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Time out

I’m attracted to the layers of a slogan like the ‘slow revolution’. Most revolutions I can think of are about energetic movement and upheavals; even if ideas take a while to become ideologies, we don’t think of them as slow events. But the phrase also makes me think of an insistent, evenly paced, circular movement of the ‘what-goes-around-comes around’ variety which is about making connections, something that as a historian, I’m interested in. I’m interested in things that, like history, take time, and embody transformation. This is probably the main reason I’ve moved into oral history work and stopped writing about craft much of which had seemed to get stuck in what I like to call the ‘craft present’ without movement, no energy, the revolution was caught in a spoke; the wheel had stopped turning. There seemed to be no past, or future, just an endless ‘now’ whatever actual year, or even decade, we are in. In a way it’s a relief that the Chelsea Craft Fair is now at Somerset House because I can now visualize a different time/space continuum for the Craft Present.

I’m generalizing, of course; but it is true that I had stopped taking time with many craft objects. But why should we take time with objects? We spend time with them but why or how can that be transformed into ‘taking time’ with them? Aesthetic contemplation seems increasingly absurd and self-indulgent but it is perhaps still the mark of a ‘proper’ appreciation of the artwork; there was also that pseudo-Zen talk of hand made things making us behave in a better, more caring, thoughtful, all together holier way. The kind of talk that made me want to shop in a pound shop and stop off for a plastic snack. But that just shows how I’m falling into the recalcitrant binary opposition sulk; Fast=Bad; Slow=Good. Wrong!

The appeal of slow seems to be about process. Thinking is process. Even the light bulb bright idea is the result of thinking, the breakthrough moment. But if the work is about conveying a message, then Fast can be good too. Humour is a good example. We appreciate the conceit and carry it around in our heads, maybe chuckling over it, for a time. So, I don’t think we should fetishize slowness.

Much of my time, my ‘primary’ research, is interviewing people about their lives. Reflecting on what one has done, why things happened, and who one was and is, takes time both literally on the level of the actual recordings, but also allowing for thinking time. The stories people tell about themselves are in a sense ‘crafted’; made through thinking, which is what makes them so compelling. But, they are also made in the context of an interchange/exchange i.e. a conversation. People are speaking to me in a room, but because the interviews are archived, they are also speaking to future audiences who will also have to take time out to listen and to understand who they are listening to.

I suppose, I want to listen to objects more, not just look at them. Not many objects talk back to me these days but maybe that’s because I’m making room in my head for listening rather than looking?

Linda Sandino

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3 thoughts on “A Summer Season post from Linda Sandino

  1. Hello Linda, yes fast can be good too; believe me spending hour upon hour flogging away with a bench plane can get tedious, as a craftsperson I’m always looking for that more efficient way, even a dodge. As I read your piece I was struck by both the similarity and difference of our positions; maker/designer and historian/writer. Your second to last paragraph is surely a direct corollary with craft making; processes and intention, taking time in the doing and the thinking, the exchange and interchange; conversation had in a room with material, tool and intention; the object made in some way becomes the archive but of a strange language, again to take time out and to understand who and of what.
    And I agree, to spend too much time fetishising objects is a self-indulgent luxury; it can be dillusional, overtly aspirational and distracting from the real world. Does this apply to book type objects too? The aesthetic of the textual construction? The thing is as practitioners being with objects is what the working day is, tools and outputs. I think that objects themselves have received little attention in the to-ings and fro-ings of this site so far what seems to have foregrounded itself is the process, intention and belief much in the way you describe how you go about your craft ; thinking, ingesting, assimilating, filtering- writing; consideration and construction and hence meaningful communication.
    Listening and looking? Binate oppositions of modern construction, aren’t they the same thing? Words and marks.
    David

  2. Hello David

    Thank you for your thoughtful response.

    Reading novels could be seen as ‘distracting from the real world’ but stories are always related to the real world, it’s where they come from. Very beautifully argued by Paul Ricoeur in his 3 volume ‘Time and Narrative’ where he also shows how we make meanings in reading so, you are right, about the parallels. Although one can admire style/aesthetics in writing, this is linked to the story being told too. We might admire the skill but not the object!

    I was thinking a bit more too, about taking time with objects. Obviously a museum is the place that both allows us to take time with things, but it also believes in preserving time – though the analogy with a mausoleum is no longer current, it is still what happens there. A colleague at the V&A told me of a brilliant question she was asked: How do you tell the passing of time if you work in a museum? (Her answer pointed to the significant role played by Keepers). The objects might be rearranged but that happens very infrequently. What changes are the visitors, not just new audiences but frequent visitors too – because we can tell the passing of time by our different responses to objects, just as when we re-read a book and find all sorts of new things in it that we hadn’t noticed before. New marks and new thoughts! My question to you: How do you know when you’ve reached the end limit of working on a piece?

    Linda

  3. Hello Linda, I agree, no matter how ‘of the other’ or abstracted any work of art has it’s links to the real world; either broad and communal or more secretive, narrow and private. But as you say it is how we make the meanings in the readings and as a text based culture words are more often more readily accessed and interpreted from their position of privilege. As a generalisation a lot of people might not be so literate when asked to conciously read an object, although as I write this I doubt its general truth when I think of the extraordinary ability of the students that I come across to understand the complex language of the training shoe. And most of the meaning in the objects around us is not made up of its making (we have become disassociated from knowledges of making as we have turned to consumption for identity formation), but from textual analysis so what is often left to read for most is the skill, as something distant or otherly; a peculiar mix of excited admiration and melancholy for things lost. And melancholy for things past, I have been so struck with the etymological and poetic link between museum and mausoleum. I must admit that I have never thought about it before but it has been quietly resonating in my mind since your post. At the risk of sounding overly romantic it is a beautifully evocative connection; stilling of time and reverence, contemplation of object and perhaps collective memory. Of imagining; the stories and lives of things that once were active and the people around them. And the connection made real at the Dulwich Picture Gallery where the founders of the gallery are entombed under a stone monument within the building. As for knowing when a piece is done I think there is a key split. When working to a determined design or plan materials are selected and the work starts and with confidence in the appropriate skills, (that word again) the stuff becomes what was discussed and drawn. When working more intuitively a finishing is less identifiable, perhaps it is more a pause as I think with this more elliptical method each piece is a comma, time to think and reflect and to take thoughts on to the next piece, not necessarily slowly but as a mark in a continuum. I think this is quite important, the artefact doesn’t have a full stop every time; the story continues in the next piece waiting to be read.

    David

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