Saturday, 24 September 2011

Making Futures conference "the crafts as change maker in sustainably aware cultures"

This is the final post on this 2 day conference which will sum up the overall feel and meaning for me as well as mentioning a couple of speakers that didn't fit elsewhere.
Dartington felt an odd place geographically to run a conference on sustainability meaning many folk had very long journeys including quite a few flying.  As a physical setting though it was wonderful, this is the magnificent fireplace in the great hall, and the history of the Elmhirsts pioneering work using the arts to reinvigorate rural culture resonated deeply. In 1952 there was a major international conference here looking at the future for craftsmanship particularly focusing on pottery and weaving.

So now again in 2011 we were looking at the role of crafts in creating a sustainable future. One interesting talk by Steve Swindells looked at a project addressing the issue of textiles (tents and sleeping bags) that are abandoned at UK music festivals.

The bags are collected by volunteers, washed and then given new life by students who make liners and embroider them to make them personalised. These are then given to homeless folk, having worked with folk in homeless shelters and asked about their needs they sewed safe pockets inside the sleeping bags for storing valuables. I felt ambiguous about the project, from one point of view it was good to see design students encouraged to do something other than adding to material wants. My reservations though are that this is tinkering and not addressing the real issue. Leaving tents, bags and other rubbish behind is a real problem that could and should be cured, just as festival organisers solved the ticket touting issue.

Another great presentation was by Mary Loveday-Edwards from Plymouth college of art. She took us on a roller-coaster ride through the history of "Nostalgia".
Nostalgia Noun; a wistful desire to return in thought or fact to a former time in ones life. A sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.

"Nostalgia is part of the narrative of craft; like all narratives it is ideological. The nostalgic narrative of craft is a utopian one, one that not only cannot exist but that has never existed. The romanticised nostalgic Crafts ideal is seen as proposing a way of life with a particular value, one which places value on the everyday rather than the sublime, one which overcomes the alienation of the contemporary world, one which values the human-sized approach. This narrative is not negative in itself; but seen in the sentimental light into which nostalgia can drift, it can place craft in a position of privilege or of withdrawal from the world, as William Morris found to his despair."

The talk was a real eye opener and ended with a very positive message about how we can take the best from the past and the present to shape the best possible future. I look forward to the full paper being published on the conference website.

As with all conferences much of the benefit of being there was in the informal chats had between presentations. New acquaintances made and good times spent in a more informal setting with others. in this photo to the left with red hair is Mila Burcacova who studies Morris and Craftivism, in the centre is Joe Kelly director of Craft Northern Ireland, a great chap who took me to visit Patterson's Spade Mill in 2009. Back to the camera is Hillary Jennings an advisor to the Heritage Craft Association who was presenting on the transition town movement and to her right is Diedre Figueiredo of Craftspace. Chatting with all these folk and bouncing ideas about where the craft world is going was very interesting. The subsidised art world is facing difficult times but craft has a lot to contribute to the sustainability agenda and that is definitely an area that is of growing importance.
Now I want to just add two gratuitous photos that don't fit but I have a strong connection to land and places and Devon and Dartington made big impresion on me. The screens passage between hall and kitchen at Dartington looks very Harry Potter.
 And here just a shot of typical South Devon countryside, it was first time I have visited the area and I loved it.

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