Utopian resistance

Traditional craft: manufactured nostalgia or grass-roots resistance? implies a methodological dichotomy, which I find frustrating. I can see the point that for the purpose of historical dissemination ‘traditional, with modern form’ (like, for example, in the title of Nicolette Makovicky’s essay in the last issue of Journal of Modern Crafts), is it modern or not, modern or post-modern or any other box, can be useful. But I do not think that creative practitioners care very much, they always practice in the present. Their studios are full of visual ephemera from across cultures and times; they do not read like historians, they read as artists, responding to currents that might be wildly dissimilar, contradictory even – they meander with intent.

I prefer a different methodological engagement when I am in need of ordered structures and an understanding that makes sense, however fraudulent and in flux. Aesthetic experience, in my view, is constituted within the hermeneutic continuity of human existence and can therefore only be appropriately discussed in this wider framework.[i] Categorisations like craft, design and art are rendered useless when considered as being characterised as intuition, indeed as a world-view, Weltanschauung – literally an intuition of the world. This does not simply mean that creative practice justifies its own claim to truth over and against scientific knowledge, insofar as the free play of imagination tends towards ‘knowledge in general’. It also means that the “inner intuition” in play here brings the world – and not just the objects in it – to intuition.[ii]

Gadamer stipulates that hermeneutics are to be understood in a comprehensive way, including all of art and its discourse. Like every other piece of text artistic work needs to be understood within such a context.[iii] Ricoeur concurs when he is saying ‘to imagination is attributed the faculty of moving easily from one experience to another if their difference is slight or gradual, and thus of transforming diversity into identity.’[iv] With regards to the meaning of creativity he points out that there can be no praxis, which is not already symbolically structured in some way. Human action is always figured in signs, interpreted in terms of cultural traditions and norms. Our narrative fictions are then added to this primary interpretation of figuration in human action; so that narrative is a redefining of what is already defined, a reinterpretation of what is already interpreted. The referent of narration, namely human action, is never raw or immediate reality but an action, which has been symbolised and re-symbolised over and over again. Thus narration serves to displace anterior symbolisation onto a new plane, integrating or exploring them as the case may be.[v]

The work I have chosen to exemplify the necessity of such a shift in theoretical and critical dissemination is W(E)AVE by Elana Herzog and Michael Schumacher, made in 2006.



The work consists of deconstructed woven fabrics such as found bedspreads and carpets, all bringing different traces of histories of origin, use and aesthetic qualities into the work. The material work is interlaced with woven discrete audio events, comprised of sound waves and sound recordings of the making process.

The accompanying text from The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum,[vi] where the work was exhibited, tells us that ‘Herzog will transform the gallery in which the exhibition will be presented with a series of newly constructed walls. These walls, and those that line the gallery’s perimeter, incorporate reinforced gypsum panels, which, when exhibited, are installed flush with the surrounding walls.  Found textiles are attached to these panels using thousands of metal staples. Parts of the fabric and the staples are then removed, and sometimes reapplied, leaving a residue of shredded fabric and perforated wall surface in some areas, and densely-stapled and built-up areas elsewhere. The structure of the image is thus generated directly from the weave of the fabric. The progressively dematerialised image, articulated by metal staples and fabric residue, seems to be simultaneously emerging from and disappearing into the wall. During the period when Herzog was working on many of the panels included in the exhibition, Schumacher visited her studio with his recording equipment. The sounds that Schumacher captured include Herzog stapling, sweeping, and drilling, in addition to her dog Tanner chewing on a piece of wood. Back in his studio, Schumacher incorporated elements from these sounds with synthesized sounds, such as sine tones, and more traditional instrumentation, including piano, cello, and violin. Processed in his computer using Max/MSP software, the sound was organized into eleven discrete channels, in what Schumacher describes as a grid metaphor. Presented on eleven speakers dispersed throughout the space, the composition will evoke a “grid” or weave of audio experience unfolding through time.’

What I find important in the work itself, and in the text that frames the work, is that both describe the action that generated the work, a ‘presentness’ of making, the fantasticated[vii] image of crafted intuition.

[i] Gadamer, H.G. (1960: 169-171) Aesthetische und hermeneutische Folgerungen: Rekonstruktion und Integration als hermeneutische Aufgaben, in Wahrheit und Methode, Tübingen: Niemeyer

[ii] Gadamer, H.G. (1986: 164) Appendix: Intuition and vividness, in The Relevance of the Beautiful and other Essays, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[iii] Gadamer, H.G. (1960: 169) Aesthetische und hermeneutische Folgerungen: Rekonstruktion und Integration als hermeneutische Aufgaben, in Wahrheit und Methode, Tübingen: Niemeyer

[iv] Ricoeur, P. (1992: 127) Personal Identity and Narrative Identity, in Oneself as Another, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

[v] Ricoeur, P. (1991: 469) The Creativity of Language, in A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, Valdes, M. J. (ed.), Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf

[vi] http://www.aldrichart.org/exhibitions/past/weave.php

[vii] I borrowed this beautiful word from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses