Mark Laban, Digital Daiku

by Giada Giachino

Mark Laban is a craftsman, artist, and designer.

Londoner, background in Fine Arts e Furniture Design at Central Saint Martins, Mark presented in 2016 at Decorex a furniture collection exploring the intersection between man and machine, called Digital Daiku (from Japanese, carpenter).

In a field where opposite ends co-exist, the one-off hand-made piece and the uber-industrial production in unlimited series, Digital Daiku lies in a grey area, where the man tends towards the aseptic perfection of the machine, and the machine performs the human error.

Overall, rustic and refined live together, perfectly. Inspired by Wabi Sabiaesthetics, Mark investigates the perfect/imperfect, the relationship between finite and in progress, between design and material. The maple and oak woods are first analysed to catch their essence, then cut and textured with a CNC mill, and finally sanded by hand until the contrast between patterns creates a compelling visual and tactile effect.

Mark is an example of a new post-CADCAM, 3D-whatever wave, looking for the value of human act upon the machine.

1) Your work looks very ‘practical’, it fully expresses the techniques and materials involved. What is the importance of the work behind this materiality?

I’ve always been interested in designing objects that reveal a conversation about the tools and process that made them, and I think as a result they naturally begin to communicate their own context and meaning.

The textured reliefs generated by the CNC machine are in fact technical imperfections, they are essentially a mistranslation between the virtual form generated in a CAD model and the physical realisation. Experimenting with the rough incompleteness of these surfaces carved into the wood led me to draw a visual connection with tree bark, and so I began to develop this hybrid aesthetic notion of digital-rustic.

My furniture objects are shaped through hands on interrogation and experimentation with materials and the tools of production, which eventually develops into a pragmatic and process driven outcome. For me it’s not only about expressing the techniques and materials involved, it becomes about interpreting themes and ideas through the language of these machines.

2) Why is your practice relevant now?

I think what I’m doing with my practice feeds into an ongoing broader conversation concerned with defining and exploring what craft is and can be in the digital age.

The idea of craft legitimately encompassing the use of the machine and digital technology as a tool is no longer a new phenomenon, and neither is CNC technology itself. What is relevant and exciting

now is how designers and artists are exploring these technologies and challenging them to generate new aesthetics, to draw meaningful connections, and innovate. I’m simply trying to explore this territory in my own way.

3) Has your project evolved after your experience with Decorex in terms of contacts with other designers in your field and customers?

Yes. It was an amazing opportunity to exhibit my work there and I’m extremely grateful to Corrine Julius for the work she curates the Future Heritage exhibition at Decorex. From that experience, I was able to very quickly gain a wealth of experience and exposure, but most importantly meet people that have led me to new opportunities for my work.

4) What is the future of your practice? Where do you imagine yourself in 5 years?

I’m in the process of setting up a small studio/workshop space at the moment which is really exciting. Experimentation with materials and process driven making lies at the core of my practice and is what I find most interesting and creatively fulfilling. So I am hoping that in 5 years time whether I’m producing studio pieces for commission or designing collections for commercial production, I’ll be able to keep that relationship with making at the heart of my work.