Figuring a Way

I attended day one of Crafting Sustainability yesterday at OCADU facilitated and produced by Craft Ontario. The opening keynote speaker, Judith Leemann challenged us in thoughtful ways to consider how we understand and approach our world as craftspeople and makers, citing historical  anthropologists and contemporary thinkers Gregory Bateson, Margaret Meade, and Naomi Klein . Highlighting the fact that most see objects, as makers we might consider the materials in which the object is made, shifting the lens, and considering source materials as a state of constant unfinishedness, seeing the re-purposing of material as life itself, rather than ‘recycled’.  Key thought: material is always on the way to becoming something else.

Another key idea – is that makers create stories and that stories are the indirect media through which our creations are carried forward and communicated to a larger community. That we might try and see the inherent value in “the thing” rather than make it dependent on the outcomes associated with its environment. In the spirit of this insight, two stories I care to share that Leemann shared. The first – two wood firing potters set up a pottery and realize that they need a lot of wood – so in order to fuel their craft, they retrained as arborists, and began a business “Treecycle” where they cut down unwanted/old trees and take the wood away for free for use in their kilns.  Nice.

Second story is about Theaster Gates – one of my favourite artists since I saw him sing and dance with brave irreverence at the AGO last year, and keynote at Milwaukee’s NCECA. Leemann was involved in a progressive performative exhibition installation in Seattle, where each invited artist had a space to transform based on the instructions of lack thereof of the previous artist – Gates was last, and he chose to coat the entire exhibition space with white porcelain slip, all the while singing his hymns of praise to Dave the unknown potter.

Stories whether true or fabricated, are imbued with a certain degree of fiction, and as Leemann reminds us “fiction opens up a spec in us to feel how much we want some thing. Parting words of wisdom: Craft has never been learned by waiting to know enough.