Making…… a slow revolution?
Hello Helen and Andy thankyou for asking me to think about your project, when I first thought of how I should frame a response I was drawn to thinking about how we consider the meaning of the word slow and I include the text as far as I got during that one session below in italics, but since tapping out those rather stuttering thoughts I have taken some time out of my usual routine to make a visit to be at the Schmuck jewellery event in Munich. What I did there and catching up with 4 days of emails upon my return has caused me to directly think of my time and its value to me as a maker and to think about the role of the workplace as a craftsperson, reading Richard Sennett’s most recent book has led to many ambling thoughts but I cannot get much further at the moment than to think of him as someone on the outside looking in, in the same way as Peter Dormer learnt letter cutting as part of the process of writing The Art of the Maker Sennett is drawing out what he wants to see and applying it to his utopian vision, for political change, for humanity in our lives; and I do not disagree for one moment with this stance and vision to reconnect with a more meaningful expression of life but as a somewhat dystopian counter to this has been the experience of the foundry in Munich which has just hosted ‘In response to…’, an exhibition of metalwork.
The reason for my visit was partly to deliver some of the work but also to ‘respond to’, as a maker, the project in writing and photographs. And far from the bucolic vision of craft as a haven, as resistance, craft as a utopian next to godliness this is a site where the work simply gets done. My first response even as one who spends many hours in a workshop was god this place is filthy, this is a place where the workers will get cancer this is a place of the urban reality of small scale production, where the commissioning artist or visitor may encounter a romantic picturesque version of what it means to work directly with materials, with heat and noise and dust. It is not romantic. It is filthy. It is much grubbier than my place but it is recognisable, urban, cold, cramped, a site of work and bereft of luxury or comfort. We too drew up some tables to eat communally whilst setting up the show, it took one of us 20 minutes to clean down a table to a useable state, there was little to sit on and every surface, vertical and horizontal was encrusted with plaster dust and wax. People spend their lives here, they are professionals who do a fine job of workmanship they work hard and to exacting deadlines and tolerances but the reality of the romantic view of the outsider of this urban landscape is much like our interpretation of the sublime beauty of the Victorian landscape painting. It is distant, and viewed through the prism of that romantic distance we do not recognise its brutishness and coarseness. It is good that things are still made in the centre of Munich but next door to the sex shop on Schleiβheimer Straβe with the cracked roof lights and the dirt is perhaps closer to the urban heart of small scale production than the romantic view of craft. Where one can really attempt to sit in opposition to the machinery of capitalism.
One of those emails that I had to respond to on getting back from Munich was to explain at length to an enquirer/potential client how I had arrived a quotation, there seemed to be little understanding at a very basic level, even though there was a familiarity with my work, that what I do is based in and dependent on time, even after an explanation that along with most craftspeople my materials are a minor element in a final cost and that most of what we do is rooted in countless hours at the bench, the request is to try to halve the quote, to those who know how things are made it is surely plain that this will result in a different product, maybe not better, maybe not worse but in essence, in its form and nature very different . Not my work.
Thinking about the parallels of craft and the slow movement as it has come to be known mostly through artisanal food production can be a useful way of thinking about what we value in craft. But I think that I have two issues; one is the word and the other is the meaning to maker and the consumer.
Slow is word defined almost entirely by negative connotations, mostly adjectively slow pulls its subject back condemning it to a socially unacceptable condition; the journey home was so slow, the slowest competitor lost the race, slow learner. The word has a social life that defines how it is interpreted; indeed this is how words work but perhaps our word is loaded with the expectations of the world and its systems beyond a simple meaning.
Slow implies some kind of relativism but it is strangely absolute in its condemnatory mode. Things take as long as they take, slow compared to what? This is how long something takes to do, not longer, not shorter. We don’t have a rulebook of times allowed to give form to objects or events; expectations are conditioned by other parameters of inexperience. Partly because most people in forming the societal paradigm are not producers, they are consumers. Consumption as production; shopping as making.
I suggest that the perception of slow comes from the consumption side of the exchange, a panacea to the pace of life? More likely from the maker the ideas of provenance, care, thought and stories, the things that are bound within an object that has taken just the right length of time to be made.
So is it really slow? It is perhaps just the right length of time and time as an experience is just how long it feels. When making, the feeling of time passing becomes part of the object forming, time is part of form. Time marked out by action and movement. Sound and meter. In the rhythm of making the time feels right and feels of nothing at all, time and form as fluid markers in a day.
The processes and actions of giving form are intimate and explicit and demand engagement, a conversation, never just orders. The plan can change; responsive and reflexive. Draw: do: think: do: solve: change. The thinking of doing and the doing of thought. The iterative behaviours of working practices happen progressively and cyclically, not everything happens at once.
I suggest the words timefull and timefullness in opposition to slow. An object or form that is composed partly of time, full of the time that it took to bring to bear and the sense of thoughtfulness and consideration that a word like timefullness might imply.
So the timefullness of the cyclical iterations of problem solving and directing material. And the timefullness of rhythm, stance, action and breath, the linear markers of time and acts.
A sliding point on a bicycle spoke rolling forward.