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Craft, Computation, and Technology: The Practice of Wire-Bending in Trinidad & Tobago

Wed, August 30, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Beacon F


The craft practice of wire-bending developed in the 1930s as a “speciali[z]ed art, combining elements of structural engineering, architecture, and sculpture” to create two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) forms (Noel 2015; “Lewicito ‘Cito’ Velasquez” 2015). My paper examines how craftsmen share knowledge to others, learn about themselves, and explore the natural world through this material practice. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Trinidad and Tobago between 2012 and 2016, my paper studies the material, discursive, and technological practice of wire-bending, and gives a brief auto-ethnography documenting my experience wire-bending an artifact. I explore the following questions: (1) How do wire-benders transfer embedded and tacit knowledge, and learn about themselves and the natural sciences in this crafting process? And (2) How do they use tools and technologies in their practice? I will show how wire-benders develop an understanding of the natural sciences and themselves through embodied practices of ‘designing and making’ activities associated with the craft. This understanding is facilitated by the use of tools and technologies, which enable tactile, cognitive, sensuous engagement between their bodies, and materials (Ingold 2007; Ingold 2010). In this work, I also discuss a computational description of wire-bending: an abstract, mathematical construct visually describing the craft of wire-bending. Named the Bailey-Derek Grammar (Noel 2015), it enriches our understanding of the wire-bending craft. This work has implications for how we can better describe knowledge in craft, the transformation of local knowledge, and production of new knowledge in craft using ethnography, computation, and technology.