Helen Carnac wrote:
I have long held an interest in concepts of slowness in relation to time and making. As humans thoughts of time are constant, we are all broadly aware of what time means for ourselves or collectively, although I would argue in the larger scheme of things we may have lost some of the notion of our own time and doing things in our own time and to some extent we are required to work at somebody else’s pace. For me in my practice slowness marks a rhythm in the workshop and a pace within the drawing and making that I do.
As a maker and teacher in metals, my practice is many faceted and these facets interconnect to form a way of working and indeed a way of life. My home also contains my studio and so as Paul Harper wrote in the essay for the catalogue of the exhibition Process Works ‘ It is a short well worn step between the conversation at the kitchen table and the studio’. Indeed the rhythms of everyday life merge into the rhythms of my making practice. The slowness of this arrangement may not seem obvious as I constantly rush around trying to keep up with the different aspects of my working life, however behind this is an absolute commitment and a purposeful decision to be able to engage in a reflective and thoughtful practice, one in which I have chosen to slow down my production and to think and engage in what I am ultimately trying to do.
When Andy Horn approached me to ask if I was interested in collaborating with Craftspace on the ‘Slow’ project it seemed like the perfect opportunity to consolidate some ideas as well as to launch into further and new investigations in relation to slowness and to be involved in the exciting possibility of curating an exhibition.
When I met up with Andy to discuss the project in August 2007 I had just taken down the second part of a three-venue touring-exhibition called ‘Process Works’. This had been my first larger scale foray into the world of curating and although I had put up and taken down many exhibitions throughout my career, this had been a much involved and longer term project. So it seemed the perfect time to work with a professional curator who has been incredibly open to collaborative working and has warmly received my thoughts and considerations.
For me Process Works was a chance to explore my thoughts and reasons for making and doing, ideas of repetition, the making of mistakes and, ultimately the knowing that comes from all these things. I have always wondered at the hidden layers of work, the manifestation of making and the seeming ease in which all this can be concealed and so perhaps overlooked.
One of the most interesting parts of the whole process for me was in a form of slowing down, of reflection and consolidation and working in spaces with others, at points within the process: moving around, looking, sensing and realising whilst doing. I think this perhaps enabled me to understand something of the work that I had not previously: being with the work of others and talking about my initial perceptions of how they worked and how that perception changed through time. Understanding beyond where something has come from or where it was made, what it is made from, what that entails: how the making is a discreet language and how we articulate this was all important and still is.
Like Andy and Craftspace I have a real grounding in many aspects of craft practice and am also very interested in issues of value: in terms of material, sustainability and ethical considerations. Indeed I had been the Co-chair of the Carry the Can Conference, which Heidi Yeo, Elizabeth Callinicos and myself convened for the ACJ in the summer of 2006. This project has been an ongoing concern, and has been borne of an ever-growing interest in how we value material and the real or perceived value of making in our lives.
So as Andy and I have come together and discussed our various positions on the theme of ‘slow’ we have tried to think broadly and deeply about what this means to us and to others. It has also been our position that our thoughts and understanding of these matters are literally that and that in order to discover more we needed to talk openly to others and engage with their positions and thoughts on the subject before we put together an exhibition. It is also extremely important to me as a maker that Andy and Craftspace acknowledge that as a maker I bring a different voice, I use a different language: one of making. I have already learnt much from working with Andy and look forward to a slow and thought provoking onward journey.
Andy Horn wrote:
The journey that has taken me to this proposal, has, appropriately for the theme, been a slow one. It began, several years ago, in shared thoughts within our organisation for an exhibition exploring notions of time based practice and processes of making that might gradually reduce an object to its essence, qualities that appear apparent in work imbued with a minimalist aesthetic. We were interested in the comments made by the potter Rupert Spira in an issue of Modern Painters, comments which resonated with Jake Lever, our Education Officer at the time, who is himself a painter interested in the spiritual values of art.
Rupert had written, ‘A mystic’s job is to explore the true nature of reality, but more is required of the artist. He or she has to simultaneously make manifest the ongoing results of this enquiry in form. So the role of the artist is to provide a way that this presence can be approached and experienced through the senses. Sacred art is work that comes from a deep desire to explore the true nature of our experience, or from an intuition of it.’ (Modern Painters, summer 2001)
When it came to begin to realise these ideas within the beginnings of an exhibition proposal, I felt a need to move them forward and to question our starting point. A touring exhibition needs to reach out to a wide range of people, and as an organisation we aim to select work that represents a wide diversity of positions in response to a theme. The minimalist aesthetic appeared to me to be too exclusive and within the presentation of a gallery context, rather opaque, and I wanted to avoid an exhibition of ‘pale objects’.
The idea, however, of connectivity is a powerful one, and significant within the intimate relationship between craft and everyday life, and I was interested in how this might be explored in ways that visitors may respond to. In this respect, I was increasingly aware of the currency of debate around the slow movement and its call to reconnect people to experiences – those that engage with all the senses, connect us to a place, that are shared and participatory. Listening to the news and reading the papers, who could be unaware of what seem to be inter-related issues of climate change, depletion and rising cost of resources and materials, environmental degradation and the loss of indigenous species, cultures and societies – all of which are a product of our over-consumption in an increasingly globalised society. Politicians, religious leaders, journalists and cultural commentators increasingly exhort us to slow down and make reference to the slow movement as a model for our future behaviour.
Craft is one of the main victims of globalisation. The development of mass production is often at the expense of craft skills, both for industrialising countries where localised and traditional craft practices are overwhelmed by the economics of mechanised, largely urban production, and industrialised countries whose industries still reliant on hand skills are undercut by cheaper labour abroad. Tanya Harrod’s review in Crafts of a recent publication by the sociologist Richard Sennett notes the resistance of craft practice to these economic and cultural pressures, a resistance that might be seen as enabling it come full circle so that is given to represent many of the values embodied by the slow movement. She writes, ‘he identifies craft as an antidote in a world of post-industrial working practices that serve to damage the dignity of the individual, making it harder to construct life stories with a sense of cumulative achievement.’ Crafts, January/February 08.
I felt that many of the themes and debates within the slow movement persist within craft, both within my perception of the interests of many makers and the history and culture of studio craft. There are still certain generations of craftspeople for whom making and lifestyle are intimately connected, particularly for those established in rural locations, and the desire for autonomy is a significant motivation for younger makers. The process and experience of making, of tacit knowledge that brings together the hand, eye, mind, the lived experience and bodily knowledge that understands material and goes beyond learned skill is one which is deeply connected and driven by personal value. It is not something that is gained by being rushed.
The agendas within the slow movement are echoed within the debates of the Arts and Craft movement that continue to overshadow our understanding of craft today. They may be seen, for instance, in its political and moral undertone, its critique of the excesses of production and espousal of the individual, its optimism, its ideals of community engagement, the stewardship of process which seeks an ethical underpinning to manufacture, the desire to give value to material things so that they improve our lives, emotionally resonate and offer lasting value.
To debate the idea of slowness and the possible identity of craft framed by the ideas presented by the slow movement would seem pertinent territory for an exhibition. It is not that we would see craft as an answer to these world issues, but rather to question and explore what it contributes to the debate and its capacity to offer alternative models and values. As an organisation, we were interested in how collaborating with a maker, brings a different perspective and knowledge and connects to their specific understanding and language of making. As such I approached Helen, being initially interested in her role in developing the Association of Contemporary Jeweller’s Carry the Can conference which addressed the ethical production of raw material and the importance of the stewardship of this process within the worlds of jewellery and fine metalwork. Together we have developed an initial proposal for the project. It outlines some of our ambitions and intentions and includes this statement, which I think is a good starting point:
‘Slow is not a new concept in the crafts. In fact it would seem that notions of ‘slow’ are epitomised by Craft and processes within craft production and life. It is not a literal translation of the word that we are interested in, but the current debate in the understanding of the nature of Craft and craftsmanship, which is developing and how aspects of the slow movement are related. However there are more notions of Slow in relationship to time and process, economy and material, nature of production and consumption, community and society that we would like to explore through a set of craft philosophies.’