Man vs Machine: a parallel universe?

Co-founder of screen printing studio The Archivist discusses the relationship of man and machine.

Explore the relationship of man and machine through the Master’s Degree final project of Minchaya Chayosumrit, co-founder of screen printing studio The Archivist

In the craft industry, ‘man and machine’ is a classic subject that leads to endless debates and discussions. And it has been quite a long while, considering that final project of Minchaya Chayosumrit, which was done almost ten years ago, is still current even now. 

A co-founder of Bangkok-based printmaking studio The Archivist, Minchaya “Min” Chayosumrit presented “Hand vs Machine” as her Master’s Degree final project in Communication Design, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London in 2010. After graduation, she came back to Thailand and founded the studio with Kanaporn “Woon” Phasuk. Since her current work is much involved with both “hands” and “machine”, we decided to discuss with her more on the subject and the story behind her final project which was the foundation of The Archivist. 

Can you tell us more about the Information Design degree you took at Central Saints Martin?
“After I graduated in Graphic Design at Silpakorn University, I decided to further my study in London. Information Design is about designing ways to present information. My classmates were interested in different things. When we got the information, we had to think of how to convey it. It’s fun. I learnt a lot, because there are lots of ways to communicate. This course encouraged students to find their own approaches. So the first year was mostly about trying everything to see which direction we wanted to go.”

 How did the idea of the final project came up?
“When it was time to have the proposal, it came to me that I could not find a subject that I was really into, that I had to live with for a year. Later, I realized that the information I would like to tell was something personal, things that were close and real to me. ”
Back then, there was a lot going on in my head. I got bored, lazy and lost my passion. So I started thinking of the possibility of using these emotions as the subject. In the first year, I did try doing something personal in A Visual Sleep Diary which presented my sleep patterns through photographs. So the idea seemed feasible. 
And while facing the dead-end, I found myself doodling in repetitive lines. Then I started to link the idea of repetitiveness with the abstract feeling of laziness, the manual nature of craft-making and the graphic visuals.” 

What was behind the idea of comparison?
“I presented the idea in class, then someone asked that why drawing manually? Why not digitally? And I had always done my works digitally, because it was fast. So I thought about comparing both sides, the manual side and the digital side. It turned out that this simple comparison led to many more ideas. It questioned the values of both sides, the results, timing and the feelings of the creator.”

You used many formats to communicate the ideas. Why?
“Because it was necessary. There were 8 pairs of drawings, comparing between the hand drawn version with the version drawn in the computer that I could use commands to duplicate lines. Then I timed the process on both sides. The patterns were simple optical illusions so that I could compare it easily. Then there was a video clip to record the process, and a book which was like a close-up to see the details. Otherwise, the only one who could see the details would be the creator. Once you see a final product, it is hard to tell about the journey before it. In this project, as a creator I saw it all along, and many thoughts happen along the way.

Did it make you see the hand-and-machine topic differently?
“I used to think that I would see it differently through time, but deep down it is still the same. Many people asked which side is better, but for me it was not my point. I just wanted to compare and let the audience decide. Sometimes, one side might be better. From my viewpoint, I think they have to co-exist. Right now, my work really involves both hands and machine. Two is better than one, I think.”
What led to the idea of founding The Archivist?
“When I was in London, I saw that illustrators and graphic designers could rent a printer and print their works by themselves. No need to depend on large-scale printing houses, plus they got the different textures. When I came back, I started with silkscreen printing because its manual and it was about graphic design as well. So that final project was actually the beginning of The Archivist. The format has changed, but the idea remains. What we do now are custom printmaking, collaborations with other artists and designers, and our own works. Everything is done with one technique, which is silk-screen. So it is more about experimenting with other elements.

“I think from then until now, what has been consistent is the comparison. In Hand vs Machine, it was not only about comparing between human and machine, but also about comparing between the stage when I drew the first line and the last line. Right now, it is about comparing each piece of paper. The pressure and all the little details make a difference. And that is how we learn. We observe from comparison and repetition. The outputs seem similar, but for us, each piece of paper we work on is unique.” 

So your work now involves both hands and machine.
“I like it this way. I think the connection between hands and machine somehow lost along the way. In college, we started by learning manually. Then, we abruptly shifted to digital. There was no linkage. So back then I thought manual works might not be working in real life, because we still needed to finish our works digitally. Right now we use both ways together. Sometimes we might do sketches in the computer, but the way we execute by our hands makes the works turn out differently.  ”

How did you learn about screen printing?
“Learning by doing. A friend asked me to join a course for T-shirt screen printing. I joined, but learned that we couldn’t use the same technique with paper. So we need to study other factors. It was all about experimenting and playing it by ear. In the past, it was about problem solving in graphic design. Now, it is about problem solving in printing. Some designers don’t design in layers, we need to do it because when screen print, we need to do it layer by layer. When seeing a design, it is our job to think of ways of doing it. Screen printing is about improvisation. There is no recipe for this. There were times that an idea came up while we were working and we could change the method right away, because it is manual. As a designer, the studio is a dream come true, because I can finish the work by myself. No need to go to the printer.”

What are the services provided at The Archivist?
“We do custom-printing and sell the works that we collaborate with artists and designers. Our exhibitions are held from time to time to show that what we can do. I don’t want The Archivist to be just a printmaker. If others can learn more about the details we can do, they will be interested. We have been doing this for 6 years and people’s perception has changed, little by little.”

Lastly, how do you see crafts and machine?
“Like I said before, they have to go hand in hand. Machines cannot think like humans do. Human thinking is like small points in the process. Like when we work, we see a problem, and at that exact moment we decide we will solve it this way. There can be many ways to solve it. Our decisions are like guidelines so that machines can work faster and more efficiently. Both sides have to learn together.”

See more works of The Archivist at www.thearchivist.co / IG: @thearchivist.co.

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