In the context of design, fabrication is essentially a fancy term for making, and insofar as the term is refers to the process of producing a physical thing, the word transcends its alternate meaning: to contrive or devise, without justification—in short, to lie. Negative connotation aside, it's loosely synonymous with invention, such that 'digital fabrication'—term of art notwithstanding—might also refer to algorithmically generated designs. If the concept is the frontier of new media art (Phillips de Pury's recent "Paddles On!" auction made art-world headlines for unprecedented sales of GIFs and Tumblogs), it is at once more and less apropos design. On one hand, there is a sense in which design is intrinsically algorithmic, where function serves as an overarching constraint—to say nothing of manufacturing considerations—yet there is also a sense in which the premise of creating a bit of code to dictate an aesthetic seems more like art than design.
Which is a long way of introducing Zhang Zhoujie's current project on Indiegogo, his first—and the first international crowdfunding campaign by a bona fide Chinese designer. Over the past few years, we've encountered Zhang's work at various design festivals around the world, starting in 2011 at London Design Festival (he studied with Ben Hughes at Central St. Martins) to the Salone and Shanghai last year (he's based in the latter city). Between the design concept and the fact that he's turned to Indiegogo, there are a lot of angles to the Digital Vessel (pun intended). He notes that "I believe that Indiegogo is the right platform to find the support needed to launch an entire digital revolution, a generation of backers that understand and can identify with my vision."
As he says in the pitch video above, that vision "is not about designing something... it's about finding something." And while Zhang only mentions it in passing in, his ultimate goal is to approximate nature itself—arguably the original designer—with algorithms for objects that grow or evolve of their own accord. (I struggled to grasp the concept when he explained it to me during Beijing Design Week, but he elaborated at length about his ongoing research and is clearly fixated on emulating nature through software.)
For now, he's looking to get the project off the ground via Indiegogo—he's ready to share the fruits (er, fruit bowls) of the first foray into "digitally spontaneous design" as he continues his R&D into this unique approach to creation.
1. Production: While I have all the prototypes finished, I need your support to expand the workshop and to be able to hire more help so that I can create these on a larger scale. Before my workshop was only able to create one-off pieces for custom clients, but now I want create a space where I can bring the digital vessel to everyone.
2. Research: This is only the beginning. First it was tables, chairs and vessels. In the future, it will be lampshades, jewelry and teapots. The possibilities are endless, but I need funding to develop computer programs and machinery capable of this.
3. Awareness: I think if this Indiegogo Campaign can be successful, it'll be bigger than just me and my project. It will elevate the level of awareness of Chinese innovation and design for the entire world and the entire generation of Chinese designers.
With digital fabrication and crafting, I am able to make each product unique, which allows each supporter to build a special relationship with it. When each of our Indiegogo backers uses the vessel, you will feel it, and know that the plate is the only one in the world, and that it is just for you.
Of course, we should also mention that Francis Bitonti has a similarly ambitious vision for the future of digital fabrication; perhaps he will be among Zhang's backers on Indiegogo. Those of you with similar inclinations can learn more on the project page for Digital Vessel.