Shop Notes: Making is Knowing

My paper airplane, surprisingly, flew. As I was making it, I encountered several difficulties–namely difficulties related to translating the image-based instructions into physical action in a 3-d setting. No papercuts occurred, thankfully, but there were numerous stilted glances back and forth between the computer screen and the folded paper, glances where, almost right after looking down, I had forgotten what I was meant to be doing. I struggled to make the paper and the folds match up to the diagram. I wondered what type of paper to use–drawing paper, heavier and more sturdy? or printer paper, lighter and decidedly less expensive? Unsurprisingly, I went for the printer paper. I have a dozen drawings vying for space on my drawing paper; I thought it best not to sacrifice a sheet to a paper airplane that I might royally muck up. But then, once I got to folding, it seemed that the paper’s dimensions were off. After the second fold, nothing matched up. I persevered, fully expecting the plane to fail miserably. But it didn’t! It sailed clear across the room to my desk chair.

Nearly all of my experience of making the plane could be lost in its transformation into artifact. An observer wouldn’t be able to see, inscribed in the paper, my internal debate about material. They would see a paper plane, not quite like a diagram, folded, perhaps, with a touch of clumsiness. They would see the small folds near the nose that stick out just a touch too much, but what would that mean to them? Would it mean that the creator struggled with transforming 2-d directions into 3-d space, or would it mean that the creator didn’t know what they were doing, or would it mean that the creator was bad at making paper airplanes, or that the paper was the wrong size, or even that that might actually be how the plane was meant to look? And, if the paper airplane ended up unfolded, flattened out, what would they be able to recover? They might be able to rediscover the physical experience of the making, but the internal experience would likely be lost. How would they know that the creator was ADHD and dyspraxic? How would they know the ways in which these things impact upon every physical interaction the creator had with the world? Without context, they wouldn’t. Making may be knowing an object, but, without context, it is not knowing the truth of its creation.

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