In this special Re_wind series of blog posts, each member of our team has been asked to pick their favourite project of 2016 and share it with the MAKLab community. Kicking off the series, our studio mentor Andrew Tibbles has decided to write about Hands of X, a research project run by DJCad in partnership with MAKLab and UCL, which was launched in March 2016.

In praise of the super normal

How many different materials have you been in contact with today?
Everything from your clothes, electronics, furniture and your surroundings are made of different materials created in different processes, likely from different countries.
How often have you taken some time to appreciate those materials, how cold or warm they are to touch, how they smell, how they feel to bend, break or squish?

Many of us, including myself, will have foreign materials in their body for medical purposes, such as fillings, made to go unnoticed. But when a limb is missing, taken or absent, it’s quite different, it’s something constantly in the public eye.

At the moment there’s an extreme spectrum of upper limb prosthetics; you have your pink silicon hand that’s made to look as life like as possible; some now even come with hair. The other, a ‘terminator’ style mechanical hand, fully articulated, with pressure sensors, carbon fibre, aluminium.

The problem being, the silicon limb will never look fully real without blood flow going through it. Quick experiment; wiggle your hands, one high above your head, one relaxed by your side, after a minute put them side by side, are they the same colour?

Onto the ‘terminator’ hand, while it is incredibly advanced and the engineers and designers have done an outstanding job to get it to where it is with all the features running perfectly, some people simply can’t relate to it. It’s just not ‘them’. Similar to a hair style or piece of clothing, or in so far as those things can relate to a limb.

So what lies in between those two opposite sides of the spectrum? Throughout Hands of X, we are hoping to create a huge range of workable materials that a person can consider ‘their hand’ before they even get it. A range of materials and hands that are “…radical yet reassuringly familiar, imaginative yet restrained, self-assured yet no big deal.”

I put my hand into my pocket to see if my wallet was there.
It was, smooth and warm like the hand of a good friend.
— Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

We’ve hosted a three workshops so far to encourage people to engage with materials on a level they may not have done before. We had an open invite as well as specifically asking some
prosthetists, amputees, designers and artists to be involved.

The first was held in the West Ward building in Dundee, the day before the opening of the first
Dundee Design Festival, during which we also exhibited some of our experiments to date and the results from that workshop.

The second workshop was based within the Material Library of the Institute of Making, UCL,
London. If you have any interest in materials, the library is a wonderland of sights, touches and
smells and definitely worth a visit. My personal favourite is a folded lump of natural smoked rubber, (it smells like someone has started a salty bonfire in the plimsol section of Clark’s).

The third was based here, at our Charing Cross studio. The workshop format helped people
first get into the mindset of interacting with a single material, using all their senses to describe it, often through tangible memories of something similar.

Then the groups moved onto pairing materials, a material they’d want against them/ hidden and a material they’d want to show off. We did this in the form of pin badges. From this we had some exciting combinations of materials we hadn’t thought of before but which when stuck together complimented each other. This neatly lead on to the creation of the two material hands. Some of the creations are now being made for a second exhibition and to help inform the final round of making.

The outcome of all this will be looking at a service where amputees are able to interact with
materials, designers and makers to create a hand that they had a decision in, something that’s
unique to them and something they can consider ‘their hand’ before they even have it.

To find out more about the Hands of X project, contact the team at office@handsofx.co.uk.
If you want to find out more about in the materials and processes MAKLab used during this project, contact us at hello@maklab.co.uk.