This research initiates a new role for the skeuomorph in relation to material practice, argues that it is revealing of material experimentation and interacting craft methods, and proposes that, by refocusing attention on its crafted logic, we can revitalise the concept for practitioners and associated professionals in the contemporary context.
The skeuomorph, roughly translated as “structure-form”, is a nineteenth-century formulation that acknowledges the formal interrelationship among material things. It denotes an object whose method of production corresponds to an altogether different material – such as basketry techniques assimilated into ceramics, or woodwork into masonry – and is described accordingly as “skeuomorphic”. It was conceived within an industrialising context where the ideological role of objects, as well as the impact of new fabrication methods and materials, was central to architectural and design discourse. Now would seem the ideal cross-disciplinary context within which to re-encounter it, either materially or discursively. However, its significance as a marker of materials experimentation has become obscured, primarily due to its unthinking appropriation in the digital realm, which yields its own material and temporal ambiguities.
This research sets out to question the ambivalence towards the concept, and asks: In what ways is the skeuomorph misinterpreted in the contemporary context? What different facets of the skeuomorph come to light through a focus on its making? What is the relevance of the revised concept of the skeuomorph for contemporary material practice? To do this, the research knits together theory and practice. It integrates historiography with textual analysis, and mixes theoretical concepts from material culture studies, craft theory, and process philosophy with the tacit knowing of practitioners. The research does not take the skeuomorph at face value, but rather re-examines its role in the making. What emerges is an intrinsically material, temporally complex, and tactical mode of making that has the capacity to open up new perspectives on making, as well as our critical engagement with objects.
Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council