The Americans have a love of coining new phrases. To antipodean ears, they can seem verbal gadgets, eagerly assembled for momentary pleasure. The term ‘prosumerism’ is a combination of consumer and producer. Bringing them together seems a ‘neat’ way of having best of both worlds – continuing the pleasures of shopping while assuming the authority of a creator.
Yet while we often dismiss these corny notions, we can’t help being curious about the new fangled ideas that emerge across the Pacific. At least they give us something to react against.
The US jeweller Gabriel Craig is a particularly eloquent source of new perspectives. In his blog Conceptual Metalsmithing recently he writes about the ‘plural genius’ of the 21st century.
You walk into a gallery, you choose a piece you like, you buy it, and then that unique piece stands for your uniqueness. In the prosumer paradigm, the participation of the consumer is not passive – I choose that one – but active, I made this. Prosumer jewelry is asking for the consumer and the viewer to become an active participant. It is not quite a regression to the pre-choosing identity paradigm, but a shared middleground between choosing and making. Again the responsibility for the object and what it represents resides in multiple entities.
The relational paradigm is a particularly important source of threat and opportunity for contemporary craft. There’s the fear that we are lured into an ‘audience-friendly’ concept of craft only to find the very specialist skills on which the medium depends wither away.
But I tend to see it as something that can extend a craftsperson’s capacities. At first, there is the direct challenge of constructing an object on a modular basis for re-assembly (the same challenge faced by designers in IKEA). Like a good composer, you need to know the capacities of your orchestra. And then there’s the matter of working at the sociological level of human relations, and the key role that objects can play in constellating social bonds in the here and now.
It doesn’t mean jumping on a bandwagon, but it can mean that the construction of the bandwagon becomes part of our business.