Ruthin Craft Centre
The Centre for the Applied Arts

Courtyard Project Spaces A & B

Forces in Translation

25 September 2021 – 9 January 2022

Forces in Translation is a collaboration between basket-makers, anthropologists and mathematicians. Our project focuses on how the hand-skills we use in basket-weaving can enhance spatial and geometric understanding – how learning basketry can help people understand geometry and other aspects of mathematics. This includes problem solving, spatial awareness and innovative thinking.

With developments in the digitization and streamlining of education, a concern is that many hand-skills are no longer considered relevant for other aspects of learning. Our study suggests that hand-skills provide an important element of human learning skills. – In other words, making things provides an active bridge to understanding space, geometry and environmental forces, and is an important tool in learning mathematical concepts, design and engineering.

We are also concerned that human responsiveness differs from the kinds of responses and outcomes produced by machines. So, working with materials and hand techniques provides different kinds of knowledge than working purely abstractly, ‘working things out in our heads’. Our work involves memory, rhythm, tactile understanding, skill and a knowledge of materials and technique.

We have been working together since March 2020. We hold studio trials (in-person and online) to explore our themes. We use making, drawing, reading discussion, and mathematical practices like diagramming and cutting out to explore how new mathematical ideas can emerge. Our themes include plaiting around corners, curvature, making lines, looping, mirror symmetry, topology, knots and surfaces, and the role of materials and techniques in geometric thinking. Our most recent trials have been at the Economic Botany Collection in Kew Gardens where we drew on materials and forms from the Evolution Garden, the Palm House and the Bamboo Gardens to explore the mathematics in different baskets in their collection.

The group includes textile anthropologist Dr Stephanie Bunn, anthropologist of future technologies Professor Cathrine Hasse, mathematical educationalist Professor Ricardo Nemirovsky, mathematics PhD students Charlotte Megroureche and Tam Dibley, and basketmakers Mary Crabb, Hilary Burns and Geraldine Jones. We will hold our studio trials at Ruthin from 18th to 21st October when we will focus on technique and colour in basketry patterning.

FiT is a Royal Society and Leverhulme Trust funded APEX research project, also supported by the University of St Andrews, the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers and the Basketmakers Association.