Introduction to Project 3: A context for textiles

As an introduction to Project 3 Creative Arts Today (page 199-200) quotes the main criteria that can be used as a starting point to analyse the context in which textiles appear.

As materials textiles may offer durability and flexibility and these qualities make them a suitable choice in several areas – fashion, interiors, furniture, art and many other contexts, either functional or decorative.

When speaking about textiles it may be useful to consider the following:

ART or DESIGN: Is the intention of use functional or artistic?
TEMPORARY or PERMANENT: Is their use temporary or permanent?

LARGE SCALE or SMALL SCALE: Is the overall scale large or small?

TRANSFORMING and/or DEFINING and/or FORMING: Do they TRANSFORM/DEFINE an existing space or place or do they do they FORM their own shape, space or place?

IMMERSIVE and/or DISTANT: Are the textiles to be experienced in an IMMERSIVE way or are they viewed from a DISTANT location?

PATTERN and/or COLOUR and/or REPETITION and/or SHAPE: Key factors in the design and creation of textiles.

Research Point 2: Zoe Arnold, artist jeweller

My designer/artist/maker of choice for this post is Zoe Arnold, who is a British artist jeweller, but also a sculptor, a poet and a book maker, because for me she really epitomizes in her pieces and through her methods the very nature of contemporary craft at its best, with all the qualities that have been identified in original, innovative hand-made objects in Project 2:

her work is risk-taking, individual and original

her work is masterfully crafted and of outstanding quality

her work builds stories people can connect to

In this short video produced by The Light Surgeons and commissioned for ‘Added Value?’, a British Crafts Council touring exhibition, she talks about her vision, her use of materials and way of working after a short introduction by Bruce Montgomery, Professor of Design and Craftsmanship at Northumbria University:

 

From: https://vimeo.com/49378348

Zoe Arnold makes her jewellery pieces and automata both from found and precious materials that she chooses because of their evocative value and meaning in the context of her wearable and non wearable sculptures – silver and gold, but also old prints, memorabilia, fragments, precious and non precious stones, old lenses or whatever captures her imagination. She produces only one-off pieces, little elaborate treasures that illustrate stories often inspired by her own poems or other writings and framed together with the objects in made-to-measure boxes or otherwise carefully presented. When not worn, her jewels create complex artworks or installations on their own, which can be admired as a whole.

The materials used are artfully and skillfully combined, transformed or altered by means of whatever technique she deems suitable for the piece she has in mind. In her interview with Diana Woolf on The Making website, she explains that all her work ‘is amalgamated into one creative process’ and that she already knows what she wants to make before starting on a new piece.

For this artist not only designing but also making things with her own hands is an absolute need: ‘I really enjoy sitting there and being able to produce something and do it all myself. I love the sense of achievement and being able to look down at something and think that I’ve made this myself … I would never want to become a designer and get someone else to do my jewellery because my work is so personal and the making is what I really enjoy.’

The whole process is totally inclusive, there is no separation between designing and making. For her what matters ‘is the story behind the piece, rather than the material worth’. Her customers are usually people who appreciate and wish to explore in detail the stories her objects tell, but she concedes that ‘the poetry is also a useful marketing device as I am the only person who works with it and it’s nice to be a bit individual.’

Thinking in terms of Slow Design, I would say that Zoe Arnold is not interested in Slow Design per se or as a conceptual frame for her work – for example she does not speak about ‘sustainability’ or being ‘slow’ in a programmatic way – but she certainly practices the six Slow Design basic principles as stated by Strauss and Fuad-Luke in 2008.

As an artist Arnold 1) ‘reveals’ non precious or discarded materials that would be otherwise overlooked, 2) ‘expands’ her pieces beyond their perceived value as functional jewels into complex and evocative sculptural installations, 3) ‘reflects’ over their meanings inducing contemplation and encouraging a thoughtful use, 4) ‘engages’ her customers and viewers with the stories behind her pieces and the details of their making, 5) ‘participates’ with people encouraging them to actively share her vision and design process and 6) ‘evolves’ her own findings, materials and pieces in slow design processes and transformations. So I would say that Zoe Arnold is naturally and intrinsically a ‘slow designer’ in her vision, methods, processes and outcomes.

Through her pieces she tells the stories that matter to her in significant and thoughtful ways, she takes position on what is important to her as an artist and as a person and masterfully translates and transforms these stories into beautifully crafted pieces.

To me Zoe Arnold is a great example of what contemporary hand-made can achieve today if designed and created with a clear vision in mind, expressing the authentic values of the maker and realized with great skill and passion. The result can be a crafted work that inspires, invites to a ‘slower’ and more meditative use of products and is an antidote to mass consumption and hasty replacement.

I had the same thoughts on a recent visit to the Museum of Fabergé eggs in Saint Petersbourg while admiring those masterful objects: viewed from close they are not only incredibly precious and perfect miniaturized jewels and automata but also an exceptional celebration of the very special world in which they were created.

 

Bay-Tree Egg, 1911. The egg, presented by Emperor Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, is inspired by a French 18th century singing bird automaton. According to the Fabergé invoice, the bay tree comprises “325 nephrite leaves, 110 opalescent white enamel flowers, 25 diamonds, 20 rubies, 53 pearls, 219 rose-cut diamonds and one large rose-cut diamond”. When the clockwork automation is wound up and set in motion, a feathered bird appears, flaps its wings, turns its head, opens its beak and sings. From: https://www.faberge.com/the-world-of-faberge/the-imperial-eggs

 

References:
 

https://zoearnold.com/ (Accessed 29/07/2017)

http://www.themaking.org.uk/content/makers/2009/09/zoe_arnold.html (Accessed 29/07/2017)

https://www.faberge.com/the-world-of-faberge/the-imperial-eggs (Accessed 29/07/2017)

 

The hand-made: Desire for the narrative

There is a third point or feature that Creative Arts Today (page 196) underlines in relation to the hand-made:

the hand-made implies 1) taking risks and accepting unpredictability as against industrial production and design that require certainty and predictability

quality in the hand-made is perceived as coming from 2) craftsmanship and mastery of a craft

and the hand-made object often 3) stimulates a desire to know more about its story and its maker.

As an example of a designer/maker who is passionate about building and telling stories with her pieces Creative Arts Today quotes Donna Wilson (https://www.donnawilson.com/, accessed 27/07/2017)

She compellingly tells her story and thus certainly creates a personal connection with people through her carefully crafted products.

The hand-made: Craftsmanship and quality

 

Notes from Creative Arts Today, page 195

Ptolemy Mann is a contemporary textile artist and designer known for her unique and colourful hand-woven artworks and textile designs.

Website: http://www.ptolemymann.com/ (Accessed 26/07/2017)

Chroma Ikat cushionMonolithic Box Series at Roast RestaurantIkat collectionCircle 2

From: http://www.themaking.org.uk/content/makers/2011/12/ptolemy_mann.html (Accessed 26/07/2017)

The Making, a craft development agency based in Hampshire (http://www.themaking.org.uk), has an interview by Diana Woolf with this designer/artist/maker: she explains why and how she got involved with abstract weaving during her degree in Textile Design at St Martin’s, how in college she developed a real expertise in working with colour and soon started dip-dying mercerized cotton to produce her warps and obtain the subtle gradations that are characteristic of her production.

After reading this informative interview I got curious about The Making and had a good look at the website which in its section Makers of the Month includes many interesting interviews with masterful crafters and artists working in different fields. I’m mentioning here just a few that I already know, but many others are featured:

Zoe Arnold, who makes artist jewellery and automata, but also writes poetry and short stories.

Zoe Arnold, from: https://zoearnold.com/

 

Alice Kettle, a textile artist who creates figurative panels built up using free machine embroidery.

Alice Kettle, from http://alicekettle.co.uk/

Su Blackwall, a paper artist who makes intricate, narrative paper sculptures out of old books.

http://www.sublackwell.co.uk/

Michael Brennand-Wood, who describes himself as ‘an artist with a sustained interest in textiles’. He makes elaborate, eye-catching wall-hung pieces that are part sculpture, part textile and which are covered in an intriguing variety of materials ranging from conventional textiles to flags, CDs and badges.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

‘Flower Head- Narcissistic Butterfly’ 60 dia x 40 cm, 2005.
Collection of the artist. From: http://brennand-wood.com/images.html

Emmanuel Cooper, who as a critic, writer, potter and educator gives a hugely significant contribution to the world of ceramics.

 

 

 

The hand-made: Taking risks

To note from Creative Arts Today, page 194:

Mike Press, Handmade Futures: The Emergence Role of Craft Knowledge in our Digital Culture (Alfoldy, 207, page 249):

Workmanship of risk – the centre is the individual

it implies:

individual production

it’s unpredictable and risky

production by a skilled person(s)

 

Workmanship of certainty – the centre are industrial production and industrial design

it implies:

mass production

it’s predictable

production by a system

 

The concept of workmanship of risk goes back to David Pye, who was a skilled wood-turner and carver and also Professor of Furniture Design at The Royal College of Art from 1964 to 1974. In his book The Nature and Art of Workmanship (1968) (ISBN 1-871569-76-1) he makes a distinction between two kinds of workmanship: the ‘workmanship of risk’ which involves a continuous risk of failure and the ‘workmanship of certainty’ in which results are guaranteed. (From: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-david-pye-1476905.html, accessed on 26/07/2017)

 

Exercise 1: The hand-made

Is there a demand for hand-made objects and work? And why?

Is the desire for hand-made products based on a romantic perception of the hand-made and a sense of ‘post-industrial nostalgia for the pre-industrial’?

Are hand-made products viewed as luxury or value-added products? How do hand-made items compare with mass-produced items, in terms of value, life cycle and ethics?

Reflect on any hand-made item you own.

I think that there is certainly a demand for high quality beautifully crafted hand-made objects but also that this a limited, niche market appealing mostly to post-industrial sophisticated Western consumers that have got tired of traditional mass produced products after decades of purchasing, accumulating and discarding them in almost limitless amounts. I think that Justin McGuirk is right in saying that ‘while western consumers aspire to craftsmanship, the majority of the world’s population lives in countries that have local craftsmen but aspire to industrialised products’. We have been there before and we are now past the industrialisation stage since we already have all the basic goods that we need and aspire now to something else.

But with the exclusion of laboriously produced luxury items like for example high couture garments or high jewellery that only very few people can afford, we generally crave for a hand-made quality that nonetheless does not cost much, used as we are to the low prices of mass-produced articles, and it’s difficult to understand how we can have hand-made products that are at the same time well crafted and cheap unless we underpay the makers.

I am not totally convinced that the desire for the hand-made is born out of a ‘post-industrial nostalgia for the pre-industrial’. I think it’s only partially so since after all almost nobody would be ready to give up washing machines or mobile phones and revert to a true pre-industrial way of life with slow transportation, difficulty of communication and scarcity of goods: there seems to be no way back to a craft-based economy on a general basis in a highly developed world and mass-produced goods are here to stay and go from cheap to cheaper.

I think that the desire of the hand-made can be explained also as a reaction against globalisation and the feeling of people of getting lost in a huge world without borders in which it is not easy to maintain one’s roots and local identities. A hand-made item can look soothing and familiar, to get to know how it was created and the story of its maker can help us reconnect with our own story and feelings. A hand-made product is emotionally and culturally charged and can contribute to keep us rooted and to identify with people as individuals.

Also to hold or to wear something hand-made that we have personally chosen speaks about who we are, what we care about and like and so can define us as persons much more that a mass-produced item. More generally it seems that we need to make and to listen to stories to stay grounded and the material culture we live in can help us to do just that.

This can explain also why more and more people are driven to use their hands to make things, perhaps as a way to tell who they are through what they make. So I think McGuirk is right again when he writes that ‘what’s new is the desire to reveal the process and not just the finished object’. The crafter does not humbly disappear behind his or her object as during the Middle Ages, but wishes instead to tell a story and come to the fore as an individual.

But if the hand-made can be seen in part as an understandable trend in this scary globalised world, its important but limited economic importance goes well beyond its value in figures: I think it also has a positive influence on more and more industrial sectors that in their efforts towards sustainability and slow design have in many cases significantly improved working conditions, reduced wastes of natural resources and  limited their impact on the environment. Much is still to be done but a process has started.

I am personally involved in crafts and making things gives me much satisfaction and a strong sense of fulfillment. Whenever I learn a new skill I also get more curious about the work of others and I see objects made by other people with new eyes. On a recent trip to Saint Petersbourg I happened to visit a matrioska laboratory where a team of painters was skillfully decorating them one by one, brush stroke after brush stroke. On some shelves there were also mass-produced matrioskas which were obviously much cheaper. After much looking around I finally bought a set of hand-painted ones and it was a difficult choice to make because they were all slightly different even if painted with similar traditional motifs.

Whenever I hold my little dolls I see some more details and new small variations, to hold them is an invitation to look more closely, to pay a focused attention and to study how individually made they are. It’s a question of differences not only of quality like it may be the case with a well designed and well manufactured product. And of course those little variations speak about the painter: in that laboratory some matrioskas had a precise and skilled touch, others a more fluent flair, some had thicker layers of paint, others were smooth and flat. So they all reveal something about their maker, and this is for me the real charm of the hand-made which goes beyond skill and quality.

 

 

 

McGuirk, Justin, ‘The art of craft: the rise of the designer-maker’ (2011), at:

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/aug/01/rise-designer-maker-craftsman-handmade

(Accessed 20/07/2017)

 

 

 

 

Research Point 1: Slow Design

What are the guiding principles of this movement?

 

As a movement Slow Design is a development of sustainable design and has evolved from the Slow Food Movement and more generally from the Slow Movement. Like these two, it promotes slowing down as an attitude and a change of habits and behaviours connected not only with the use of sustainable materials and processes but also with the creation of a sustainable way of living and society.

The concept of Slow Food was born in Italy in 1989 as a cultural movement ‘to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.’ (1)

Slow Design invites designers to carefully choose their materials and processes, to further a prolonged use of their products and to consider their end of life and possible recycling or future reuse. (2)

In 2008 Carolyn Strauss and Alastair Fuad-Luke presented the six guiding principles of the Slow Design Movement as a tool for designers to assess their processes and products:

‘Reveal: slow design reveals spaces and experiences in everyday life that are often missed or forgotten, including the materials and processes that can easily be overlooked in an artifact’s creation or existence.

Expand: slow design considers the real and potential ‘expressions’ of artifacts and environments beyond their perceived functionality, physical attributes and lifespans.

Reflect: slowly-designed artifacts and environments induce contemplation and reflective consumption.

Engage: slow design processes are ‘open source’ and collaborative, relying on sharing, co-operation and transparency of information so that designs may continue to evolve into the future.

Participate: slow design encourages people to become active participants in the design process, embracing ideas of conviviality and exchange to foster social accountability and enhance communities.

Evolve: slow design recognises that richer experiences can emerge from the dynamic maturation of artifacts and environments over time. Looking beyond the needs and circumstances of the present day, slow design processes and outcomes become agents of both preservation and transformation.’ (3)

 

Do you believe this approach to design and making could have a positive impact on our consumption of products? Would you place more value on a product that has been created with this principle in mind? Why or why not?

I think that this new approach to design is certainly changing our relationships with the products we buy but also the other way round: the shifting of attitudes among consumers has generated the need for innovative design processes among designers. In economically mature societies like the ones we live it seems that the wind has really changed: people are getting tired of fast, anonymous, mass-produced products, have more or less realized that the compulsive purchase, possession and consumption of new objects is no guarantee of well being and personal happiness, far from it can cause anxiety and even depression, that time is precious and valuable and that it may be preferable to use it to make meaningful experiences and establish connections instead of shopping.

There is also a new focus on the value of ‘local’ as against ‘global’: locally sourced food is tastier and easily traceable, local artifacts are connected with people and their lives and so are emotionally significant. Also more and more people are aware of environment problems and climate change and all these factors are certainly having an important impact on consumer behaviours and habits: it is getting important to know how an object has been produced, by whom, which energy resources have been used.

The shift is from the product in itself to the network of meanings, stories and relations connected to it and I think that this is certainly a positive trend and has also a therapeutic value for our mature or post-mature societies.

But the Slow Design approach can also pose problems. Just a few:  how to economically reconcile the need for the quick manufacturing and turnover of products with criteria of high quality, durability and sustainability; how to adapt ‘slowness’ to industry standards and conditions;  how to keep prices at bay to make slow designed products generally affordable and not only restricted to the most affluent; how to convince people to not look for cheap but for ‘fair’ prices. These are complex questions and there are no easy or ready answers.

Personally I shift between fast and low attitudes, between coveting and buying new products beyond my real needs and conversely being emotionally attached to only a few and old ones to the point of not being able to discard or recycle them. I think that this vaguely schizophrenic behaviour belongs to our time and our world: we often simply cannot resist the impulse to buy that is deeply ingrained in what is still basically a consumer society but we also long for deeper values and connections that we are afraid to lose.

 

Bibliography

 

(1) https://www.slowfood.com/about-us/

(2) http://www.tedresearch.net/media/files/Slow_Design.pdf

(3) http://raaf.org/pdfs/Slow_Design_Principles.pdf