Tag Archives: climate change

Melbourne Charm School: Luck at the bottom of the world

What really is a ‘lucky country’? And how can we nurture that luck for the future?

Local inspiration has long been a focus of craft practice, and now increasingly design. The default source in many cases is landscape: often a prominent natural feature such as mountain or a unique material like mineral or flora. But landscape does not exist in itself. It is charged with the hopes and fears of the people that dwell in it.

Southern Charms looks for local inspiration in the hazards that define the aspirations and fears particular to communities across the South. It aims to demonstrate how the practice of jewellery design can assist in navigating through uncertain futures.

In Chile, the predominant concern was the recurrent earthquake, which has the potential not only to destroy homes but also to break the social fabric. How to look confidently to the future when it could all collapse at any moment?

image

image

In Australia, there are alternative issues. The Melbourne Charm School was run as part of the State of Design Festival and was situated in Social Studio, where recent African migrants come to learn skills in dress-making, hospitality and management. During the festival the studio demonstrated some of its re-made clothes at a fashion parade.

In the workshop, we explored the anatomy of a charm – how to design for luck. Each participant nominated a particular situation where they thought luck was badly needed.

image

image

Unsurprisingly, the bushfire turned out to be a popular choice. Like the earthquake in Chile, it is a shared collective threat particular to place. While both represent inexorable forces of nature, social cohesion is vital to survival. Everyone needs to help each other to be mindful of the threat. But there are contrasts. With weather reports, we have greater warning of a potential bushfire and it affects people in the countryside more than the city, while an earthquake can happen at any time and is of greater danger to those living in crowded neighbourhoods. Still, in both cases, the local threats are as much what binds people together as local landscape, such as wattle or lapis lazuli – perhaps even more so.

It was also natural that, given the context, the plight of asylum seekers was nominated. This is a journey from a violent homeland, via ‘people smugglers’, on a leaky boat to an suspicious country. Would it be possible for Australians to send a charm to those waiting in detention camps to help them sustain hope? Could there be something that provided a token of the welcome that they might eventually receive – an object on which to pin hopes during the endless months waiting for bureaucracy to move?

But there are also many personal circumstances that require good fortune. Surprisingly, a number of nominations concerned the hazard of parents growing old. Would it be possible to design something to fill the ‘empty nest’ – a sign from the departing children of gratitude for the care so far extended and best wishes for the freedom gained with less responsibilities?

Each participant made a charm specifically to assist with the issue nominated by someone else. Given the time limits, and variation in skill , there were some amazing neckpieces produced. There would need to be much more work done to ensure that the charm could ‘work’ properly, but it was a most auspicious beginning. Some examples:

charm[14]

charm[14]

Certainly, there are other challenges ahead. Clearly one of the challenges that defines our global identity at the moment is climate change. Can a charm be useful in galvanising action? Maybe not. It would seem that trusting in luck to help with climate change works against an active response to the problem. Nonetheless, no one knows exactly how the earth’s weather will be affected by high concentrations of carbon. The risk of catastrophe is large enough to warrant a radical response. An object that reminds of this predicament may well have a role to play. But what would that object be? And how would we use it? That challenge lies ahead for another charm school.

‘Shaky’ start for charm schools in Chile

The Southern Charms project had a ‘shaky’ start in Chile. The workshops were very popular and produced wonderful new forms of power jewellery, but the recent tragedy of the earthquake was a dominant theme.

image

image

The Valparaiso ‘clinic’ attracted around 100 participants, thanks to the good work of Professor Patty Gunther, who has been leading innovative programs in social design at the Universidad de Valparaiso. With such a number, I was very grateful for the assistance of local jewellers Omar Luengo and Nicholás Hernández.

Omar Lunego talking to participants

Omar Lunego talking to participants

Our task was to identify problems that required something more than a simple practical solution to be resolved, and then to design objects that might fill that void. Patty had provided boxes of the fragments left after the earthquake had destroyed so many precious things. How to turn this destruction into beautiful jewellery was a subtext of this workshop.

image

image

The workshop addressed this with great gusto and overnight amazingly well-formulated objects emerged. As usual with Valparaiso, the tenor was idealistic: broad problems were identified such as loneliness and environmental change. The results tended to take the form of objects that could be broken up, with the parts distributed to people who would then have a point of contact with each other. One of the pieces responding to the threat of tsunami used the Mapuche myth of the sea serpent tren tren to great effect.

Santiago Charm School

Santiago Charm School

The Santiago ‘escuela de encanto’ was more specialised in jewellery. The workshop was organised by local jewellers Francisco Ceppi and Valentina Rosenthal and took place at the Museo Bellas Artes, the august national art gallery. Participants included 34 of the city’s top jewellers. Their problems were more concrete than those at Valparaiso, including the job interview, school examination, chemotherapy and overseas student exchange. Earthquake related problems included the emergency bag kept by the door and protection for the house. Over two intense days, groups developed designs for objects to help us cope with these challenges. The charm for examination was based on the tradition of the torpedo, where students insert a scroll of formulae into their pens to help get the right answers – though in this case the paper contained messages of encouragement. The charm for chemotherapy used the very plastic tubing that makes this procedure so uncomfortable, transforming this into a colourful bracelet form. What worked particularly well were the performances, where groups enacted the power of their objects.

image

image

We all learned a great deal from these workshops. We learned how important it was to have a tradition on which to build – something that provides ‘roots’ for the object. And the performances revealed the choreography of giving that helps charge the object with its ‘power’.

The seed has been sown. We’ll see what results from this when the Southern Charms exhibition arises next year, hopefully now touring back to Chile. The present challenge is to extend the Latin American component to include Bolivia, with its global voice on climate change. But more immediately we have the workshops looming in Sydney and Melbourne. The focus on earthquake in Chile could have an interesting echo with the issue of bushfires in Victoria. Both challenges demand more than just technological responses, they require contexts in which people can come together, rather than fend for themselves.

  • For updates on the Southern Charms project, tune into #charm101 on twitter.
  • Visit the Santiago blog here.
  • Bookings for the Melbourne Charm School here.
The scene directly outside the Museo Bellas Artes where something was always happening.

The scene directly outside the Museo Bellas Artes where something was always happening.

Carbon Issue: Sustainability in Craft & Design

Here’s a call for an upcoming issue of a new craft journal that I’m involved in. I hope it brings together some new and thoughtful perspectives on the way designing and making engage with the re-valuation of  the planet’s resources.

clip_image002

clip_image002

CALL FOR PAPERS

Carbon Issue: Sustainability in Craft & Design

craft + design enquiry is seeking papers for the Carbon Issue: Sustainability in Craft & Design.

This issue welcomes academic papers documenting research that contributes to an understanding of sustainability as a context for craft and design. This understanding ranges from the practical to the symbolic.

Papers can include:

  • A review historical movements such as the Arts & Crafts movement or Bauhaus
  • A reflection on current craft and design projects
  • An engagement with contemporary sustainability discourse
  • A speculation on the future of craft and design in a world more than two degrees warmer than today
  • A critical examination of the relationship between sustainability and the aesthetic dimension

Specific areas of interest include:

Green thumbprint

Can handmade production provide a more sustainable alternative to industrial processes?

Craft ethic

Does the broader ethic of craft, involving local production, symbolic value and social exchange provide an alternative to global consumerism?

Carbon aesthetics

How does the material and organic dimension of craft appear from the ‘cloud’ of online communication – as outmoded or higher truth?

Papers are due on 30 June 2010. It is highly recommended that you send an outline to the guest editor by the 30 March 2010. Kevin Murray is Guest Editor for this issue.

  • For inquiries, please contact Kevin Murray at kevin(at)craftunbound.net or Jenny Deves at jenny.deves(at)craftaustralia.org.au
  • To submit papers please register online
  • See author guidelines

craft + design enquiry is a new, open access, peer-reviewed, online journal that interrogates discourses surrounding craft and design practice. It is published by the Craft Australia Research Centre. Craft Australia is funded by the Australia Council, through the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian Government and all state and territory governments, and the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australian government’s arts funding and advisory body.

Journal website: www.craftaustralia.org.au/cde

Made in Tuvalu, heard throughout the world

Mrs Tagifoe Taomia at the Wasawasa Festival of the Oceans

Mrs Tagifoe Taomia at the Wasawasa Festival of the Oceans

Mrs Tagifoe Taomia at the Wasawasa Festival of the Oceans

The recent Wasawasa Festival of the Oceans in Suva was a golden opportunity to meet with members of the broad Pacific community. One of the stalls I admired most was created by the Tuvalu community. The stall was decorated with a wonderful range of crafts, including leis for dancing, elegant fans, tiputa garlands for weddings and ti-ti skirts. One wall had a complex display of shell necklaces, usually given when returning to the island.

Fo from Tuvalu

Fo from Tuvalu

Fo from Tuvalu

One of my favourites was the fo, or garland used for dancing. It is usually made from fresh flowers, but these were made to last. They had intricately folded pandanas leaf with flowers made of shells and seeds.

I was greatly impressed in meeting a representative from Tuvalu, Mrs Tagifoe Taomia. Mrs Taumia told me that after celebrations, these craft objects are usually hung on the walls to decorate homes, particularly of those from Tuvalu who have come to Suva for education.

Given all the resources in Fiji that are lacking in Tuvalu, I asked Mrs Taumia if it matters to her that the island still exists. She told me emphatically, ‘There’s no place like home. You always want to go back to Tuvalu. And when you grow old you want to go back and stay there.’

Even though a small population of 12,000, Tuvalu represents a unique story of a vibrant culture. Though the expatriate community carry the culture in their hearts, it seems they do not continue to make traditional objects. The crafts are still only made on the islands. This seems an important factor to keep in mind with rising ocean levels – we can re-locate people, but much of the culture remains attached to the land.

As the Swedish proverb goes, ‘Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.’ It is heartening that Tuvalu has a strong voice in the current Copenhagen negotiations. Let’s hope the world listens.

Missionaries – the end of after

We had the last of the After the Missionaries discussions last night. The conversation first started at the beginning of a dark and stormy winter. It ended in what has proven to be Melbourne’s warmest winter on record. It seemed a fitting context for a discussion about art and the Kyoto Protocol at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies.

The discussion was premised on the operation of the Kyoto Protocol as a means to address climate change through a global consensus, requiring agreement between the two halves of the world. Many of the artists discussed in After the Missionaries explored new paths that connect the global North and South.

The process of writers speaking to their articles proved quite fruitful. The four local writers were able to provide new layers to the articles they originally published in Artlink. In a way, it provided an immediate demonstration of value-adding.

Neil Fettling reflected on the dilemma of the Archibald Prize for David Griggs – how, if he had won, he would have to deal with the issue of co-authorship with the Philippine billboard artist Rene Oserin. Helen Vivian explored in more detail the way Jonathan Kimberley’s canvases engaged with Jim Everitt’s words. Kelly Fliedner spoke more broadly about how artists react defensively to writing which places their work in an ethical context. And Emily Potter reflected on the dilemma of symbolic acts at a time when immediate direct action seems called for.

A common theme was the technique of palimpsest. The layering of images provided a means of combining two very different points of view without assuming they could be merged into a single position.

The intense discussion that followed focused on the subject of global art involving traditional artisans. A position began to evolve that collaborations were possible as long as their was open negotiation between both commissioning artist and artisan. But the example of ‘sex tourism’, when it could be claimed that there is free negotiation between the Western client and a young local prostitute, prompted a need to consider the parameters of negotiation more closely. There was also a question about why this commissioning must always come from the rich countries. There were relatively few examples when artists or artisans from poor countries had initiated collaboration.

There was broad consensus that art had an important role to play in bridging the global divide and reflecting critically on the ways we inhabit the world. There seemed a feeling that there was still important work to do in responding critically to the new forms of global art that are beginning to emerge.

But alongside all that, there was a recognition that there would always be something about art that could not fit neatly into ethical or utilitarian frames. This very freedom of art helps propose new possibilities and alternative ways of seeing. How do we sustain the creative freedom of art while seeking ways of making a better world?

As we dispersed into the night, this seemed a particularly verdant question with which to greet the coming spring.

Floating Land drifts back

image

image

One of the most dramatic outcomes of climate changes is the submersion of islands like Tuvalu. So how does an entire community deal with the eventual lost of its land? It’s like that material culture will play an important part in sustaining links after the diaspora. The concern for this in nearby countries like Australia will continue to grow. How can this engage with the craft scene in Australia? Here’s an opportunity.

Noosa’s signature Green Art sculpture event, Floating Land, returns in 2009 with a program that has grown to include writers, visual and new media artists, performance artists, musicians, photographers, researchers and scientists.

From 19 to 28 June artists will build outdoor sculptures on beautiful Lake Cootharaba, 15 minutes north of Noosa. Transient natural materials will be used to explore the theme of climate change and the impact of rising sea levels on coastal and island communities of the Pacific Ocean. Artists from Pacific Ocean countries being affected are integral to the 10-day program.

Visitors are encouraged to stop and watch the sculptors, participate in the workshops, attend the forums and performances, follow the daily photography exhibits, and participate in the spectacle that has become known as ‘Firings on the Lake’ at sunset on stunning Lake Cootharaba.

The program is supported by two exhibitions to be held at the Noosa Regional Gallery. Waters of Tuvalu: A Nation at Risk will present works from the Museum of Victoria and artefacts from the community of Tuvalu. Legacy Tuvalu: The Footprint on Funafuti, by photo-journalist Jocelyn Carlin, shows the impact first-hand that climate change is having on the Pacific Islands.

For more information about Floating Land visit www.floatingland.com.au.

Photograph: “Firings by the Lake”, Lake Cootharaba, Raoul Slater, 2007.