Writer : Ingeborg Goll Rossau, BSc & Milo Marsfeldt Skovfoged & Jedrzej Jacek Czapla & Miroslav Kalinov Sokolov, BSc & Kasper Rodil, Ph
Year : 2019
In general and historically, ICT was not conceived and constructed with the intention of safeguarding ICH. It was invented to support the production capabilities of the Western world. Similarly, ICH came about in contexts and communities before the existence of computing devices and was never intended to become intertwined with digital constructions and their inscribed agendas.
In this article, we take a step into one of the most futuristic digital technologies of the 21st century - Virtual Reality (VR), and use it to record traditional craftsmanship. Our ambition with this work is manifold, but we wanted to bring traditional craftsmen into the discussion of VR as a plausible safeguarding method for their craft. During this process we take a critical look at the various ethnographic methods (a methodology of safeguarding) applied in trying to understand and document the specific craftsmanship practice of dovetailing, as well as how these methods are used for turning dovetailing into bits and bytes. The study entails full documentation of dovetailing using four ethnographic methods and a fully working VR prototype where the user can try out a traditional practice in a digital space. First, we will begin by establishing a common ground for traditional craftsmanship and methods for safeguarding it.
In total, nineteen articles were subjected to careful analysis and sorted according to similarities with the method(s) they either implemented or described as being implemented by others. In the end, six categories were identified. An overview of our findings can be seen in Table 1. Below, we briefly describe and discuss the various methods.
The direct involvement of the craftspeople makes this method arguably one of the more authentic methods for disseminating information about a craft. Participants (or students) actively performing the craft themselves ensures the added learning benefits that the ‘learning-by-doing’ approach involves, such as higher engagement and deeper understanding of the material (Felder and Brent: 2003). However, both for short-term and longer-term solutions, this method has the disadvantage of being place-specific, meaning the information is not disseminated outside of the immediate physical context. For short-term solutions, it is also restricted by time. Furthermore, the method requires a certain amount of resources (tools, materials, etc.) which can be costly. Finally, long-term solutions rely on pre-existing interest in the craft from the public to get people to commit on a long-term basis.
This method can theoretically provide all the relevant data concerning a specific craft and is more easily disseminated across space and time than most other methods. However, since articles such as the examples described above are often written by people other than the craftspeople, they will to some degree rely on the author’s understanding and interpretations of the craft, as well as their ability to describe it. The written method approach does not offer a way for people to physically interact with the craft, or to experience it, the way other methods allow.
Demonstrations share both the benefits and disadvantages of workshops and educational programmes, especially in the case of interactive demonstrations. Both a benefit and disadvantage of this method is that it requires little commitment from audiences for dissemination, however, this dissemination is without experiential learning (handson, first-person experience).
Similar to demonstrations, this is a low-commitment method, although just as for written media, this method can end up being dependent on the creators’ ability to interpret the crafts or the methodologies used to make them.
Notably, this is the only method we found that is inherently digital, which gives it the same benefits in terms of sharing as written media. However, just as with written media, it does not require active participation from the craftspeople or from participants.
This method is more suited to the planning of other safeguarding methods, just as in the example above, since it does not involve the public at all. However, it also suffers from the same disadvantages as most other methods already described, namely time- and place-specificity.
Digitisation consists of three parts. The first one, capture, is where data about the ICH is gathered and analysed, with the purpose of gaining an understanding of the domain and collecting the elements to be digitised. This can, for example, be through traditional ethnographic methods like interviews with inside actors, photos and/or video recordings, or it can be through more technical methods such as 3D-scanning or motion capture. The choice of method depends on the nature of the ICH, and a single method will not necessarily be able to capture all important aspects.
The second part, representation, is where the captured data is structured and translated into digital representations, such as 3D models or as audio narration. The possibilities for representation are of course limited by the types of data captured, as it would be difficult to create e.g. 3D models of something that had not been captured visually. The choice of representation method(s) is often considered in advance of establishing the method of dissemination. But it is also likely that large sets of various types of represented data can be utilised in various combinations in future dissemination forms.
Finally, in dissemination, a digital medium is used to showcase the digitally represented ICH, ideally allowing it to reach a wider audience. This can, for example, be an interactive 3D simulation, a video, webpage, an augmented reality application, etc. Just as for representation, the choice of dissemination is informed by the types of data available, and just as for capture, it is informed by the nature of the ICH. For example, it might make more sense to choose an interactive medium for disseminating a craft process with the purpose of teaching it to users, whereas video(s) might be sufficient for informing people about the importance of a craft to the people practising it. In any case, they can both be digital.
The choice of methods for all three parts is informed by the nature of the ICH, just as the choice of capture and representation is informed by the intended method of dissemination and the disciplinary background of the outside actors. Underlying the process is a continuous evaluation of the process with the inside actors to guard against misinterpretations. For an example of this, we refer to recent work by Rodil and WinschiersTheophilus (2018), where the continuous community/ researcher dialogue enabled outside actors to better gauge their misunderstanding of the ICH in question.
Throughout the following subsections, we describe our case study in terms of the different parts of the TDM.
During a preliminary visit to Håndværkerhuset, a joiner (hereafter known as ‘the joiner’) expressed concern about how his craft has changed in recent years and feared that much of the knowledge and skill he learned from his masters would be forgotten. According to the TDM, the joiner is the inside actor having complete domain knowledge of the field, but very limited in terms of technological knowledge. We, on the other hand, are without any form of domain knowledge, but as developers we are aware of the various technological opportunities. Thus the first step is to establish a dialogue between ICH and ICT and maintain a dialogical frame for continuous scrutiny of the two fields’ ability or inability to be reconciled.
Based on the interview, we identified three main differences in the intangible qualities between current and traditional joiners’ self-perception of their identity. Firstly, traditional joiners were taught through a masterapprentice relationship. The master ( mestersvend in Danish) did not just teach joinery techniques, but also functioned as a life mentor. The apprentices respected him, and he respected and expressed pride in his apprentices, which in turn taught them to be proud of their work. According to the joiner, current apprentices don’t learn that pride that we learned. In a way, we had it knocked into us, that you should be proud of being a joiner. They don’t get that today ... You just need to get money out of them today.
Secondly, knowledge about the tools and how to maintain them has been devalued. For example, the joiner explained how he was taught to sharpen saw blades. Today, he explained, modern craftspeople buy several blades at once and then throw them away once they get dull.
Thirdly, the approach to a project is different when looking across generations. Much of this is due to the technological advancements that have automated many of the processes, which has left many traditional techniques obsolete. Today, [all] components come more or less ready for assembly. It doesn’t give that pride in the craft, because it’s assembly, and you shouldn’t underestimate assembly, but it really isn’t anything other than screwing some things together or assembling things that have been finished in a factory . It was during this capture session that the joiner mentioned dovetailing, which he described as one of the most essential techniques for traditional joinery. Dovetailing is the art of combining wood, without the use of nails or other aids (as shown in Plate 1), often used for making drawers, doors, window sills, etc.
By using two cameras, one handheld and one stationary, (as shown in Plate 2), we were able to get a total overview of the workstation while at the same time getting close-up shots of the joiner’s actions. During the capture session, there was no verbal interaction between us and the joiner as it was pivotal that he could direct the rhythm and content as he saw necessary.
By analysing the videos, we were able to break down the process of dovetailing into smaller steps and get an overview of the different tools used. It also provided an understanding of the joiner’s movements within his work space, and his use and interaction with the tools.
The capture session also provided an understanding of the ‘feeling’ for the master-apprentice relationship, with the use of language, attitude, type of feedback, etc. Having one of the researchers create dovetails themselves, we feel, brought us closer to an understanding of the process of dovetailing from an insider actor’s perspective, although of course, it is only partial. Having the joiner act as the researcher’s master was also valuable in terms of understanding the master-apprentice relationship. However, it should be kept in mind that a single session is not enough to recreate the year-long bond between a master and apprentice.
Thus, this capture session was very useful in filling in the gaps we were able to identify in our data. Furthermore, by giving the data back to the inside actor, we gained a perspective on the ICH that we, as outside actors, could not have achieved by ourselves. For example, we found out that the pencil the joiner used in drawing measurements, which we had previously dismissed as ‘just a pencil’, was a very specific type of pencil which was important for making accurate dovetails.
Through the situated interview, we gained an understanding of the joiner’s feelings towards the evolution of his craft and what he felt it was important to safeguard. We identified elements that were important for further capture sessions, which we did through shadowing (capturing the process of dovetailing) and in situ -acting (understanding the process of dovetailing and the master-apprentice relationship). While reviewing our data, we identified the gaps in our understanding, which we then attempted to fill through the video-viewing session.
An important element in three out of four capture sessions was the use of video recording, which ensured that we gathered as much data as possible, even data we might not find important during the capture session. This proved especially useful in the shadowing session, where we could get a more natural recording of the joiner creating dovetails, but were still able to record all his movements and the tools he used without interrupting him so we could write it all down.
That being said, we have no illusions about having captured everything that is essential to the craft of dovetailing. As previously mentioned, as outside actors we are aware that we will never understand the intangible heritage in the way that the inside actors do. It is worth noting that we chose not to conduct any further capture sessions after the fourth since we deemed that we had a sufficient understanding of dovetails to make the digital representation and ultimately create a dissemination prototype. However, it is entirely possible that a more thorough understanding could have been gained by continuing the capture process.
The tangible parts, such as the tools and materials required for making dovetails, were represented through 3D models. The models of the tools were based on reference images and measurements taken during capture sessions. The result was a set of thirty-five fully textured 3D models, an example of which can be seen in Plate 4. The models were created with Autodesk Maya, while the textures were edited using Adobe Photoshop.
Representing the intangible aspects was more challenging. The process of dovetailing itself was represented by editing the footage from the shadowing session into thirteen shorter video clips. The resulting videos showed the steps the joiner performed throughout the process. Furthermore, to accompany the videos, we wrote a voiceover script, which explained the meaning behind the actions that were happening in the footage. The content of the script was based on the information from the in-situ acting, situated interview and videoviewing. Furthermore, the script was written in the joiner’s native language, using as many of his phrasings as possible, and from the perspective of a joiner telling the story of how his master had taught him. In order to visualise the joiner from whose perspective the script was taken, we created a 3D model of a human with the traditional uniform of the joiners at Håndværkerhuset (see Plate 5). This model was created using Adobe Fuse CC.
Sherman and Craig (2002) describe VR as the product of four essential elements: a virtual world, immersion, feedback, and interactivity . In the context of a computer system, a virtual world is one that is built and consists of 3D and 2D models. Immersion is divided into physical immersion - how much the system is affecting the user’s sensory feedback - and mental immersion - how engaged is the user with the generated virtual world. Feedback relates to whether the user’s actions are accurately translated from the real to the virtual world, and interactivity is whether the user’s action has an effect on the virtual world.
An example of a previous attempt to safeguard a traditional craft method through VR is in the work of Carrozzino et al. (2011). In their work, they capture the process of statue-making in Italy by following a local statue-maker and documenting the process step by step. They represent the process through video clips and 3D models of the materials and tools and disseminate it through a virtual environment that can be experienced either on a regular desktop setup or in an immersive VR system. An evaluation of the system showed that participants enjoyed their method of safeguarding and said that they enjoyed the mix of ‘traditional’ (the videos) and less traditional (3D models) representations. Regarding the immersive VR setup, they found that participants were expecting to be able to move and act more freely than the system allowed them to. Participants also expressed that being able to move around and interact with the virtual environment helped them focus on the content of the ICH (Carrozzino et al. : 2011).
When a person enters the simulation, they find themselves within a workshop environment with a workbench in front of them and a virtual joiner standing behind it. This can be seen in Plate 5. When the user feels acquainted with the world, they can start the playthrough. They learn about the process through stepby-step narrated videos, displayed on a virtual speech bubble coming from the virtual joiner. These videos are the edited footage from the shadowing and the narrative is based on quotes from the situated interview, in-situ acting and video-viewing. The user has the freedom of choice to watch the full video first or to perform the steps as it plays. To complete the simulation, they are required to themselves perform the bodily actions they see in the videos (like marking with a pencil, sawing, etc.), using the 3D models provided of the tools that lie on the workbench.
As the joiner and colleague had no prior experience with VR, we feared that making them go through the simulation would result in us needing to guide them through every step, distracting them from providing us feedback on our representation of their craft. We therefore decided instead to let them view a screen showing a member of the research group playing through the simulation live. The joiner and a carpenter colleague were sitting together with another researcher, allowing them to discuss what they were seeing, as shown in Plate 6. As the play-through was happening in real time, the player was able to ‘pause’ when they began to talk, so as to get as much feedback as possible. The evaluation was recorded with a video camera and lasted approximately an hour.
The overall response from the craftsmen was positive. They were especially happy with the voice-over and felt that it managed to incorporate some of the most important intangible aspects of the craft, such as the master-apprentice relationship and the importance of using the right tools. They also noted that we had included all the necessary tools and that they thought they were well represented and easy to recognise. However, we became aware that we had named one tool inaccurately in the voice-over. Through their discussion, we were made aware of two points regarding how to use specific tools that we were unaware of and therefore had not included in our simulation.
At the end of the play-through, we gave the experts the opportunity to try our VR simulation. The colleague tried it briefly (see Plate 7), but he had difficulty interacting with anything and seemed confused about how it worked. Within two minutes, he wanted to go back to the ‘real world’ and commented that he felt like he was in a completely different world and forgot his surroundings while in VR. Yet, we find it important to mention that the concept of overlapping technology and ICH domain is not only for the benefit of the researchers’ understanding of ICH, but also to open up the space of technology for the inside actors - enabling them to also become critical (over time) about their own practices’ digital future. The concept of mutual learning within an ICH digitisation discourse is covered in more depth in Rodil and Rehm (2015).
All the decisions in this technical domain were made by us and are thus influenced by our perspective on the ICH. All the capture sessions were based on our presumption that they were the best methods for capturing the specific ICH, in doing so we also chose the type of data received, thereby influencing how the ICH was disseminated. Had we chosen not to do shadowing then we would not have been able to edit the footage down to the smaller clips that were used to show the process in the VR simulation. It should also be noted that we not only chose how to represent the data, but also what data to represent.
Despite our four capture methods we still did not manage to capture every aspect of the dovetail-making process. One of the tools was accidentally named after its bigger counterpart, and up until this point we did not know the tool had different names based on size. We had also missed the fact that two of the tools had to be used in a specific way. One such tool was the saw, where it was important to use small movements to make the cut precise. Going back and looking at the shadowing with this new information we could see that the joiner does indeed use smaller cuts when sawing the dovetails compared to when sawing a piece of wood in two. So while we did manage to capture the data, we did not always manage to identify its significance. This is a problem all outside actors have to deal with, determining when an action is ‘just’ an action and when it has a significant meaning.
The question then becomes: how can we avoid missing the importance of actions? During the shadowing and video-viewing, the movement of the saw was correct since it was the joiner who performed the task, thus the topic of the movement did not come up and we did not know to ask about it. It was not until the researcher first used the saw wrongly in the VR simulation that the joiner commented on it. One explanation is that for the inside actor, the ICH, in this case the movement of the saw, is second nature so they do not think about how they do it and only when confronted with an incorrect representation do they start to reflect on how they do it themselves. By this example, we were able to confirm what was pointed out by Rodil et al. (2014) on how video captured ICH data brings embedded information which is decoded differently by different stakeholders. Only in the dialogue (made possible by the research frame) between outside actors and inside actors can points of confusion, relevance and irrelevance be deconstructed for a proper understanding, and allow for integration into a technological construction.
This problem of identifying the importance of certain steps also shows the downside that all static media is confronted with. If a static medium presents an incomplete or inaccurate representation of the ICH then the recipient will get an inaccurate understanding of it. As outside actors, it could be argued that it is impossible to ever get a complete understanding of the ICH. So the most important thing is to present and confront the inside actor with one’s own (incomplete) understanding, enabling them to reflect on their own ICH, to make sure that the data is respectfully representing the insiders’ views and skills. With that said, the evaluation showed that the inside actor did recognise the digital representation of dovetailing as being part of his ICH.
Due to the project’s limited scope, elements such as the maintenance of tools, choosing the correct type of wood, etc. were not included in the solution, despite the inside actors recognising them as important to the craft. Thus, the final VR simulation is ultimately a product of our choices and agendas and not the inside actors’. While this seems banal, it highlights the fact that few outside- and inside-actor collaborations can continue indefinitely, and although it could be argued that involving the inside actor more would provide a more accurate representation over time, it is hardly the reality of many safeguarding projects. After all, we are working with complicated topics involving identity, world-views and techniques perfected over many years. The fundamental question is now more obvious to us; what really is the objective of dissemination? By querying this point, we wish to expose, in light of our experiences, that the methodological choices will have consequences for the ICH as one cannot capture it all - digitally or otherwise. We would like to suggest that the outside actors at least establish a continuous dialogue between themselves and the inside actors in a more holistic way. In our case, it has been beneficial to our understanding of the domain to expose the joiner to the dissemination of his own craft.
Based on this assumption, we designed a VR simulation of the process of dovetailing. The process was captured using four different ethnographic methods, each chosen based on the shortcomings of the other methods. This provided a more complete picture of the ICH than any of the methods could have provided on their own. Both the video-viewing method and the final evaluation turned out to be particularly insightful as they both confronted the inside actor with his own ICH as seen from the perspective of an outside actor, enabling the inside actor to reflect on his own practice.
The VR solution was designed using data from all four captures, and while the inside actor was able to recognise his own ICH practice, he did not seem to understand VR; it is likely that he also did not understand the benefits of it in relation to other safeguarding methods. Ensuring that the inside actors feel their ICH is being safeguarded is just as important as ensuring that the ICH is spread to new generations. We therefore do not intend for VR, and digitisation in general, to be a replacement for more traditional safeguarding methods. Rather, we believe it could be an addition - or enhancement - with its own benefits, that could potentially attract more attention among younger generations. In light of this work it is a priority to continue to investigate the role of VR as a method where the first step is to ensure that inside actors are better equipped to be critical about technology.