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Exploring divide among art, craft and design

Presented by the Department of Musical Theatre in U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, “Into the Woods” will be performed through Oct. 24 at Mendelssohn Theatre.

From the blog of Kath Weider-Roos
Creative Arts Producer
School of Art & Design

Geoffrey Mann from Scotland was one of the many Witt Visitors to the School of Art & Design in October. He was brought in by fellow Scot, John Marshall, to talk about his work which, as he describes it, “challenges the existing divides between art, craft and design.”

If you’re not sure exactly what this means, this photo makes it more explicit:

That is, he’s going to take all your ideas about ‘craft’ and wreak havoc with them.

I found Geoff in the ceramics studios. He was having a little 2D time after having just played in the 3D studio across the street.

Geoff was working with John Leyland to create a mold for one of his dinnerware pieces from theCross-fire Series, It took me awhile to understand why he needed to create a mold for these pieces.  Didn’t they exist already? Well, it turns out those incredible shiny ceramic teapots and plates in the photos aren’t real. They were all created in the digital realm and the only thing you could actually hold in your hand (or have some twisted tea in) is a rapid prototype output of the renderings.

So here’s the story behind this fancy dinner set. Geoff was invited to participate in a five year research project, Past, Present & Future Craft Practice (PPFCP), based at the University of Dundee in Scotland. He was the designated ‘future’ man. (“Just because I work in 3-D digital forms, I always get labeled as the ‘future’,” he says.)

And, the first thing Geoffery Mann thinks of when thinking about what to do for the craft practices project is sound. Sound? To me, this explains exactly why he was chosen for the ‘future’ portion of the craft exposition. He said he was particularly intrigued with the idea of ‘getting caught in the crossfire’ and the unseen effect of sound on objects. What kind of artifacts would sound, say for example, an argument leave on an object if it were made visible?

So in thinking about the project, he asks: where do arguments happen? Well, often at the dinner table they do.  So he had the idea to create a scene at a dinner table. It’s elegant and perfect, but there’s something wrong. The dinnerware gets caught in the crossfire of the dinner conversation. So he made this incredible dinnerware set. And though it is superbly real looking, it was entirely fabricated using 3-D animation.  Here is final video he made, using a table-side argument between Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening from American Beauty.

Turns out, the video was shortlisted for the Vimeo Awards in NYC (which take place this weekend) and now Geoff is receiving numerous requests for the dinner set from various museums and collectors.

So here Geoff Mann is, in the A&D ceramic studio, trying to figure out how to render his rapid prototype models into ‘real’ material. Not an easy task since the shape is so unusual. He adds “From the buyer’s point of view, it doesn’t have to be real ceramic but well, I’m a bit of a purist that way. “

P.S. Thanks to John Marshall for the photos.

NOTE: To watch videos, please visit:

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