Review of Statement of Practice – Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by Edward Allington

I found Edward Allington’s prolific descriptions of hammers eloquent and deeply informative. I was captivated by his analysis of how hammers harness physics at the intersection of the hands, the mind and materials. I used his statement, “Tools are a mediating mechanism between aim, both literally and conceptually, a material and an action” as systems thinking to make tools to cast large paper funnels. Combined with his reference to Richard Serras conceptual use of verbs as ‘tools’, my hands were set in motion.

aim: big [graduate school] focus: [march 9th review]

conceptual: [receive – nurture – process]

material: abaca pulp

action: support, filter, press, cast, suspend, circulate, release, light

Although my mind did wander during the breadth and depth of descriptions, they sparked a brainstorm on an improvisational tool to felt wool. The aim is to compress and tangle the wool fibers into a dense matt.  When done by hand, it takes hard labor to impose adequate compression and friction. As I day dream, I wonder if the principle seen in the dead blow hammer where a cylinder contains lead shot might deliver extra compression to the wool fibers? What if the “heavy blow” was delivered along the length of a fluted tube? The answer, after an initial prototype most likely would be yet another prototype. Who knows if it would work?

The series of questions in the first paragraph is where I lingered. “Do children or adults know or have an understanding of how things are made?” As well as the rebuke that children must “understand that the world we inhabit is a product of labor.” I ask, “What transpires when “labor” does not accumulate in things?” Today, America’s primary labor is consumption of services. As a population of consumers whose energy demand stresses the ecosystem, the refrigerator Allington references, is an outdated tool. If we aim to achieve a zero carbon footprint, do the children of today have the conceptual tools to redesign a cooling device that reduces reliance on an inefficient electrical grid? Shall we work to prompt creative education and hope the next generation of children is as passionate as Edward Allington?

Review of ‘The Object Of Labor: Art, Cloth & Cultural Production’

By Jasleen Dhamija

'The Object of Labor: Art, Cloth, and Cultural Production' ed Joan Livingstone and John Ploof, School of Art Institute, Chicago Press 2007

The Object of Labor is a publication, which brings out the very quintessential elements of creativity in a very wide sense, not only for those who create, but also those who use it creatively. My initial response to the publication was of dismay at the rather over-crowded cover, with a collage of unattractive images. The main title also struck me also as incongruous. In fact, neither the cover design nor the title does justice to the wide and excellent coverage offered by this publication.

The Indian theory of aesthetics is based on the rasas, the very essence of emotions and of creativity. The Rasik or Rasika, the one who derives the very essence of pleasure, is an essential part of the process of the act of creation. Thus art is expressive of the holistic view of life and the editors say so correctly. “Originating with the history of survival, cloth manufacture and its accompanying division of labor, expands to impact all spheres of culture and power” and go on to say “crossing between arenas of function, craft, art, and ritual, the meaning of cloth from its most banal to its most splendid form affects our daily lives and welfare in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, invention and technology, commerce and work”.

The book comprises of a range of articles written by people with varied backgrounds from folklorists, interdisciplinary artists, writers and curators, cultural activists, anthropologists, designers, media specialists, educationalists and community workers. In addition there are practicing artists, whose sensitive creative expressions are excellently reproduced. The most evocative is the work of Anne Wilson, entitled “Damask”. This is a sensitively created embroidery on the textured damask fabric with the use of hair. Darrel Morris “I mean this” is an extraordinary expression of contemporary art forms using embroidered forms and textures to make powerful statements. The two expressions are so distinct and yet each appeals to our sensibility.

The other interesting contribution is by practicing artists and researchers, who combine the knowledge of the practice and the years of research on the subject as in the case of Janis Jefferies and her article “Laboured Cloth: Translation of Hybridity in Contemporary Art”

The contributors span many cultures as does the location of the study. The article on Sujani of Bihar is written by a team of writers, including Viji Srinivasan, an Indian socio-economist and activist, Laila Tyabji, a designer and organisor of the crafts sector, who heads one of the most important NGOs of crafts in India, Skye Morrison, a Canadian folklorist, designer, educator and curator and Dorothy Caldwell, a texture artist, teacher and curator, whose work incorporates North American Stitching. It is an interesting study of the work of women who were initiated in this work by Viji, as a means of income generation. Viji used the Sujani tradition, which belonged to Dharbhanga, a culturally rich area of Bihar, which has very strong Maithali cultural traditions. They took inspiration from the Maithali tradition, but the women carried this tradition into the contemporary world interpreting their lives creatively.

Amazwi Albesifazane echoes the voices of women gathered together in an embroidery project. Peer groupings of women work together and speak of the hidden and repressed aspects of personal, cultural, and political history. This difficult process is facilitated by trained coordinators drawn from the geographic area of operation for whom the conditions and the culture is familiar. This historical information is written in the original indigenous language, then translated into creative work and is presented by Andries Botha, a sculptor and cultural activist.

Sadie Plant’s “Ada Lovelace and the Loom of Life” is a superb piece of research and writing, which looks at the origin of weaving and brings us to an appreciation of jacquard loom weaving being the origins of the computer, which has revolutionised the world today. It comes as a surprise that in the mid nineteenth century it was a woman Lady Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, who was a mathematician and who made an extraordinary contribution along with Charles Babbage, who created the first fully automatic calculating machine. The publication is full of such gems of information.

The consistent theme of this books is the quest to retain identity following major upheaval. This preoccupation is not limited to those disposed and driven away from their original habitat, but also those whose land is always changing. Immigrants are very distinct from nomads. The immigrants initially negate their traditions, while nomads surround themselves with expressions of their cultural traditions, so as to demarcate their own space. The very fact that amongst the nomads of Iran the mobile tent has the same name as the women’s outer cover, the chador, indicates the importance of defining their own space with the use of a fabric.

This publication touches upon a number of subjects and is a pleasure to own. Every time one opens its pages some new insights enliven the mind.

Jasleen Dhamija is an Indian craft writer and author of Living Tradition of Iran’s Crafts, Handwoven Fabrics of India, The Woven Silks of India and Indian Folk Arts and Crafts