Meandering with intent

Reading through The Journal of Modern Craft, 2.1, I was struck by the re-appearing emphasis on polyphonetic thinking, ambivalence and dialogical dynamics in many of the essays. Tom Crook’s essay employed Bakhtin’s idea of the dialogical as a methodology for historical material. Within studio practice itself, Alison Britton says in response to Hans Coper that as students in the 70s they were most attracted to his offer of a space which allowed for “the focus on ambiguity, the intrigue of the phantom pitch, which proposed that ideas could be pursued with uncertainty, within craft”. Ideas like this make me much more relaxed to add my own voice to the mix. I plan to approach the theme of my blog ‘Traditional craft: manufactured nostalgia or grass-roots resistance?’ by meandering with intent and will chaff with enthusiasm against the troubling notion of modernity in contemporary studio crafts practice.

In our contemporary culture we might regard any attempt to re-connect with a personal or cultural point of origin as nostalgic; we find ourselves much more in a world of shifting, flexible frameworks in which our origins, bonds, traditions, our sentiments and dreams, exist alongside other stories, other fragments of memory and traces of time. In such a world a creative practitioner, providing he or she is curious and sufficiently interested, might become a voyager, a person on a journey wandering or more likely meandering through the world of appearances, ideas, theories and histories. The abandonment of a carefully constructed cultural identity might become identity itself as much as making might become heterogeneous, counter-historical and hybrid.

On the other side of the spectrum we find utopian ideals, the hope for a ‘better’ world, and the passionate investment in the idea that objects have invested meaning. We find crafts objects of indefinable origin on sale everywhere, permeating crafts markets, mail order catalogues, department stores, fashion and gifts shops. Even in the face of the pressure to desire only what others possess and thus to succumb to what Jean Baudrillard has termed a culture of profound monotony[1],we want to distinguish ourselves as individuals. One way to attempt this is through the acquisition of objects, which via their symbolic assimilation mark us as individuals. Consumption is in this respect not only understood as acquisition, but as expression as well.

Anonymous handmade brass sink from Marrakech Medina

Anonymous handmade brass sink from Marrakech Medina

Anonymous handmade brass sink from Marrakech Medina

While seeming individualistic, consumption responds to the aspirations of the group and can be recognised as such. Baudrillard suggests that in an idealist-consumerist society, the lived and conflictual human relations are substituted with personalised relations to objects. The criticism of psychological regression implied in this suggestion does not make Baudrillard very popular with people who invest objects with deep affection and devotion, like most crafts people inevitably do.

He does, however, seem to neglect that there exists an interesting dichotomy between crafts commodity on the one hand and conceptually focused one-off crafts work generated by self-motivated studio practice on the other. Most crafts practitioners, whose studio practice I am familiar with, engage with the tension between the functionality of the object, its status as a consumer good, and a more ideas-based artistic agenda at the same time. This is never a simplistic equation, and it gets even more complicated, and indeed interesting, when makers start to simulate the visual appearance of banal crafts kitsch, sometimes using advanced technology together with the hand-made, and in an artistic somersault re-create the tired and clichéd object as an object filled with fresh meaning.

Ugglamedtapet by Frida Fjellman

Ugglamedtapet by Frida Fjellman

Ugglamedtapet by Frida Fjellman

[1] Baudrillard, Jean “The System of Objects” in Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, Poster, Mark (ed.), Oxford: Polity Press, 1988