i'm reading, as i do every year, seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees, which is both a biography of robert irwin and an extended discussion of what it means to think about making a thing. the book is rich with interesting stuff for anyone willing to spend some time with it. it also represents a minor stream of thinking which currently appears scattered and diffused across many fields (computer science, organizational theory, design, manufacturing, and others): accounts of grasping not for mastery of a concrete thing but the abstract generative principle that produces concrete things of that class.
for instance, take arthur ganson. ganson is the MIT sculptor in residence, and the MIT museum has an ongoing exhibition of his work (note for cambridge residents: admission to the MIT museum is free today, 4/20, as part of the cambridge science festival). this is ganson's TED presentation (the embedded video will start at the beginning of the section transcribed below):
just as in robert irwin's work, there's a sense that there is a platonic ideal concept straining to emerge, that the process of making is a process of getting closer (but never close enough) to the realization in the real world of the idea in the mind:
i imagined a very simple gestural dance that would be between a machine and just a very simple chair. and when i'm making these pieces, i'm always trying to find a point where i'm saying something very clearly and it's very simple, but at the same time it's very ambiguous. i think that there's a point between simplicity and ambiguity, which can allow a viewer to perhaps take something from it. and that leads me to the thought that all of these pieces start off in my own mind, in my heart, and i do my best at finding ways to express them with materials. and it always feels really crude, it's always a struggle, but somehow i manage to get this thought out into an object. and then it's out there. it means nothing at all, this object just means nothing. but once it's perceived, and someone brings it into their own mind, then there's a cycle that's been completed. to me, that's the most important thing, because being a kid i wanted to communicate my passion and love and that means the complete cycle of coming from the inside, out to the physical, to someone perceiving it.ganson has also posted footage of the performance of machine with chair, which includes the setup.