All posts by Kevin Murray

Kevin Murray is an independent writer and curator. For the past eight years, he has been Director of Craft Victoria, where he initiated a number of programs, including the Melbourne Scarf Festival and the South Project, a four year program of cultural exchange across the south that involved international gatherings in Melbourne, Wellington, Santiago and Johannesburg. With a PhD in the field of narrative psychology, he has an ongoing interest in art as a way of telling stories. His curated exhibitions explore new dialogues such as between crafts and kindred trades (Symmetry), art under false pretences (How Say You), Australia if it had been colonised by someone else (Turn the Soil), Tasmania as a promised land (Haven), art from water (Water Medicine), art of the stars (Seven Sisters) and world craft (Common Goods). His books include Judgment of Paris: Recent French Thought in a Local Context (Allen & Unwin) and Craft Unbound: Make the Common Precious (Thames & Hudson). He is currently working on the issue of cultural exchange between first and third world cultures, exploring the ethics of collaboration and the artistic translation of skill and rhythm. Exhibitions, publications and blogs can be found at For an archive of exhibitions and texts, visit This also contains a platform for new ideas in craft, and a journey through the various Souths of the world,

Survey shows a need for critical writing about craft

The results of our survey are out. About two-thirds of respondents were craft practitioners. The others included curators/writers (44%) and designers (37%). Most currently get their information from existing craft & design organisations, though half also get their news from Facebook and blogs.

When asked about the kinds of formats that would be of interest, there was strong support for reflective writing, including reviews, essays and profiles. A surprising number opted for craft histories, which suggests a need to provide some reference point for the field.



While a survey like this is useful to collect data, the space for extra comment is critical to gauge thinking and gather ideals. Other suggestions for content included:

  • artist profiles when written independently and not gallery/artist generated publicity.
  • investigative, analytical, witty editorial inquiry and one that pays writers
  • Finding a way to network young curators with artists is also something missing from the Craft Industry
  • Interviews with national / international craft and design curators Articles on grass roots initiates that promote and sell work
  • It would be good to see some true, critical journalism, critiquing
  • I think it should cover the intersections of the changing world of craft- ie traditional crafts and their reinvention using new materials/ new purposes

One craftsperson commented on a divide between the university and practice. While many enjoy the stimulation of education, they miss this when they leave.

I often feel I don’t know what craft workshops/depts are up to (visiting artists/shows/current theoretical thinkings in their galleries etc) and I’d like to know as I miss the academic world and its goings ons as a maker. As a maker I think there is too bigger disjunct once you are out in the real world between the two…

Many pleaded for critical writing, perceiving that many publications about craft are simply promotional.

Overall, the comments reflected the absence of publication – “Once again we are without quality Craft/Design publication so the need to restore the balance is important.” And a sense that something should be done new – “I think that it is timely and important for craft in Australia to have a lively, current, well written, pictorially rich magazine.”

As to the title, respondents were evenly split between the alternatives. But comments were useful in ensuring that the final title can realise the hopes that might be invested in it.

Thanks so much to all those who completed the survey. Your offers of support will be very important in getting this publication started.

Depending on seed funding, we hope to have the publication launched at the Parallels conference, National Gallery of Victoria in September. Please stay tuned for developments as they occur this year. If you have any inquiries, please contact me through this blog.

A new craft magazine?

What do you think about a new craft and design magazine based in Australia?2015 is the final year of the National Craft Initiative, which is a process managed by National Association of the Visual Arts to review the sector after the de-funding of Craft Australia. NCI will culminate in a conference Parallels: Journeys in Contemporary Making  at the National Gallery of Victoria, 17-18 September. This would be a perfect moment to launch a new magazine that expresses confidence in the sector and provides a platform for ongoing dialogue.Key elements of the current proposal are:

  • the strengthening network for craft and design across the Asia Pacific
  • growing expectations of participation through social media
  • increased interest in Aboriginal and Torres Street Islander craft & design in the region
  • support for thoughtful and engaging writing about craft and design
  • increased use of e-commerce

At this early developmental stage, it is important to receive thoughts on such a venture from those who are active in the sector (including outside Australia). Your responses to this short questionnaire are most welcome. Survey closes 6 February. Click here.

Mapuche stories woven into QR codes


Guillermo Bert, Redemption, 2012, wool and natural dyes, woven by Anita Paillamil, 213.4 × 121.9 cm

New Territories at the New York Museum of Art & Design is an ambitious survey of contemporary craft and design from Latin America. While many of the participants reward close attention, the work of Guillermo Bert is particularly intriguing.

Bert is a Chilean artist who migrated to the USA during the Pinochet era. In his new home, he developed a career making politically-charged art, drawing on the use of barcodes as signifiers of restricted information.

New Territories includes his work with Mapuche weavers from his country of origin. One of these, the 2012 work Redemption, is produced collaboratively with the weaver Anita Paillamil. Rather than traditional symbols, it features a QR-Code that links to a Mapuche myth. The work therefore is a testament to Mapuche culture both in the woven object itself and also the story that it encodes. What in his previous work was an emblem of repressive secrecy now becomes an important transmitter of cultural values.

These are the words that appear when the tapestry is scanned:

Somos prueba de que aun existe en el siglo XXI un pueblo ancestral.
We are the proof that in the 21st century, an ancestral nation still exists.

The video depicts quite a fascinating collaboration. At first it seems a forced exercise. Bert seeks to have his design realised by a Mapuche weaver in Chile, but his agenda doesn’t seem connected with their own reality. Do they know what a QR code is? Will they ever get actually to see the work in the US gallery? Modern art is filled with examples of first world artists using artisans as extras for their conceptual adventures. But Bert seems to take it further.

As the story unfolds, Bert travels to the weavers and seems to develop an understanding with them. He even invites one of them to travel to his Los Angeles studio so they can be in closer contact. As the video shows, Anita Paillamil is quite excited to be given this opportunity. And other Mapuche figures (I recognise the journalist Elias Paillan) seem keen to use this work to share their stories. It has the makings of a real collaboration.

Gwendolyn Zierdt, Unabomber Manifesto Handwoven and pierced; mercerised cotton, silk 305cm x 183cm

Bert continues a line of experimentation in weaving with digital code.  In 1998, US artist Gwendolyn Zierdt started a remarkable series of  works that played on the inscrutability of digital role. She translated the Unabomber Manifesto, which was about the decline of handskills, into a binary code that was then woven as a tapestry. It was a defiant proclamation about the co-existence of craft and technology.

A recent article (Kuusk, Kristi, Stephan Wensveen, and Oscar Tomico. 2014. “Crafting Qualities in Designing QR-Coded Embroidery and Bedtime Stories” The Art of Research) described new uses of QR codes in Estonia to embed narratives in

Embroidered QR code from Kuusk, Kristi, Stephan Wensveen, and Oscar Tomico. 2014. “Crafting Qualities in Designing QR-Coded Embroidery and Bedtime Stories”

Embroidered QR code from Kuusk, Kristi, Stephan Wensveen, and Oscar Tomico. 2014. “Crafting Qualities in Designing QR-Coded Embroidery and Bedtime Stories”

Embroidered QR code from Kuusk, Kristi, Stephan Wensveen, and Oscar Tomico. 2014. “Crafting Qualities in Designing QR-Coded Embroidery and Bedtime Stories”

goods, such as fairy tales on pillows and local wisdoms on grocery bags.  The work is not only about the application of new technology to weaving, but also the relational possibilities it makes possible as stories of shared significance can be embedded in the object.

What makes Bert’s work different is the cultural partnership. The QR Code links the Mapuche village with the urban centres of the wealthy North. It is a message in a bottle.
But like all collaborations between rich and poor, we are left with many questions. Is it useful to know how much and on what terms the weaver was paid? The wide gulf between the artisan payment and final sale price is often the cause of an awkward revelation after the initial excitement of craft-design collaboration. There are many valid reasons for a large mark-up – conceptual labour, investment of time and travel, rent, risk, etc.

Of course, too much talk about money can detract from the personal relationship between an artist and artisan. While other artists like Alighiero Boetti do not acknowledge their artisans, Bert is quite overt about the role of Anita Paillamil. This is a welcome gesture that adds greatly to the meaning of his work.

But it seems important that our interest doesn’t stop there. Might Anita Paillamil take this further in her own work? Could she exhibit a similar weaving of her own in Santiago?  It would be interesting to see if Bert’s work could inspire new work and make new pathways for Mapuche weavers in his home country. Perhaps they could have a more overt involvement in the messages carried by the QR Code.

Bert has cast the shuttle wide in his Coded Stories. But there are many more passes to come before the potential of these digital tapestries is fully realised. QR-code have capacity to unlock the secret life of objects. Scan this space.