Tim Ingold’s Making is a view from anthropology of what it means to make things. He starts from the premise of a connection between anthropology, archaeology, architecture, and art in the way these disciplines theorise engagement with materials. His views are often disparaging. For example, he rubbishes the idea that ethnographic enquiry is for the purpose of gathering data, or documenting things that will be the object of subsequent analysis, in light of a certain theory. Rather anthropology should be a process of personal transformation, of getting to know things from the inside, ‘a process of active following’ as he puts it, what Bateson called deutero-learning i.e. less an acquisition of facts and more a readiness to be taught by the world around us. The whole book is thus a challenge to the academic way of finding out things – through reason, argument, and hypothesis and suggests that the power of intuition, common sense, and ordinary experience are equally valid ways of discovering. Participant observation as the principle method of anthropological enquiry is argued to be the opposite of a qualitative data gathering technique and that if anthropology should be liberated from the shackles of descriptive fidelity, the process of anthropological transformation would be available.
Ingold’s key theoretical position is drawn in contrast to the concept of hylomorphism. Hylomorphism is the Aristotelian idea that makers, (designers, artists, architects) ‘impose forms internal to the mind upon a material world’. Instead, he suggests, making is a process of growth carried out in dialogical flux with materials. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari he says creative practitioners are travellers in this flow of materials, they don’t impose their designs on it but enter into ‘the grain of the worlds’ becoming and bend it to an evolving purpose’. Participating in the flow of materials and sensory awareness within which ‘images and objects reciprocally take shape’, makers bring about what he calls correspondence with their materials. Correspondence entails the arrangement of materials into correspondence with one another. He gives the analogy of a watchmaker who gradually brings all the pieces of a watch, made of different metals with varying qualities, into meaningful coherence. Pieces become parts as the making progresses and as they tend increasingly to cohere. The maker has anticipatory foresight (an idea from Richard Sennett) about how the process might end up but does not guide materials to any precisely preconceived end. Things are in a constant state of becoming, materials are subject to the same energetic flows of entropy, decay, and transformation that organisms are.
Ingold takes violent exception to what he calls ‘the dead hand of objectification’ discernible in Gell’s anthropological reading of art and the idea of an art object having agency. Gell’s position is that art can be the object of anthropological-style inquiry by tracing the work of art back to the set of social circumstance in which it was created and through this process the object gains agency to embody a set of relations, it is seen as indexical of the social milieu that gave rise to it. Ingold says this is an intellectual dead end, focused as it is on the study of art. Rather art should be seen as a way of doing anthropology, a way of awakening the senses to experience, linked through a set of common practices. Embodiment is another way of describing this sterile objectification which Ingold opposes to animacy. As humans, we do not experience ourselves and others as discrete packages, we reveal aspects of ourselves to others in constant movement in ‘a tumult of unfolding activity’. Likewise, artefacts seen as embodied are devoid of animacy. The example Ingold uses here is flying a kite. He uses the analogy as a way of handling mind/body duality and its interface with materials. The person acts on the kite through the wind in kinaesthetic relation. Flyer, wind, line, kite are ‘reciprocally intertwined’ in the same way that makers and their materials are interdependent.
The chapters where he brings architecture and art into the argument are the weak parts for me. The reading of architecture is necessarily narrow in that it consists of the uncontroversial claim that buildings are never finished, are rarely constructed according to rigid plans, and are in a constant state of becoming. The familiar example of a medieval cathedral is given as an example of how buildings are fitted together over centuries, acquiring different meanings and correspondences of materials over time. Likewise the chapter on art is limited to an analysis of drawing and its connections to handwriting (Ingold is well known for encouraging his students to handwrite their essays and dissertations). Having said that, there is a fruitful discussion about generative and emergent forms that uses a Laura Vinci installation as an example and an illustrative comparison between a Henry Moore sculpture and its appropriation by Simon Starling.
Ingold hardly mentions digital artefacts, and they are present in this book only as examples of impoverished material correspondences. There has been plenty of academic attention elsewhere to digital making as cognitive act, as engineering object, and as real world adaptation, but so far an anthropological view of digital making has not really emerged. For my own work, this book is a powerful and radical call to arms for makers of all kinds and for a view of the world framed by experience.