Making things with our hands is different from making things using tools. There are benefits to making things with our hands and machining things with tools, but the advantages must be compared to the disadvantages in either case in order to consider what ingredients are most conducive to the making process and in order to consider how technology can enhance our object making research creation environments. From the outset, it is important to distinguish between the making of a tool and the making of an interface. The goal behind making a tool is to perform a specific physical task. The goal behind building an interface is to produce an interactive environment capable of facilitating a performance that can manifest many forms. In addition, it is important to research the elements required to make use of the technology of body and mind, and the technology of machines (simultaneously).
Handmade Advantages: Making something by hand has the benefit of tactility. When we literally physically interact with the tangible materials we make with, we sense the materials presence and attributes. We comprehend that clay is soft, malleable, pliable and cool to the touch. We soon discover that clay dries, cracks, becomes hard and sticks to our hands revealing new dynamically evolving material feature as we work. Tactile interaction with materials facilitates an immersive experience that is free flowing. Working with materials directly forms a cyclical interactive partnership between the artist’s mind, hands and material. A physically natural co-generative dance between artist and materials plays out as a negotiated partnership when we ‘enact’ or ‘make’ objects. The artist performs squeezing, shaping and forming movements and attempts to negotiate the naturally present physical properties of a lump of clay in hand. The lump of clay responds to the artist by moving or resisting movement and counteracts the hands as they dance together somehow choreographed by the mind in a mysterious ‘intention event’.
Handmade Disadvantages: The problem with making things with our hands is that our body has limits that our mind does not. I can imagine something that I may not be able to build with my bare hands. Some things are too hot, too cold, too strong or too brittle for our hands to forge. In some cases, such as with the microscopic manipulations of cells or the building of a gigantic bridge, our bodies’ disproportionate scale is the limitation. Our bodies are also somewhat slow and inaccurate and we experience fatigue. It can take a lifetime for some craftsmen to master the materials they manipulate and even then their work is not reliably repeatable. Even if a given craftsman can make something over and over with a high degree of accuracy, the aging body will soon render any skills obsolete. These facts and others are at the heart of a common problem for all artists that involve a frustration of trying to materialize the imaginary and thereby produce and communicate our creative expressive intention. This problem is probably one of vanity in that we assume our imaginary to be a goal of material expression and we assume that the art objects we enact are simply vessels for our imagined will. In fact we assume our imaginary space to be a real thing – a material thing – even before we forge it into an object in a physical place.
It is probably important to mention at this point that I do not posit in any way that we actually ‘make’ anything, but rather we re-order things that already exists. We do our best to concoct physically sculpted forms that barely resembling something we want to express from our ‘essence of an expression’ by trying to force materials to conform to our imagined expressive ideal. In addition, I do not argue that our creative intention starts in the mind or even the pre-mind. I do not know where our creative intentions come from.
Even if we ignore these and other more philosophical underpinnings, as relates to sculpting something, we still come to learn quite quickly that we have physical limitations and we cannot manipulate all materials with our bare hands. In order to progress beyond these and other limitations of the body; we extend our bodies by forging a partnership with tools.
Tool Advantages: Tools give us the strength, speed and accuracy to go beyond our bodies physical limitations. Even the most basic tools, readily found in nature, can become useful extensions of the body and therefore of our mind as well. A wooden pole can give us the strength to cantilever heavy stones into place quickly or a hard stone can be used to grind up tinny pigments. Once we become aware of these tools and if they are readily available, we are able to add them to the list of possibilities in our imagination. After using our natural surroundings as tools, we begin to build tools for more specific functions. We forge tools out of metal and gain the strength to work with materials like lumber to higher degree of accuracy and with greater ease. We gain speed, again updating our physical powers and simultaneously expanding our mind. We eventually mechanized our creative tools introducing kinetic motion. This introduces a performative partnership between artist and tools like the potter’s wheel and the printing press whereby the expansion of the body and mind is beyond the material, crossing into the temporal and performative. Soon after, we mechanize our tools is the inclination to automated our machines. We do this to be able to perform whole tasks eliminating the need for our performed interaction and allowing for tools like the desktop 3D printer to make the entire object for us. The introduction of computers and virtual (software) tools capable of industrial automation and even computer simulation has removed the need for physical interaction between the maker and the made object. It is assumed that the advanced imaginary mind can travers the need for bodily expansions and operate exclusively in the ‘virtual’ expanded mind. Even though these automated mechanized technologies propel us forward conceptually, we can see a definite move away from the requirement of the human body in the physical making process all together. We can now simply imagine things and we don’t have to get our hands dirty making anything. However, the advent of these new mechanized and automated ‘virtual tools’ assumes an artist’s foreknowledge and command of physical matter, and replaces the need for human and material interactions.
This philosophy of domination over the material world is dangerous because it skips over the step where we evolve from hand to tool to machine. It replaces material knowledge, that is, knowledge that is derived from interacting with and learning the material properties of the physical world, with a fictitious imaginary assumption as to how things are made. Of course, this is ironic because the more we move away from interacting with the tactile, tangible, physical world, the less capable we will become of knowing and mastering ‘tacit knowledge’ and the direct result of this could be the loss of designing things in a natural, sustainable, co-generative or cooperative harmonious way.
Tools are also able to facilitate ‘Scale Tunnels’, generated when any mediation occurs between user and physical materials whereby the materials are formed using more or less force, speed or accuracy than is possible by the human user’s hands. When a crane operator moves a whole ton of materials from one place to another on a construction site, there is a massive scale tunnel connecting the physical possibilities of his hands and the materials being moved. When a bio-lab technician performs a controlled rotation of biological microscopic objects using microscopic optical line tweezers  there is the reverse scale – into the micro from the macro powers of the hand. We are able to adapt our sense of touch to feel scalar shifts that the body cannot accomplish on its own. Thus, we are able to extend our bodies into different scales (afforded by functional elements of tools and machines). There are various scale tunnels that will be formed by ‘Art-Bot’ including: