Tag Archives: sustainability

Unmaking the Future–the aesthetics of post-industrial ceramics

The view from inside the conference in Bergen

The view from inside the conference in Bergen

Like Australia, Norway finds itself with a rare gift – a financial bounty stemming from non-renewable natural resources. The news analysis in Australia often invokes the Norwegian model as a responsible investment of this wealth for future needs. With the Making or Unmaking? conference, Norway was able to host an international conference on ceramics like few others today. The premise was the use of the readymade by ceramic artists – rather than make work themselves, these artists repurposed existing works. This was the culmination of a four-year research project ‘Creating Art Value: A Research Project on Trash and Readymades, Art and Ceramics’. It was programmed with the ambitious exhibition THING TANG TRASH – Upcycling in contemporary ceramics (curated by Heidi Bjørgan), as well as a large number of ceramic exhibitions especially presented by galleries around Bergen.

And the view looking out from the conference

And the view looking out from the conference

The project leader and Norwegian writer Jorunn Veiteberg assembled some of the finest European craft minds to consider this question. It began with the English visitors. Glenn Adamson opened the conference with a slice of Postmodernism exhibition that he recently curated for the V&A. He focused particularly on the eschewal of authenticity by movements such as Memphis, which positioned style far above substance. It offered an important historical reference point for contemporary questioning of original production. Carol McNicoll followed with an artist talk that personified the conference theme with a feisty opposition to fine art etiquette. Fellow ceramicist Clare Twomey then offered an elegiac account of enduring ceramic crafts, such as plate lining. The meat of her paper was the account of her present work. This had two components. The first were a series of 80 tall red vases produced in the Jingdezhen ceramic powerhouse – ’80 vases in 8 days, China brings us miracles.’ The second an attempt to reproduce one of these in England, involving scouring for a large-enough kiln. The installation showed the one plaintive vase set among the sea of cheap Chinese imports. For Twomey, what distinguished the English vase was that its decoration sat under the surface, compared to the Chinese vases whose designs were more imposed on the surface.  The installation seemed to demonstrate that despite miraculous productive capacity of Chinese industry, it was still no match for the subtle craftsmanship of English labour.

Tanya Harrod followed with a beautiful lecture on the theme of the rag-picker, covering many examples of art projects that extracted works of beauty from the slums. She spoke highly of the work by Brazilian artist Vik Munos, featured in the film Wasteland, who donated money from the sale of his works to the favela dwellers who made it possible. While critical of those who mindlessly use the poor of the world to make high-end design, Harrod praised those who embrace the act of making with all its responsibilities. Caroline Slottee and Paul Scott provided examples of work with readymade ceramics and Ezra Shales considered the role of museum as a contested site for these works.

On the second day, Monica Gaspar introduced the concept of the infra-ordinary as a space opened up by use of the readymade. She provided a feast of contemporary work associated with her recent exhibition ‘Re-defining the Applied’, which reflected a shift away from the object itself to the way in which we inhabit. A highlight was the film by Swede Olas Stephenson where a gang breaks into a house to create musical symphonies using objects from each room. Andrew Livingston followed with a bold attempt to place use of the readymade in the context of sustainability. It made perfect sense, but the ethical logic seems at odds with the aesthetic context of the conference. Barnaby Barford’s artist talk presented narrative as an alternative context of the readymade. His film for the exhibition brilliantly demonstrated the power of pathos in the leftover figurine.

The day ended with Jorunn Veiteberg herself who expounded the thesis behind the conference. She loyally used local artists to illustrate her thesis that the ceramic readymade is following Duchamp’s liberating gesture with ‘Fountain’ to liberate the art object from the ‘fetish’ of the handmade. Veiteberg argued that re-purposing existing ceramics opens up new possibilities of creative intervention.

The last day began with Michael Petry, author of The Art of Not Making. His ebullient talk covered many instances of artists using skills of craftspersons, praising those who acknowledged their contributions. As one of those grateful artists themselves, Petry spoke very much from the commissioner’s perspective, focusing more on the grand ambitions of the artists than any creative input from technicians. The Polish ceramist Marek Cecula followed with a wonderful account of his career in ceramics, parallel to his remarkable personal journey as a survivor of the holocaust who returned to make work about the value of human labour. Linda Sormin followed in the afternoon with a lively short account of her practice in making ceramic interventions in museum spaces around the world.

As the second last presentation, I attempted to introduce the relational dimension of the readymade. This regarded the commissioned object, rather than the found object. I focused particularly on the work of artists who have their work made in Asia. Rather than a post-industrial aesthetic, I considered a ‘para-industrial’ condition where work responds to the scene of making ‘elsewhere’.

Rather than leave space for questions at the end of each paper, the conference was programmed with generous breaks where participants could discuss issues among themselves. While this was quite convivial, it was difficult to tell what the conference had achieved at the end. Making or Unmaking? provided a symbolic departure from the studio model of the ceramicist, whose work reflects the personal experience of clay. But it left hanging the question of where this is going. Is it opening ceramics up as an installation-based art form? Is it part of the elegiac moment in Europe as it sees its manufacturing capacities drift off to Asia? Does it reflect a sustainability ethic that eschews making anything new, in favour of re-purposing the old? These questions needed airing, either in response to papers or in panel discussions.

Most pressing is the gradual loss of a global dialogue around ceramics. Last month’s Gyeonggi Ceramix Biennale in Korea did not have one entry from Britain, and there was little opportunity for dialogue between representatives of east and west. As globalisation continues to expand, it seems a mistake to turn inward. Modern ceramics has such a rich history of borrowing between cultures.

Norway has set the pace. We now need to pass the baton.

PS. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the excellent catalogue, then send an email to KHiB publications at resepsjonen@khib.no. Price: NOK 250,- (EUR 34) + handling expenses. More information here.

Sustainability in Craft & Design

‘Sustainability’ certainly seems the word of the 21st century. But it is not unprecedented. As the papers in the latest issue of Craft & Design Enquiry show, there are strong connections with the response to industrialisation by the Arts & Crafts Movement in 19th century England. Reviewing this history may provide an important guide to the future.

Craft Australia announces the publication of the third issue of craft + design enquiry, its open access, peer-reviewed online journal interrogating discourses surrounding craft and design practice. See www.craftaustralia.org.au/cde

Sustainability in craft and design explores the role of craft and design in social change responding to the challenge of global warming.

It features articles:

  • Towards a post-consumer subjectivity: a future for the crafts in the twenty first century? by Peter Hughes
  • Ideological constructs – past visions/future possibilities: evaluating the endangered subjects in the context of emerging global sustainability and environmental agendas by Mary Loveday Edwards
  • Theorising a transformative agenda for craft by Matthew Kiem
  • Ecology and the aesthetics of imperfect balance by Roderick Bamford
  • Craft and sustainable development: reflections on Scottish craft and pathways to sustainability by Emilia Ferraro, Rehema White, Eoin Cox, Jan Bebbington and Sandra Wilson
  • Sustaining crafts and livelihoods: handmade in India by Sharmila Wood

If you would like to engage in a discussion about this issue, you are welcome to join the discussion at the Table with the Journal of Modern Craft

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.




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

Creative destruction in West Timor

West Timor textile

West Timor textile

Tais Marobos Raroti Ceremonial Tubular Skirt (2005)

Ruth Hadlow gave a very interesting talk about West Timorese textiles at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop last Wednesday night. The images of textiles that she presented were absolutely stunning, with extraordinary melodies of colour, intricate handiwork and animated designs.

Ruth talked about how integral textiles were to life in West Timor. She mentioned that it was practice in the Indonesian civil service every Thursday to wear clothes that were handmade locally.

One significant demand on textiles was funerals, where they are buried with deceased of importance. At first, it seems a tragic waste to bury thousands of textiles at the recent funeral of an aristocrat. But Ruth observed that this was actually quite a boon for weavers, who then had a lack to fill. That’s quite a different reading to the convention of conservation. To destroy is to sustain.

Despite the integral nature of textiles, Ruth said that there were real problems of sustainability. The average age of weavers was increasing as younger women were drawn more to the cities. The attraction of the city is understandable, with opportunities for better health and education. Ruth felt that the solution was to professionalise weaving so that is seen as a legitimate career. But this was difficult with the lack of sales for expensive items.

Here perhaps is a role for Australia. Even though West Timor does not share the East Timor story of liberation at Australian hands, maybe there’s room for partnership in the future.