Sunshine makes a desert – a craft response to the economic crisis

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The Arabs have a saying, ‘All sunshine makes a desert’.

There is reason to think that the same could be said for the global economy. Back in 2005, I remember reading an article in Spiked by Phil Mullan, who argued that the world economies were too well managed. He claimed that by carefully avoiding peaks of inflation and troughs of recession, the market was not experiencing the regular pruning necessary to ensure efficient systems. Joseph Schumpeter described this as a ‘creative destruction’ required for innovation. While it may be a lack of regulation that triggered the crisis through sub-prime mortgages, this crisis should still provide a space for something new to evolve?

Where will craft stand?

Craft seems entirely ephemeral to the global economy. But the reverse is obviously not true. Everyone can feel pessimistic about the short-term future (leave global warming to the long term, for the time being). There will be less discretionary capital, particularly for luxury goods. The extra price of quality handmade goods will seem less affordable now that the value of investments is no longer on an endless ascent. Most craft artists are dependent on part-time work to support the studio practice. There will be less employment overall to support this kind of lifestyle.

Is there an up side? It’s possible to speculate that this crash will set up conditions for increased interest in the handmade. The economy seems to have become unhinged in the world of ‘complex derivatives’ in which money follows an increasingly abstract trail of goods involving futures and debt transfers. This reflects the increasing abstraction of the contemporary lifestyle, where more and more our activities are mediated by technologies, such as the recent wii fitness consoles. The crash may be read as a wake up call.

One can imagine a ‘back to basics’ movement involving a return to the things at hand. That would build on the momentum already developed by the slow movement and various guerilla craft actions. Practices such as ‘poor craft’ are obviously well placed for a time when we all have to make the most of necessity.

From this end of time, the future for craft seems mixed. There could be a decline in top end craft, but at the same time a revival in making as an activity.

But then again, something quite new may unfold. We may experience a ‘shock of the old’ as the rapid process of technological redundancies are mined by creative anthropologists. Crowds may gather for collective craft spectacles as castles are woven from old cassette tapes. The previous decades of dizzying expansion may seem like a strange dream.

Perhaps an oasis will emerge in the desert. Let’s hope it’s not a mirage.

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