Spotlight on Science: Amit Zoran

We’ve all heard jokes about students taking basket weaving classes, but have you ever wondered how science informs the craft? We talk to Amit Zoran (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) about digital fabrication for our September 2015 Spotlight on Science post. Zoran’s article "Hybrid Basketry: Interweaving Digital Practice within Contemporary Craft” appeared in the August 2013 issue of Leonardo. 

Exciting developments in 3D printing have brought digital production to the forefront. Zoran’s research explores how this new technology can be integrated with traditional craft practices, such as basketmaking. Zoran presents “hybrid basketry,” wherein a 3D-printed structure functions as a frame for handwoven patterns as a means to “preserve what we did in what we do.” Read Zoran’s article for free through 30 September on our SOS page.

How did you come to the topic of digital fabrication?

I was trained as a computer engineer and then decided to study product design. The potential to merge design, making, and computers using digital fabrication has attracted me since I first got familiar with these technologies. I think I always wanted to be a craftsperson, and today I can feel a bit like one by using digital fabrication tools.

In a previous project, you merged digital fabrication with ceramics. How is basketry different?

In Hybrid Reassemblage I used 3D scanning and 3D printing to restore broken ceramics, thus the computational technology came to “rescue” the traditional design. With hybrid basketry, I decided to start first by making something in the computer, and later to add woven trades in order to (1) reinforce the structure, and (2) add a design value that comes from the manual investment and intimacy of the craft process.

You spent time with Thitaku Kushonya, a traditional basket maker in Botswana. How did she feel about hybrid basketry? How did she inform your work?

I am not sure how she felt, but it seems she was very interested to understand the new process, while knowing my new craft is still very simple compared to the amazing quality of her work. I was deeply inspired by her and her work, and this was what motivated me to explore weaving.

What do you envision for the future of digital fabrication?

I hope more makers, researchers, designers and scientists will explore the hybrid territories—territories that seek integration of the old with the new, rather than replacing it. I truly believe that innovation, while important, is limited and can’t serve as a source for instant cultural values. Culture is important and complex; let’s respect it and find a place to preserve what we did in what we do.

What became of the four hybrid baskets you produced for this project?

One is in exhibition now at Brussels, the rest are presented in my lab at the Hebrew University.

What are you working on now?

Instating my new Hybrid Lab at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, School of Computer Science and Engineering.

Read "Hybrid Basketry: Interweaving Digital Practice within Contemporary Craft” for free through 30 September.