In my last post, I was musing on the idea of ‘social creativity’ and the valuable skills that craftspeople and designers can contribute to our changing society. On reading the other posts and contributions, I realise how much my interests focus on the process of making rather than the actual object. Not that the object is irrelevant, but that it is, as Paul Harper wrote in his post, a ‘….very important by-product’ of the way one works. The way one works, and the idea a craftsperson’s practice should and could have real social value, is what I am exploring. I am still not exactly sure what form these social ‘contributions’ would be, but believe it is embedded in the craftperson’s innate skills and ways of working which include experimentation, the importance of peer-to peer relationships and a sense of connection to their whole process of production.

I was interested to read Paul Harper’s thoughts on this point as well, and in particular his description of the way he used to source the wood for his practice from a local timber merchant. He described how important the whole process of visiting the merchant was – of driving up to the site, of slowly selecting the wood pieces, and engaging in dialogue with the site owner. As the producer, he had complete mastery over his materials, as he had chosen them and crafted them. It may not necessarily have been wood which originated from his immediate local area, but there was a sense of being intimately connected to the whole process. He also described how this connection to the materials and the whole process was “…..continuous with other aspects of my life”. By that I guess he means with how he eats, cooks, travels, and works, basically how he organises his daily life. So with the knowledge he gains from being a craftsman, he is able to carry over some of that knowledge to how he lives.

Paul also mentions how this notion of being intimately involved with every aspect of production has now unfortunately become a privilege. To be connected to how and where something has been made is a luxury in our modern world, not only as a producer, but as a consumer too. But this connectedness is what we are all craving, as the Slow Food movement has shown.

As I mentioned in my last post, as consumers we are also going to have to find something more compelling than mindlessly shopping and to get our kicks in some other ‘immaterial’ ways. Ezio Manzini[1] argues that maybe this will come from an increase in other qualities, all related to the ‘local’.

Firstly, he argues that we need to rediscover the ‘commons’, or the quality and value of our local, shared environments. Whether it is a local park which has a strong local heritage or a public building which could be redeveloped to support local social enterprises, we need to actively celebrate and nurture the qualities of what we share in our local communities more.

Secondly, we will need to rediscover individual and community know-how.

The emerging examples of Slow living I mentioned in my last post, like the ‘walking bus’ or the urban food growing network[2] are new forms of ‘social innovation’, where people are actively organising their own lives. It is a bottoms-up approach which favours experimentation and collaboration and which shows that the boundaries between who produces and who consumes are also blurring.

Manzini argues that the final quality we will need to rediscover if we are to compensate for the loss in product-based well-being, is the quality of slowness, or time. Taking time to walk home from walk or taking the time to cook a proper meal are all simple activities which have become rare and undervalued. Carl Honore, the author of In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed[3], described the exact moment when he realized the extent of his addiction to our fast-paced lifestyle was when he seriously considered buying a two-minute version of his child’s favourite bedtime story. It was a simple but very effective wake up call!

A fine example of a new type of social innovation which embodies all of these qualities is the Transition Town[4] movement, which is working to redirect whole communities away from a reliance on oil. A local town decides to take on the challenge as a whole and people are divided into different working groups such as Energy, Food Production and Transport. The idea is that they will eventually be able to generate their own energy, grow their own food and will be intricately connected to every aspect of their daily lives. But, it has never been done before and this is the ultimate in true social creativity. There is a “cheery disclaimer” on their website which states, “ We truly don’t know if this will work. Transition is a social experiment on a massive scale”!

However, it comes back to my initial idea that, like the craftperson, we need to gain mastery over our environments again, and to develop our own ‘technique’ of how we want to live. It will be interesting to see how this movement evolves (already there are towns committed as far a field as Japan, Chile and Australia), and to witness the changes that occur on a personal level to the people involved.

So, it is these qualities of places, of communities, of time, and of common assets, which we may be able to build on to create an alternative to the current unsustainable model of how we produce and consume[5].

It is worth mentioning that Manzini, being a systems designer, has outlined these qualities because he believes that designers will play a key role in promoting them. He argues that designers need to take notice of these small examples of social innovation and to help cultivate them. Whether it is developing a software system especially for a group of local food producers which helps them manage sales and communications, or developing a web-site that could facilitate a co-housing project, designers have many skills to offer. It is a new role for designers which involves the designer considering themselves as part of the community they are collaborating with and working as a sort of facilitator in this social learning process.

So, while there are new roles being explored by designers, likewise craftspeople may be able to expand the role that they play in their communities. I would be interested to see the contributions that a craftsperson would make to a project like Transition Town. My guess is that they would offer some very valuable skills and insights.

I am going to the launch of the south London branch of Transition Town this week, so in true craft style, I am hoping to get my hands dirty and practice what I preach!

[1] Manzini, E (2008) New design knowledge, Introduction to the conference ‘Changing the Change’, Turin, 10/07/08

[5] Manzini, E (2008) New design knowledge, Introduction to the conference ‘Changing the Change’, Turin, 10/07/08

3 thoughts on “A new post from Clara Vuletich

  1. Hi Clara

    Lets not just let what we do become co-opted by the design profession though, I am not one for compartmentalisation and specialisation but what comes naturally to a ‘craftsperson-like’ approach to life is as you write forming part of the current discourse on design with increasing attention being paid in the sustainable futures sector to Manzini, Chapman, Walker and others. The advocacy (in whole or part) of systems, provenance, narrative and community is part of what reflexive contemporary craft practice does but there is sometimes a lack of collective confidence in the voice of our discourse as to the strength of craft’s position as many re-think how society approaches ways of living. I know that many have quietly got on with doing this stuff for years but as you rightly point out craftspeople could have an important role to play way beyond the studio door and as practitioners our voice should be heard.

    Best regards, David.

  2. Hi David,
    Yes, you are right, I guess I have been struck by the discussion going on within design about re-thinking ways of living, which points so much to the skills of the ‘crafts person’, and (not being familiar with what is being discussed within craft) the seeming silence or, as you said, lack of collective confidence…
    I guess designers are more used to being problem-solvers/finding solutions for how people function in the everyday?, or they have claimed that space more for themselves, but I would love to hear more craftspeople contributing to this discussion – I not sure about it being ‘co-opted’ by design?, I believe the more different viewpoints the better…

  3. Hi Clara
    I have left a very long comment on your summer post before realising that these articles are from some time ago. Yes, the crafts movement suffers from a serious lack of collective confidence, and the increasing difficulty of trying to make ends meet. At the crafts and sustainability workshop in plymouth, the comment ‘craft is dead’ voiced by a prominant craftsperson who has been an inspiration to me in my working life was particularly poignant. The call for leaders by the end of the workshop was also really heartening, but who, where and how? We are collectively on our knees, even in the 15 years I have been in this industry, it is increasingly difficult to make any kind of living. And I have watched many colleagues and friends go bust or give up along the way. Many that have been established for years if not for generations. How do you revive something like that?

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