Thursday, 22 September 2011

crafts and the way people relate to objects

Kevin Murray gave one of the keynote papers at the Making Futures conference last week. a very entertaining speaker he encouraged us to question the way we relate to physical objects. In the great hall at Dartington with the oak lectern he looks rather like a preacher but the sermon was anything but dry.

We started by looking at tram conductors in Melbourne who used to give tickets to passengers. The ticket had a meaning and was also connected to a personal interaction between conductor and passenger. The conductors were much loved and avoided being replaced by automatic ticket machines by several high profile public campaigns to save them, though despite overwhelming public support they were done away with in the end.

We then considered other objects of meaning, in many cultures charms have great significance. The Japanese will give a charm which brings luck and again creates a powerful connection between  the giver and receiver. Perhaps our last strong example of this embedded meaning in objects is the wedding ring. Kevin recomended Stuart Walker's work on environmental design, particularly the discussion of the way in which surfaces age, either beautifully (wood or natural materials) or not beautifully (an ipod) If we want to design for sustainability we should make objects that last and remain in use. If we can embed meaning into the objects, as with charms, wedding rings or special gifts then they are less likely to be discarded.

Final thought it is perhaps the distance between maker and user of objects that allows us to become complicit in an exploitative supply chain which we would not condone if it was closer or more visible eg Iphone. Crafts can re-establish a covenant between maker and user and endow objects with meaning.

Alastaire Fuad-Luke had a related message, "re-crafting capitalism"

His argument was based around a broader understanding of "capital". He used Jonathan Porritt's 5 capital's
  • natural capital
  • human capital
  • social capital
  • manufactured capital
  • financial capital
He pointed out that we pay rather more than our fair share of attention to financial capital or GDP   and whilst natural capital has risen up the agenda a little we need to pay more attention to social capital. That is the value of our relationships and communities which allow us to enjoy and maintain health, knowledge, skills and motivation better than if working in isolation.

Craft can help us build social capital (or strengthen our communities) He gave a nice example of craft project that was doing this. "give fleece a chance"  involved 70 knitters making 250 small sheep from local fleece, connecting local wool users with wool producers. From the project has grown an online wool directory locally and a great deal of interest in running similar projects to reconnect with locally sourced wool around the country.

This short film tells the story.

"Give Fleece A Chance" 2010 from Brent Zillwood on Vimeo.


  1. Ah, now I can put a face to the name. I was at that conference too, on the Thursday and there were certainly many interesting viewpoints to consider. I enjoy reading your informative and thought-provoking blog.

  2. Thanks for the comment, always nice to get feedback and know folks are reading it.