Culture and making, strong and powerful connection

During conversations between FabLearn fellows, the question often arises as to what is actually meant by the term “cultural making”: is it an action linked to the culture of origin or is it a human attitude that is declined according to the context of belonging? Personally, I’m becoming more and more convinced that it is an innate characteristic of human beings to build something linked to a need or an idea, and these two anecdotes seem to me to reveal small demonstrations of this idea.

From October 2021 I started a new professional path as a digital atelierista, a figure supporting the use of technology for school teachers in children’s hospitals. We began to experiment with new uses of technological tools, which in the hospital allow them to get out of the reality of the room where they are and go to many different places, simply using a tablet, sheets of paper, colors and creativity. With the 5-year old children and their teacher, we thought of representing the transformations of the natural environment, so that they could build worlds different from those they experience daily in the hospital.  First, the teacher looked with them at some examples of natural transformations, related to both the plant and animal worlds, and together with the children they observed the environments of origin of some animals.  The children chose to focus on the world of insects, especially ants, and they represented on a sheet of paper the anthill, the meadow and the sky, which they then photographed with the tablet. Then, on another sheet of paper, they drew some ants, photographed them and, using an app to cut out the photos, cropped the ants, resized them and inserted them into the anthill they had drawn: with their fingers they made the images of the ants move along the anthill, telling their story.

This is for me a valuable example of how, using simple tools such as a tablet, paper and colors you can build worlds with which to play and learn, even in a difficult context like the hospital, where it is not always possible to have many tools and spaces with which to experiment.

Another example is related to a workshop I did for the fablab where I work. We designed a creative coding activity for a group of university students from different courses, with the proposal to create, in small groups, a “wunderkammer”, using Arduino, LEDs, motors, recycled materials and cardboard boxes. The students could freely decide what to put in their wonderful boxes, building small objects and animating them with lights and code. After a brief introduction on the main commands of Arduino, each group used the skills of its members to define their own idea: some were mainly concerned with the construction and design part of the object, while others were involved in programming and assembling the circuit. While most of the groups decided to make a Christmas-themed object (despite the fact that Christmas was more than a month away), one group decided to make a miniature 80’s disco, complete with lights, music and moving objects.

Here, in my opinion, the cultural component of making emerges very strongly: the students were inspired by something close to them, that is part of their culture, and they used digital and other tools to make it. The idea of building something from scratch, starting from a cardboard box, didn’t scare them but it was an opportunity to experiment in a practical way. I think a lot also depends on the proposal that is made to the group, which must be open enough to ensure maximum freedom of exploration and experimentation.

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