Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Communicating Culture through Making

I just went to my first Space and Place talk, a series of lunch time lectures about Communicating Culture through Making. It was given by Dr Thomas Hawson who recently completed a practice-led PhD on Contemporary Craft in Iceland.

Tom is a furniture maker interested in sustainable cultural craft and practices. He gave a refreshing insight into how he works and how the lifestyles of the people he met while in Iceland were very rich, not necessarily in the monetary sense but in actual living and knowledge. They lead a very subsistence life style, and understand how things work, which I feel give them good problem solving capabilities, so can be more self sufficient and sustainable. This notion seems almost alien in our current climate although very inspirational.

Their knowledge and heritage was reinforced by Tom's project. He encouraged the makers and crafts people he worked with to document and reflect on their practices by video, audio and imagery. Uploading them so they could be shared and discussed. Something they had never done before and were reluctant to try even though the technology was readily available to them. Perhaps they felt as though these outlets were not in keeping with traditional practices or that their was little reward for this type of documentation. However Tom uncovered that this type of working brought about great benefits. It gave these practitioners good experiences of collaboration work, physical communication and reflection. They learned how to express themselves as crafts people in their own right and found they were getting credit and positive feedback for their work, no longer did they feel second fiddle to designers. Hopefully this will mean the boundaries between craft based and pure design based subjects can be broken down and skills can be interchangeable and no one deemed better than another. A more fluid level of working can be achieved instead of hierarchical. Because the feedback he got from them was so positive and the fact they felt that these were really useful tools, reinforced to me Jonathan's points from yesterday about reflective writing and the importance of doing so. It will hopefully help me grow and learn more about myself, my craft and how to communicate my ideas with others as well as being able to understand their comments and adapt them to help with my own practice and vice versa.

Another point Tom made was that in our very British society today we tend to remove all of the 'risk' elements from children's upbringing. He showed us a group of seven year old whittling with little axes. This would never happen here as people feel the risks out weigh the benefits. If all choice and considered risk is taken out of our decision making capabilities we will not have a good perception of hazard awareness which is worrying and potentially dangerous. People could fatally injure themselves as they do not realise the risks of certain tasks hold for themselves and others. ie crossing a road/driving to fast.
I worked in a nature nursery of sorts for a year and I feel very strongly that children should be given the chance to learn things for themselves and to be able to manage their own hazard awareness, I think the Whistlebrae Nature Kindergarten near Braco in Perth (where a colleague of mine went to work) is a fantastic institute for learning, the children are outside in all weathers learning about nature and the world instead of being placed in a brightly coloured room surrounded by plastic toys(chemical leaching that may occur from these mass produced products I feel are more hazardous, than letting the children saw a piece of wood). The Brao kids sit around camp fires and have a good understanding that it would be dangerous to get too close. They are actively learning from first hand experience.

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