A COMBMAKER'S TALE
Unfold Studio

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The craftsmanship is defined, among other things, by transmission of knowledge from master to apprentice. But what happens when that link is broken, and the knowledge is (about to be) lost? While museums, of course, cannot take over the artisan’s teaching role, they could, besides preservation of material heritage, try to preserve the knowledge of the process, the tools and artisan workspace. Contemporary media technology and design provide us with tools to capture the motion, the story, the knowledge of the tools used in the making processes. They could as well be employed to change our relationship towards preservation of crafts.

How can design and new technologies change our relationship towards preservation of crafts?

Design studio Unfold from Antwerp had been for many years now questioning the role of crafts in the contemporary society. In their latest project, they have partnered with Alexandre Humbert, a designer and filmmaker from Amsterdam, to collaborate with a combmaker Antun Penezić from Zagreb, on a project about preservation of crafts and its relationship to new technologies.
In a short film A Combmaker’s Tale, we follow the story of two passionate makers, and wonder what we can learn from them. Antun Penezić, 82, is Croatia’s last living combmaker and will retire this year without a successor. Franka, a brand-new robot, is dedicated to follow in his footsteps and learn as much as it can from Antun in order to preserve this age old craft from disappearing.
The two are the protagonists in a tale that questions humankind’s relation with both crafts and technology, a tale that challenges its audience to reconsider their assumptions. Do we need to preserve an age-old craft? When is something ‘hand’ made? Why do we value labour intensive hand-made objects, but not the labour involved? Why do we fear robots taking over our work if there is so much work that nobody is interested in pursuing?
While Antun’s oral history is documentary, his robot apprentice is fiction. For now…
In a series of interviews with various specialists, ranging from artificial intelligence to social history, the artists further unravel the manifold of threads woven into A Combmaker’s Tale.

What is the role of the designer and how is it changing in a time when design and manufacturing become increasingly more digitized? This question is key to understanding the work of design studio Unfold. The studio, founded in 2002 by Claire Warnier and Dries Verbruggen after they graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven, develops projects that investigate new ways of creating, manufacturing, financing and distributing in a changing context. A context in which we see a merging of aspects of the pre-industrial craft economy with high tech industrial production methods and digital communication networks. A context that has the potential to shift power, from industrial producers and those regulating infrastructure to the individual designer and the consumer. Based in Antwerp, Unfold’s works have been presented internationally and are part of the collection of Design Museum Gent (Be), Centre Pompidou Paris (Fr) among others.

Alexandre Humbert (1989, FR) is a director and conceptual designer focusing on filmmaking as a design practice. Since graduating from the Design Academy Eindhoven, Alexandre has collaborated with a broad range of designers and cultural institutions to animate things through motion picture. His understanding of the design process guides him to explore the close relationship that exists between humans and objects through installations, fiction and experimental films. Based in Amsterdam, his works have been presented internationally and are part of the collection of Design Museum Gent (Be) and MUDAM Luxembourg (Lu). In parallel with his practice Humbert is a mentor at Design Academy Eindhoven, Head Geneva and HDK Göteborg.