Prompt 3 – Discourse
Your challenge in this prompt is to enter into a dialogue with a reading through making. How you approach this will be unique to the reading and discourse you are entering. You may choose to exemplify the reading, challenge it, deconstruct it, etc. It is important to conduct multiple readings of the text and highly encouraged that you are able to discuss the readings with others who are familiar with it.
This was the brief we were given for our third prompt. The readings I chose were “The Nature of Fashion,” a report put out by the Biomimicry institute illustrating how detrimental the use of plastics are within the textile industry, and “The Things That Matter,” a paper concerning how we may do justice to objects as objects by Peter-Paul Verbeek and Petran Kockelkoren.
I chose to enter into dialogue with these texts through the making of skis. “The Nature of Fashion” makes it apparent that petrochemicals and plastics should be present in the objects we use only if absolutely necessary. “The Things That Matter,” urges designers to allow objects to be appreciated as objects and not just symbols of objects. For example, if you have a blue shirt, and it gets a hole in it, and so you replace it with an identical shirt, the thing you’re attached to is the symbol of the shirt, and not the shirt itself.
In the context of skis, I compared traditional methods of ski making with modern ones.
Skis used to be made out of wood and sealed with pine tar which would prevent rot and act as a moisture barrier. However, they required more maintenance than modern skis, and do not possess the same material properties.
Modern construction makes use of several kinds of petrochemical materials to provide waterproofing, better glide, durability and hardness. These plastics fleck off and break down as the skis are used, making their way into the natural environment where they can remain for centuries.
Additionally, as plastic products age, they quickly lose their lustre, making us want to replace them. Pictured above are a couple of pairs of my skis, the pealing top sheet and scratches make them less desirable overall, they appear used and dated. Wooden skis, however, retain their character. A well-maintained wooden ski is allowed to age more gracefully. By re-tarring the skis as they get more used, the scuffs and scrapes take on a richer character, becoming a way for the object to tell its story.
Mechanically, wooden skis can also reach the same levels of performance as composite ones. Several companies in Europe boast wooden skis. I began to dive into the engineering details of this but it’s a lot to unpack and had to pull myself out as to not spend all my time and energy there.
The final concept I came up with for this prompt was a line of skis made using traditional techniques with no two alike. As the skis age, their properties would change, becoming softer with use. For this reason, they would only be rented through subscription service (another takeaway from “The Things that Matter,” was to move from product-based to subscription-based business models.) This means users could always select the ski that best suits their style and the conditions.
I envision the skis being named after various characters from mythology, the traits of the character imbued within the design of the ski. This personification of the object gives it more agency. A website and/or app would be used to show the skis biography, listing its physical characteristics, and also telling its story. Through the website, a user can see an old skis history, and its history would be reflected in its look and performance.
As a final detail, I hoped to build on the Scandinavia tradition of the “ocean” of a ski, to further give the objects agency. The ocean is the ornately carved tip of traditional Scandinavian skis. Each one was unique to the ski maker and essentially served as their logo. Instead of being unique to the manufacturer, the ocean would be unique to the skis themselves. Skis named Ullr would show a depiction of Ullr on the tip in the traditional style of the place where the myth originates. If I were to take the project to completion, this detail could get a bit dicey. I would need to take the time to ensure the skis show an appreciation of mythology and not an appropriation.
Since I fell into the “engineering hole,” getting too caught up in the mechanical details, I did not have time to start prototyping. However, I enjoyed learning about the craft of traditional ski making so much, I hope to continue this work into the next prompt.