words Lesley Jackson
Tavs Jørgensen is a somewhat unlikely new technology activist. Originally trained as a potter in his native Denmark, he designed tableware for British manufacturer Dartington Pottery for many years.
Although his background is in hands-on practice, increasingly he exploits digital technology in developing his shape designs. He still specialises in ceramics, but is now venturing into other fields, including glass and furniture.
Currently a Research Fellow at University College Falmouth – part of the 3D Digital Design Research Cluster, or Autonomatic, as they collectively style themselves – he continues to work independently as a designer and consultant, as well as teaching part time at the Royal College of Art, London.
Focusing on ways of introducing the physical into the virtual, Jørgensen often experiments with technology from non-design fields, such as the Shapehand motion capture glove. This device – originally developed for animation and special effects, but with potential crossover applications in design – is literally a glove wired up to a computer. It captures the dynamics of individual digits as well as the motion of the whole hand and arm, and provides a liberating alternative to the stultifying perfection of CAD.
“Using such equipment offers the exciting prospect of creating with free and unhindered gestural movement,” he enthuses. “What I’m trying to do is to capture evidence of the human hand in motion, right down to the trembling of the fingers.” Products developed using the device include his Motion seats – stools with contoured surfaces resembling aerial landscape views.
Jørgensen has a love-hate relationship with digital technology. His engagement arises partly out of sheer frustration. In many respects computers are essentially “alien” to designers, he believes. Their bland anonymity and lack of sensory responsiveness is a major drawback. He hates the way commercial software directs – and often predetermines – the designer’s aesthetics. “Creating with a CAD package is essentially a very static and calculating exercise, far removed from the intuitive making process,” he points out. “I want to use digital technology but to incorporate the hand.”
Even without the Shapehand glove, Jørgensen manages to introduce intuitive movement into digital design. He co-opted the G2 Microscribe digitising arm – a “point and click” device for scanning 3D objects – as a free-hand tool, using it to create digital drawings that recorded movements rather than form.
These drawings are much more fluid, calligraphic and spontaneous than those created using CAD software. By thickening the lines and giving them volume, they can then be transformed into 3D objects through rapid prototyping. Recently he recorded the act of drawing a circle freehand in the air. This line was then used (kinks and all) to delineate the rim of a glass bowl, “a good example of collaboration between digitally recorded movement and the innate physical properties of hot glass,” he notes. By interacting with computers in a more direct, physical and playful way, Jørgensen seeks to humanise digital technology, to make it more spontaneous, less remote. For him, as a designer, this – rather than nerdy computer programming – is the “new frontier”.
Tavs Jørgensen’s work is featured, along with fellow members of Autonomatic, in Digital Explorers II, Metropolitan Works, London,