted by our previous experience. Each material will have a personal or cultural significance, as will a process or even a colour.

The moment someone sees an object or work, their mind immediately forms snap judgements and assess a wide variety of things in relation to their own body and memories. Some of these are intentional, such as colours evoking a positive/negative reaction, and others are purely coincidental.

A formalist response to a work, as far as I understand it, is when you look at something and it makes you feel something, but you don’t necessarily understand why, or have the words or memories to explain it, at least not right away. It’s something that removes itself from human limitations and becomes something else. It can often be confusing. On the contrary, a relativist response might occur when you have some knowledge about a subject, and you can appreciate it’s representative value, and its connotations in the real world and to you.

Somewhere in between these two is the perfect response; when an experience is ‘sublime’, the perfect combination of both types of concepts.

For the second part of the discussion, we were split into sections, choosing our priorities as makers, from; beauty; self-fulfillment; commercial gain and self expression. We argued why each point was the most important to us, and why they lean on each other to become one. My point was that culture is measured and remembered by the art that we leave behind, so I’d like to leave something of myself, and my generation, for people in the future to look back on. Commercial group was simply concerned about having enough money to live off, and self expression was concerned that their work conveyed the message that they wanted to be received. Self expression wanted to feel happy and proud of their own work, even if no one else were to see it.

From now on, I will try to be more aware of how my work will be perceived by the average viewer, and what implications all of my choices could have. I need to put more consideration into how each part of my work could be understood, or not understood, or how it might make the viewer feel.




Our first brief is to create a bowl using our 6 words to guide us and underpin the outcome.

I started by looking at what the definition of a bowl is; a round object used to hold something, often food or liquid and usually associated with eating, but is also used for other things such as cleaning. It is one of the oldest man-made artifacts, with examples of bowls dating way back to the inception of humans, and could be considered a fundamental part of ourselves.

In pip’s study group, we went through different ideas of what a bowl could be, and what it could say, as an object. A coracle (a round boat) and a spoon can count as a bowl, and a bowl doesn’t have to hold liquid. Could a bell be a bowl for sound?

I started with some sketches of what initially came to mind when encountering these words. I started  off with ideas similar to Soo Sunny Park’s unwoven Light, and went through several which were rather disjointed from each other. I tried some ideas which focused more on the process led side of things, but eventually settled on a starting point that was leaves.

I intend to follow down this path, experimenting with different types of leaves, flowers, arrangements and material qualities of acrylic to create a bowl which seemingly defies gravity, and is delicate and intriguing.


After a tutorial with Pip, I finally decided on a solid direction to take my work. While I will still be using artists like Tord Boontje and I looked into some new artists that I felt would inform my work.


Anna Atkins – I want to look into 2D renderings of plantlife, so her cyanotypes are a good example of getting the basic shape of each plant, without much complexity of the form. The simple outlines are good starting points to help me understand how to create flat nets from which to make my bowl.

Kai Sekimachi – Uses skeleton leaves to form delicate, intricate bowls that are far sturdier than they look. She uses kozo paper, watercolour and Krylon to add strength to the leaves, so they are able to hold heavier items without crumpling. I want to look into the lines of the leaf veins, and think about ways to incorporate similar patterns and decorations into my own work.

Andi Wolfe – Woodturner and carver who uses nature as inspiration. These turned and carved leaf bowls are fairly similar to what I would like to achieve, in a sense. I really enjoy the fluidity and movement of the form, as though the leaves are twirling in the wind, and the detail of the carving.

Pecha Kucha/Gesamtkunstwerk

20 slide presentation of photos of artwork or things that we like. I chose some artists work that I’ve been drawn to for a long time, and that I think really embodies my aesthetic as a person.

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  1. Tord Boontje – floral lighting, laser cut and mass produced for HABITAT, gives a whimsical note to the room it is placed in.
  2. Bruce Munroe – Small LED stalks that resemble dandelions, spanning a wide area of land and intriguing the viewer.
  3. Lampadani- Italian company that produces, among other things, lighting, from iron rods and resin coated paper.
  4. Soo Sunny Park- Dichroic glass work that refracts rainbow colours on the ground and glitters in the sun.
  5. Cute circuit- company that specialises in LEDs in clothing that is wearable and changes colours in patterns.
  6. Charles Petillon – Balloon ‘invasions’ that create interesting light effects, and look alien and unusual in their movement.
  7. SoftLab- Studio that works with large scale installations, often using dichroic glass and lighting in their work.
  8. Asae Soya- Iridescence is a huge component in almost all of her work, I love this one in particular because it makes the space shapeless, like floating in space.
  9. Pip & Pop – Candy coloured and literally made of sugar, transports the viewer into a nostalgic, childlike sense of wonderment. Temporary, and
  10. Ikea lamp – David Wahl, inspired by sci-fi movies.
  11. Ikea lamp – David Wahl, inspired by the paths of fireflies.
  12. Iridescent Quality – a quality I noticed that attracts me; the colour change effect is important to me
  13. Komorebi – I like nature and natural light, and this is one of my favourite natural effects.

From our presentations, the group gave input on what they thought our collective interest was, throwing out words  that matched well with the images that we provided. From this selection of words, we were asked to pick out six from which we would base our first project on.

The words I chose are, in no particular order:

  1. Iridescent – colour change material quality
  2. Lighting – either synthetic or natural (sun)
  3. Translucency – the quality to, at least partially, let light through
  4. Floral – organic, flora, foliage
  5. Fairytale – instilling a childish sense of nostalgia and magic
  6. Swarm – many small parts coming together to form a larger piece


Exhibition Evaluation

Getting the lights installed wasn’t too difficult. The first method I tried was to remove the plug from the wire and feed the cables up through the ceiling but then realised that this wouldn’t work since the light fittings have switches on them which wouldn’t fit through the holes. In order to get around this, I filled the holes I had drilled in, made new pilot holes and screwed in some hooks to take the weight of the lampshades. I used zipties around the bend of the cable to make them stay at the correct height, and pins to guide the excess cabling to the extension cable, which is hung up in the top corner of the wall.


I used fake ivy garlands to decorate the area, since I wanted to replicate the sort of scenes that Tord Boontje takes photographs of his work in. Using a staple gun, I put all the garlands in place, and twined some of them around the dangling wires of the lampshades. I think that it’s very effective, and the colours and shadows projected onto the leaves are exactly what I wanted.

Subject PDP

The stool project was a great opportunity for me to work with a live brief- I had done this before, so I knew more or less what to expect, but I find that I work quite well with strong guidelines; having too much freedom means that sometimes it takes me too long to get really stuck into a project, whereas if I have all the criteria to start with then it’s easier to know where to take it. While I do enjoy design work, and I appreciated the time I was given to improve my CAD skills which will definitely come in useful in the future, I do feel as though we weren’t able to start making the stool itself until a bit too late into the brief. I became frustrated at how often I was sent back to the drawing board before being allowed the chance to make mistakes, and learn how to make something in prototype phases. I wish that I had started to make the stool itself earlier on in the year, so I could have had a full sized model rather than just a maquette, but I am pleased with the outcome for it: I learned how to do a lot of new things in order to make even just the maquette, such as laminating and welding.

Make Your Mark started off a little more slowly than the stool project, but was far more introspective. This project forced me to really evaluate what it is that I like to do as a maker, and what I want to continue doing in the future. Looking back on my work, I feel that I have improved my skills and knowledge. While I didn’t create something layered and intricate, I do feel that I have met my goals in creating something that demonstrates how versatile perspex can be using handmade methods as opposed to mass manufacture.

Also that a lot of my inspiration seems to come from Scandinavian design, for example Tord Boontje and IKEA. I’m glad that I decided to take a more product design route, with the possibility of a business emerging from the outcomes, rather than my initial ideas.

I don’t feel that I met my overall standards of quality, but I think that might be a futile endeavour; there will always be things I will want to improve or change about my work. One thing I have improved in, however, is the confidence to make mistakes. Previously, I would be too afraid of wasting materials and over-plan what I was doing but this year, particularly for Make Your Mark, I have benefited from testing and experimenting more liberally than I otherwise would have, while also trying to push the yield of my material to its limits. The testing and re-making of my pieces really helped me to improve the overall quality, and allowed me to go in directions that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Deciding What Not to Display

These are the ‘nopes’. The first one resembles a fruit, which I do like, but it doesn’t match the rest of the themes; a strawberry is pretty but its not a blossoming flower. The second one isn’t attractive on the outside since although I was planning to cover the outer sides with marbled paper which I was gifted I haven’t found the time to do so. The third, I don’t like the colour combination of; it’s a bit too jarring, and I think it would be better if the colours were the other way around. The last one is nice, but it just doesn’t make the cut when there are other ones which I think are better examples of my skills progression, and I have a similar one that is clear and works better.