I was looking at a Nigerian vessel decorated with ceramic birds, painted with colourful slip- I am not sure from what era it came. As well as this, I was surrounded by hundreds of glass cases filled with equally intriguing objects, all carrying just as much history. Of course, I was standing in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, waiting for the Future of Objects Roundtable discussion to commence. The event was being hosted by their artists in residence, the partnership of Forest + Found (http://www.forest-and-found.com). Max and Abi, having graduated in fine art from Chelsea School of Art, decided to dedicate their practise to the timeless crafts associated with textiles and woodwork. Since their “approach to practice is investigative and research driven and stems from a deep relationship to object making”, it seemed fitting that as I recall, the first time I was exposed to their work was at Oxfordshire’s Art in Action festival in 2016.
On this particular Thursday evening, there was an intimate group of listeners who had gathered in anticipation of the panel’s dialogue, formed by Max and Abi themselves, Nic Webb (artist/maker: http://www.nicwebb.com), Gregory Parsons (galleryist: https://twitter.com/gregory2970?lang=en), Julia Jarvis (events curator for Hole&Corner magazine: http://www.holeandcornermagazine.com), and Silvia Weidenbach (contemporary jewelry designer/maker: http://www.silviaweidenbach.com).
I was pleased that one of the first comments, made by Nic Webb, was that every single person sat on the first floor balcony of the Pitt Rivers Museum that evening was a person of privilege. My own privilege being that I am able to be a student in Oxford and had an evening free from coursework, so was able to attend. But this is an observation that often goes unnoticed at events such as this. Following this, Nic deconstructed his quote: “freedom is our greatest privilege and with this, responsibility becomes our only duty”. He explained that craft stems from a necessity to make and a need to experience joy, which is the case for both the craftsperson and the ‘consumer’, noting that the functionality of a piece doesn’t necessarily have to align with a practical use for the object. This saw the first mention of the phrase ‘resonance’, as functionality can also describe the spiritual and emotional way the object communicates with the maker or user. It was also noted that the usual referral to ‘process’ by many makers should not be an act of justification for their work, or a defensive response to the familiar question of: “what’s it for?”
The concept of privilege also stretches to the outlook people have for crafted objects, particularly as craft blurs between the fine art and design arenas. However, the resurgence in the appreciation of crafted objects during the last few years demonstrates that it is not only for the elite. The growing awareness that objects reflect what we hope to be, or hope society to be can offer an explanation for this. For example, buying or carving a wooden spoon, not particularly because you need another instrument to eat food with, but because objects begin a life of their own once created and people in the modern age want to reconnect with their belongings in a much deeper way. This evokes a memory in me of hearing a craftsperson once ask, “how many of you have ever smelt your iPad?”
“Name is irrelevant”, stated one of the panel, as we turned our attention to the museum’s collections surrounding us. What can we do today that projects our personality, society and culture? This illuminates the choices open for the craftsperson, and responsibility is one of those choices, for example the ethics of material use or process; but also, the means in which the maker shares their work and communicates through it too. This lead the conversation to the roles of social media, particularly Instagram within the making community, as it can create positive patterns of communication, which are very personal.
The talk came to a close, leaving me feel incredibly inspired and driven to continue making for, sharing with and educating others. A particularly poignant quote from Max was: “there is nothing better than being physically exhausted from things you love”, which describes the buoyant feeling, which comes from working at your practise and that which you have created.