Tim Willey

Adaptive Construction & Open Firing

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Actions Explained
Adaptive construction is simply an approach to making things which encourages action before thinking about an end result.  It’s about acting on materials, reflecting on the outcomes and adapting (or not) what has emerged.  Yes, you might need an overall concept (in its most abstract sense) - ‘I want to make a piece of jewellery’, ‘I want to make a wildlife sculpture’.  But you must never pre-visualise, plan or design (in its most concrete sense). Very often the concept is purely an aesthetic one - such as joining materials as an exploration in pattern-making.

Before acting on materials, you do need to know how to act, and this is where a repertoire of actions should be called upon. It perhaps should be noted here, that actions are largely skills-based and can be practiced and enjoyed in their own right.

When adaptive construction design was first developed, it was focussed on natural materials, specifically natural materials which one might come across ‘in the field’. Primarily, I researched the historical and archaeological record as well as contemporary practice for evidence of generic actions, in other words: actions which are well established and discreet practices which have been applied consistently to natural materials over time. Interestingly, during the research, which took me from the archived manuscripts of Oxford to archaeological sites in the Outer Hebrides, I found that actions consistently fell into discreet categories (they almost grouped themselves) and, even more fascinating, it began to emerge that almost all these actions were well established during the Neolithic period some 6000 years ago.

The 21 Actions which are collected here, are each explained and illustrated to show their salient characteristics in relation to natural, plant-based, materials, but each action can be refined or developed according to the practical situation and also adapted to other materials. For instance, the action of binding might be undertaken by whipping cordage around iris stems or wrapping garden wire around recycled strips of paper.
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The Vigilance of the Good Shepherd, a French Manuscript from the 15th Century.
With grateful acknowledgement to the Bodleian Library Oxford.