Automation dominates Collective Works, a project unveiled at Design Miami/Basel by Viennese practice Mischer Traxler. A machine designed to weave wooden baskets, Collective Works functions only when sensors in its frame detect an audience. It’s a mechanism designed for human interaction.
“During the design and research process the relationship between man and machine became more and more important,” Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler explain. Collective Works critically explores a growing global trend – mechanisation at the expense of human involvement in manufacturing.
The machine is inactive until someone approaches, at which point a spool of wood veneer begins to unwind through glue, before coiling back on itself to form a basket. If two people gather, blue marker pen is added to the veneer. Progressively darker hues are introduced as additional onlookers approach. The completed baskets become colour-coded histories of their own creation.
“We made this process that reacts to the audience. The more people are watching, the more the process reacts and the outcome changes,” say Mischer and Traxler. “We are living in a time where, in our part of the world, labour is trying to be minimised and machines are taking over human production. We made a process that actually wants human attention to be fully functioning.”
But therein lies the irony: Mischer Traxler’s machine demands human interaction, but it also needs passive interaction. Collective Works is hugely automated. There is no starter key to turn and no red button to push – the machine operates at the sole prompt of sensors and circuits. In practice, the project uses the very labour minimisation that it conceptually challenges.
Mischer and Traxler react philosophically. “The project is ambiguous in many ways. The audience are turned into workers, even though their effort is just the time they spend with the machine. But time is what most of us lack. If nobody is interested in the project, it stops producing and the final product just doesn’t get produced. It is production on interest.”