Tag Archives: two hands

The politician and the speech writer, designer and maker

Australian politics is currently on a knife edge, as we are still yet to determine which of the two major parties will form government after a tie in the general election. The inability of the ALP to win its second term, after great success in dealing with the GFC, is partly due to the leadership change, when elected PM Kevin Rudd was replaced by current PM Julia Gillard. The ALP election campaign was dogged by questions about this, such as which of Rudd or Gillard had been responsible for unpopular decisions in the past. To an extent, the relationship between Rudd and Gillard is parallel to a previous partnership between Labor Prime Ministers Paul Keating and Bob Hawke – reformers versus the populists. There is still debate about which of Keating and Hawke was responsible for their major reform, the Accord, on which Australia’s prosperity was built in the 1980s.

Both Keating and Rudd took great pride in championing Indigenous issues. While Rudd’s greatest public moment was in issuing an apology to the Stolen Generation, for many Keating’s finest performance was in the speech delivered in the Sydney inner suburb Redfern, where he acknowledged the ills of colonisation.

Recently, Keating’s Redfern speech was selected for a special honour by the National Sound and Film Archive as a Sound of Australia. While delivered by Keating, the speech was written by Don Watson, who later reflected on it in his book Recollections of a Bleeding Heart. Recently, Keating accused Watson of breaking the speech writer’s code of ethics in claiming authorship of his speech. Keating argues that he had given Watson the core ‘sentiments’ of the speech. While acknowledging Watson’s talents as a writer, Keating concludes ‘the vector force of the power and what to do with it could only come from me.’

In response to this, rhetorician Denis Glover subjects the Redfern speech to analysis and conclude that it is in classic Cicero middle style, ‘a technical masterpiece’ reflecting Watson’s craft as a writer. Glover thinks Watson should share the credit with Keating. Fellow speech writer Joel Dean disagrees, arguing that ‘the words you write are not yours, they belong to the speechmaker.’

The issue reflects more broadly the tension in the partnership between creator and maker. Keating commissioned the speech and took responsibility for its outcome. Watson applied his unique skills in helping Keating his aim. In the same way, a designer might commission the making of a product from a skilled artisan. It’s the designer who usually takes the initiative and risk in this process, and in most cases the credit. But is there a place to acknowledge the contribution of the maker as an enabling force, particularly where a rare skill is involved? We would certainly consider this with a successful film, giving credit to actors as well as the director. So why not speechwriters, engineers, printers, weavers and pattern makers?

On the one hand Spring, and on the other, Autumn



Today in the South our calendars tell us that this is the beginning of spring. But as trees come into blossom here, the leaves will begin to wither and die in the North.

In his novel Rasselas, Samuel Johnson attempted to discover the secret of happiness. After many adventures, he concluded that any happiness is always accompanied by a loss, ‘That nature sets her gifts on the right hand and on the left’. You can choose to have either worldly fame or a bountiful garden. It seems that full happiness can only be experienced collectively.

Two hands is a symbol of a world made from the separation of two halves – North and South, thinking and doing.

Aristotle saw the world as made by two kinds of persons: the user who determines the form and the producer who realises it. In much of everyday life, these two sides work together: we want a cup of tea and we find the materials and equipment to make one. As human society evolves, these two sides are drawn apart. In the West, there is a hierarchy that places the thinker above the doer, the architect above the builder. Globalisation has put increasing distance between the consuming ‘first world’ and the producing ‘third world’.

It seems this arrangement is reaching its limits. Environmentally and financially, the world is out of kilter. In the West there are movements such as the Slow Movement and DIY that seek to re-incorporate making into daily life. And in the emerging economies, there is a call for increasing consumption and agency. The Kyoto Protocol has set up a framework where the future of the planet depends on a consensus between these two worlds.

On the ground, there is increasing activity in a kind of product development that involves designers working with artisans. For artisans, this collaboration offers the opportunity to find new markets that can replace the local sales lost through cheap imports. For designers, there is the potential to add an ethical value to their products. In a small but tangible way, craft-design collaborations provide models of north-south partnerships.

Such collaborations face challenges. Some in the crafts believe it is essential to maintain a link with tradition – craft is a way of keeping our authentic cultural identity. They think design ties craft to a short-term fashion cycle, as the whims of a distant market dictate what an artisan can do. And some in design world see the making as unimportant: as long as it is good quality and cheap, designs can be produced by anyone anywhere. Good design transcends its materials.

Of course, collaboration is not for everyone. There are circumstances were ancient crafts need to be preserved for the sake of our cultural diversity. And others where design operates at a purely speculative level in order to forge new ideas.

But in our world today, it is essential that we construct a bridge to encourage traffic between the two. The water below is turbulent. A legacy of colonialism, dictatorships and exploitation make it difficult to bridge the two worlds. Dialogue does not imply the denial of difference. But a common interest in the success of a product can help develop trust. What’s needed is a leap of faith.

Craft Unbound is a place for reviewing attempts to bridge these worlds. One bridging project is the Code of Practice for Craft-Design Collaborations. It begins by gathering information from both sides – a frank and open review of the experiences of designers, artisans, community leaders, activists, historians, anthropologists, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. Having surveyed the different perspectives, we can then bring together relevant organisations to construct a set of guidelines that best aligns the different interests.

To begin, we need to acknowledge that there a two sides to this story – the craft skills developed over millennia and the design concepts that give these skills a meaningful role to play.

Good craft is well-designed and good design is well-crafted.