How do we create things by hand? What is it about handmaking that matters? The process of making by hand lies at the intersection between mind and matter – linking the plasticity of the brain to the variety of bodily techniques and material forms. Still, the full creative dimensions of this process are not well understood and require cross-disciplinary research.
The HANDMADE project is a 5-year European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Award (no. 771997), under the European Union's Horizon 2020, led by Lambros Malafouris based at the Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford that proposes to fill this gap in our knowledge attempting an anthropological exploration of the hand and its skills focusing on the craft of pottery making.
What? Rooted in the archaeology of mind, our work is structured along several foundational questions about agency, creativity, memory, skill, selfhood and process, focusing on the cognitive ecology and poetics of clay. The basic hypothesis is that the process of handmaking constitutes a form of thinking with and through clay.
Where? We address those issues through sustained multi-sited participant observation in several traditional ceramic workshops spread around mainland Greece and the Islands. The study involves a variety of techniques, tools and materials.
How? We use a combination of methods to record, describe, compare and analyse the creative dialogue between hands and clay. We follow the hand in action and investigate the phenomenology of human creative gesture. Our research procedure, grounded in material engagement theory, is designed to facilitate attentiveness to the details of action and the properties of the materials and the tools involved.
Why? The broader aim is to use that anthropological knowledge about the intelligence of the hand and the affordances of clay in order to lay down the conceptual foundation for a cognitive archaeology of handmaking over the long term. This may prove valuable in deepening our understanding of human creativity as an enactive and distributed process. The significance of the process of making by hand cannot be overstated. Handmaking is at the heart of human becoming. This is not a statement just about the past; it is also about our future: It applies to the modern digital designer as it applies to the Palaeolithic tool maker. Perhaps, understanding the meaning of handmaking has never been as relevant and timely as it is today given its ongoing transformation within our modern creative industries and digital forms of fabrication. There are important considerations here about the role of making in our everyday living, contemporary education and mental health.