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A Making + Thinking Symposium

November 14–21, 2020

“Necessity is not the mother of invention – only of improvement. A man desperately in search of a weapon or food is in no mood for discovery; he can only exploit what is already known to exist. Innovation and discovery require aesthetically motivated curiosity; they do not arise under the pressure of need, although of course once new properties of matter or new mechanisms become known they are available for use. This may sound strange, coming from a technologist, but the fact is that down through history most of man’s inventions have first appeared in decorative rather than practical applications.”

From “Aesthetic Curiosity – The Root of Invention,” Cyril Stanley Smith, August 24, 1975, The New York Times Archives

Allowing for outdated language, this extraordinary quote understands that it is humans’ innate “aesthetically motivated curiosity” that first discovered the characteristics and possibilities of materials and techniques – not need. The earliest excavated ceramics represented mystic cosmologies created to give meaning to the ineffable, not functional vessels to hold food and water – that came later. Artists and craftspeople led the way.

Harbourfront Centre, in partnership with Craft Ontario, will deliver a symposium that brings together craft and design professionals to explore and discuss intersections between making, culture and material innovation. Inspired by a connection to the University of Toronto’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and looking at current discoveries of new materials and applications, we plan to create a symposium environment where local, national and international participants can explore craft through the lens of material sampling.

The theme of material sampling is rooted in the relationship between professional craft practice and the development of new materials and techniques. The theme plays off the notion of sampling as a teaching/testing process, common to all craft practice. The connection between the making of objects and the science of materials is an age-old dynamic, with each fostering innovation in the other. Craft practice embraces material fluency, intention and discovery, and within the context of today’s global issues, this includes economic disparity, waste and environmental destruction. The methods and local applications of craft can offer solutions and meaning.