John Roberts article for JMC 6:3 available for free

For a limited period John Roberts article for The Journal of Modern Craft 6.3 will be free to read online from the following LINK.

To accompany the publication of this article we have invited a number of critics to respond to Roberts’ arguments. In particular, his framing of Duchamp’s up-turned urinal Fountain (1917) as a part of the vessel tradition and critique of Bernard Leach as part of the “self-authenticating tradition of craft”. As Roberts writes:

“If we need to disengage Leach and the vessel tradition from a self-authenticating tradition of craft, we also need to place Duchamp within an expanded understanding of craft-thinking. In doing so, we can reject the presupposition that craft is attached to a particular range of objects and techniques identifiable with tradition.[1]”

There is plenty to discuss! Please keep up to date with the website as we will be uploading new texts over the course of January – February 2014.


[1] John Roberts, “Temporality, Critique, and the Vessel Tradition: Bernard Leach and Marcel Duchamp” Journal of Modern Craft 6:3 (November 2013), p. 265.

 

Abigail Newbold speaks about ‘Crafting Settlement’

Abigail Newbold’s Crafting Settlement is an installation at the Currier Museum of Art (Manchester, New Hampshire, USA) open until 14 July 2013. The exhibition provides a contemporary context for the New England legacy of self-sufficiency, including the Shaker Movement. In the text below, Newbold responds to some of the many questions raised by her fascinating and beautiful installation.

Abigail Newbold Crafting Settlement installation view, Currier Museum of Art, 2013

Abigail Newbold Crafting Settlement installation view, Currier Museum of Art, 2013

JMC: Settlement implies a collective process of finding a place in which to live continuously. In your show, this seems to become a purely personal matter, associated with camping paraphernalia. Is this intended to be ironic?

AAN: Yes, there is irony on a lot of levels here. I am referencing the history of Shaker design philosophy as well as the Shaker’s work ethic as a model for a Utopian community (comprised of many), while making it very clear that this Settlement is designed and inhabited by an individual. While it is a personal narrative about character development, it is also a commentary on the more modern issues of isolation within dense urban environments and our propensity to remain estranged and physically distant from our immediate families as we travel for work and schooling. Given this scenario I take comfort and humor in the notion of an individual having the capability to design, make and erect a settlement on this scale autonomously. It would be ridiculous, and yet there is something so inspiring to me about projecting the hope that there are still multi-talented individuals out there who could and would go to such an extent.

I am also intentionally speaking within a tentative language with these new dwelling structures, which appear half-way between tent and more permanent home—an inference to the mobility that camping affords as well as lack of long-term commitment to that specific spot—referencing the other meaning of the word “settle”—which connotes compromise.

To understand the layout of the gallery better it might help to have a description of what’s present: the installation is comprised of two main components: on the main platform are a series of unique dwelling structures that I’ve designed and made displayed in a spartan context with only an inference of old city infrastructure as back drop (water, power and fuel). Around the periphery of the gallery are six vignettes that address some of the more philosophical concepts I am dealing with around domesticity at large. The vignettes are more abstracted arrangements of both found and made objects that speak to more directed subject matter: “Porch Time”, “Scullery/Larder”, “Hope Chest”, “Workshop”, “Garage/ Stable” and “Antechamber”.

I make many references to a community just out of reach of the immediate sphere that this installation presents. Take the trophy mailbox that appears in the Porch Time vignette—it represents a conduit to the outside world without breaking the continuity of isolation. I have also placed the dwelling structures within a skeletal infrastructure that might have been previously occupied and has since been abandoned—a hand-pump that powers a fire hose, a hickory dovetail outlet box providing the power to the electrical lights in the dwelling structures, and an old water heater re-purposed as a propane tank. These all serve as references to the existence of electricity fuel and water—all massive systems that reach beyond an individual simply fending for herself in the wilderness.

It is my use of craftsmanship that is most strategic in this dialogue as it is imperative to my manifesto of survival. The individual inhabiting this settlement could not survive without the practical hand skills presented here: timber framing, basic woodworking, sewing & pattern drafting, weaving and caning. Hand skills are occupation and a means for survival and to make comfort.

Abigail Anne Newbold, Crafting Settlement: detail of garage/ stable vignette

Abigail Anne Newbold, Crafting Settlement: detail of garage/ stable vignette

JMC: You seem fond of fluorescent materials. These seem quite artificial and at odds with the natural environment. Is this also ironic?

AAN: This palette comes from an urban or industrial aesthetic. The implication is that the materials are industrial cast-offs. My use of synthetic, fluorescent materials presents a future–hopeful look forward– a re-purposing of available materials applied to older, found objects with a traditional sensibility for craft. The effect is intended to carry tradition from the past into the future tense.

This is not about rural or wilderness survivalism so much as surviving within the context of a more familiar environment—take the de-volution of industrial cities in the “Rust-Belt” of America, where factories and mills are being re-purposed as housing, artist spaces, and markets. Vacant lots become sites for community farming initiatives. The natural world is creeping back into cities—pheasant populations are growing, and sightings of deer, bear and turkey are more and more prevalent. I am presenting a view of a self-sufficient life within this reclaimed industrial context—a life that might have only been possible in more rural landscapes just a couple of decades ago.

I guess you could call this tension between past and present, natural and artificial ironic, but what I am presenting is intended to be more of a realistic future hybrid of re-purposed objects mixed with traditional making techniques and more common industrial cast-off materials.

Abigail Anne Newbold, Crafting Settlement: detail of hope chest vignette

Abigail Anne Newbold, Crafting Settlement: detail of hope chest vignette

JMC: It appears that your work is about re-purposing consumer camping materials, rather than making new objects. What relationship do you see with craft?

AAN: Crafting Settlement is a conglomeration of newly made objects, re-made and repurposed objects and found objects. Again, I am presenting a model of what it is to live a hand-made life; not in a purist extreme, but in a more realistic manner where objects and materials are harvested, gathered and incorporated as they are useful and or valuable, and new items are made where there is necessity for something custom or unique. Through my incorporation of traditional techniques- quilting, the weaving of chair seats, woodworking and knotting I am advocating for the continuance of such skills of craftsmanship. The character’s survival in Crafting Settlement is contingent upon their ability to make the objects that serve as tools to make means of transportation, shelter and any manner of domestic goods.

I am interested in advocating for the accessibility of making and craftsmanship to a broad spectrum of people and for hand-made objects to be used in our daily lives, not merely relegated to a collector’s shelf. By presenting these objects in a context representational of where they would likely appear (as opposed to the more formal museological method of display in which an object is often isolated from similar functional items and taken out of all visual context of its use) I hope to make them more familiar. The sleeping bag I custom made is an example of how I’ve expressed this philosophy in Crafting Settlement. I made the exterior shell to be like a more modern bivouac sac made of waterproof cordura nylons with an industrial zipper. The interior is lined with a quilt that I made by hand, and refitted along with a black rabbit skin to insulate the interior. I would prefer to use my quilts in this manner then have them hung decoratively and stripped of all relationship to their functionality. That said—I do not want to discredit the very important role decoration and aesthetics play, as I cannot deny that they play a large role in my work as well.

Abigail Anne Newbold, Crafting Settlement: detail of scullery/ larder vignette

Abigail Anne Newbold, Crafting Settlement: detail of scullery/ larder vignette

 

Abigail Newbold was interviewed by Kevin Murray, online editor of JMC.

(Affective) Craft Manifesto

Two years ago I began teaching a critical theory seminar at the State University of New York in New Paltz that focused on re-envisioning the role of craft in contemporary society. The Art Department at SUNY New Paltz has a long-standing tradition of excellence, especially in the craft disciplines, and so it should have come as no surprise to encounter graduate students who actively interrogated the texts that we had selected. They were quick to point out that although many of the texts we read contained interesting ideas, they were often mired in an oppositional logic that attempted to either defend the discipline of craft against perceived enemies, or to usurp the seemingly more privileged role of fine art. While these debates served as an important backdrop for our inquiry, we had in mind a more evocative question: What unique potentials existed within the fuzzy boundaries of the craft disciplines? As critical craft practitioners we desired to see the topography of our disciplines expand while, at the same time, becoming more self-reflexive and relevant. There is much craft scholarship focusing on historical origins, the author’s intentionality or the signification of an object and our questions lead in a different direction. What are the affective potentials of the objects and their embedded relations? How can craft be used? What can craft do? For us these questions have deep aesthetic, political and material repercussions that should be taken up in by makers.

In a fit of enthusiastic hubris we decided that we needed to write the (Affective) Craft Manifesto.

Unlike most manifestos, our intent was not to make declarative statements that dismissed practitioners who did follow our logic, but rather to create a document that would provoke a discussion and, hopefully, illuminate new possibilities within the craft disciplines. The result is a patchwork of ideas gleaned from innumerable sources. Our desire is for this document to find a practical resonance that catalyzes divergent potentials, productive debates and unique collaborations. It is in the spirit of curiosity that we offer up this list of thematic statements for comment, interrogation and experimentation; please consider this an invitation to use this document however you see fit.

Matthew Friday, Assistant Professor of Critical Studies and Graduate Coordinator, Art Department, State University of New York at New Paltz (www.matthewfriday.net)

Kerianne Quick, Visiting Assistant Professor of Metal, Art Department, State University of New York at New Paltz

Graduate Students: Martin Anderson, Eun Jae Baek, En Sang Cho, Gale DellaRocco, Maggie Dubler, Douglas Eberhardt, Douglas Fertig, Aran Galligan, Sara Glaberson, Elana Goren-Totino, Jiyoung Hong, Angelia Lane, Joseph Mastroianni, Lacey McKinney, Kathleen Rearick, Regina Ruff, Lesley, Wamsley, Paul John, Celine Browning.


Boundary Conditions

Craft exists within a historically determined space. Frequently positioned as the contingent frontier against which art is defined, craft mobilizes specific material practices, institutions and discourses. Any assessment of craft must confront and, perhaps, confound its discursive boundaries. Craft itself is a slippery word; at once a verb and a noun, craft can connote both a process and a category of object. We suggest that a third avenue exists; craft is a disposition, a mode of self understanding that opens up unique possibilities for making and use.

Everyday Practice

Unlike the modernist myth of autonomous art, craft has no pretence of standing apart from the world. Through craft’s engagement with everyday use, craft makes the world intelligible. Historically the craft object is indelibly connected to practical uses. While we do not deny this, we feel it necessary to clarify certain terms. We argue that it would be more proper to say we attain uses through practice and that utility is never simply practical. We act as if we owned the uses that craft objects satisfy when, in fact, the reverse is true. The necessary and the ornamental are not simply partitioned by pre-existent needs, but rather emerge as an immanent collaboration between social practice and the material world. Although craft has been conceived as that which addresses function, to think that these functions pre-exists the object’s entry into the world is to miss a valuable opportunity for experimentation. The confusion between function and purpose is one of the more insidious infections spread by capitalism. Purposes are never simply utilitarian, being, as they are, caught in the dynamic of production and consumption. Our habits often mystify and obscure our practices, making them seem necessary, autonomous and pre-determined. To exert care towards craft means addressing the history and contemporary implications of the practices sustained by craft.

Material Attunement

Materials are neither silent nor passive; matter has both history and agency. Makers do not give form to content, but rather their skill attunes them to the affordances of their material. Affordances, as a set of possible actions, emerge only through rigorous experimentation and are never solely inherent in the material. Much like evolution, the accrual of enough affordances pushes an object across a threshold, allowing it to link to an adjacent set of meanings, practices and material assemblages. Skill, as the engagement with the exterior world, can only be conceived in opposition to creativity when creativity is positioned as the sole provenance of interiority. Authentic skill is not teleological; it involves an experimental dialogue with the world.

Embodied Relations

Craft objects have a unique relation to the body; jewelry and clothing can be worn, cups and plates held. Furthermore, craft objects gather up the body for specific purposes, mediating the relationship between self and world. A ceramic mug full of coffee, lifted by the hand to the mouth, is part of a larger apparatus involving geology, ecology and evolution. Craft should revel in the ambiguity it grants to our notions of bodily autonomy and seek to create new human and non-human assemblages.

Beauty and Sensation

The world is irreducible; our language and representations can never exhaust or encompass the world. To experience beauty is to feel the weight of the ineffable pull you into new modes of sensation. Craft objects engender new desires through daily practice, producing radical pleasures that are far more transformative than any simple critique. By freeing sensation from cliché, beauty cultivates wonder and curiosity. To say that beauty exceeds definition is also to acknowledge that it is in dialogue with and delineated by discourse. Thinking about aesthetics means considering both the affective power of beauty and its relation to cultural and material configurations.

Circulation and Community

Within the increasingly globalized scale of economic exchange craft often resonates with a nostalgia for pre-industrial modes of production. This fantasy, common in so-called, “first-world” nations, frequently privileges certain ideas about authenticity and autonomy. Rather than envisioning craft as a retreat from the complexity of contemporary social relations, we argue that its value lies in recognizing and challenging the ways it is entangled with the global flows of capital, materials, meaning and modes of production. Although they are often consumed as commodities, craft objects have a long tradition of existing within the economy of gift exchange. Gifting involves a very different type of transaction, one in which production, distribution and consumption are not broken apart by market forces. We argue that an authentic disposition towards craft means resisting its commodification; something isn’t craft just because it is handmade or done with skill. The exchange of crafts should intensify and multiple the relationships between people. Because gift economies have the power to manifest a community, the various modes of solicitation and conviviality in which craft participates should receive equal consideration.

Responsibility and Preservation

Crafting also entails the creation of a craftsperson. Becoming an authentic craftsperson involves learning to care for one’s craft. This care entails responsibility and preservation towards both the discipline and the materials one takes up. Like ecologies, disciplines thrive on diversity, collaboration and rupture. The most interesting disciplinary history is the one that has yet to be written and the one that has been excluded. Learn to ask the difficult questions. Where do your materials come from? What relations does your consumption of these materials sustain? How can you develop more sustainable and resilient ways of using materials? Who benefits from the current structure of your discipline? Where can you locate leverage points from which to activate change?

The (Affective) Craft Manifesto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 License. Licensees may copy, distribute, and display the work for non-commercial purposes only if they give the author or licensor the credits in the manner specified by these. Licensees may distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work. For more information please contact Matthew Friday: rodechenko (at) yahoo.com.