Taking Time – themes and questions

The Slow Movement is a cultural revolution . . . it’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed . . . doing everything as well as possible . . . it’s about quality over quantity in everything . . .

“The beauty of thinking about Slow in relation to Craft is that it is asking me to look at every aspect of what I do, and why I do it, but in a very practical way. To look at making, and showing, and how and why the work is seen and used, and understood”

Malcolm Martin

“One of the things that is attractive about the crafts, or working with materials, is that at its best it can be an ethical practice and that is also what makes it political. When I have interviewed artists and makers about their work and their lives – their work and life is intertwined. When they talk about their work, they talk about themselves, that’s why the object, the work of an artist is never a product – because they are not an object themselves”.

Linda Sandino

Neil Brownsword

Neil Brownsword @ Taking Time

I have just read the catalogue of Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution. This is a touring exhibition from the Birmingham-based Craftspace curated by Helen Carnac. The exhibition ‘aims to show that contemporary craft practice and its methodologies can generate a modern and timely response to current social debates’. In my last blog I showed images of the making and presentation of Calculus, a large tapestry of tiny pebbles commissioned for Taking Time, and mentioned the themes of Taking Time that ‘quietly ask questions about global and local conditions that we find ourselves in today’.

The catalogue is as challenging as the ‘themes as questions’ themselves. The nineteen artists involved each get a couple of pages to tell their story through interview, statement, and image.  For many who read this blog on a regular basis the definition and meaning of craft embodied within this exhibition may seem pretty questionable, though curiously, what came to my mind as I read this catalogue was that those who spearheaded the Arts and Crafts Movement post William Morris in the early 20C (C.R. Ashbee et al) would have had little trouble with the methodologies and ideologies of those making, curating and showing for Taking Time. Weaver, spinner, dyer, designer Ethel Mairet, the subject of my college-based Historical and Contextual Study, was an avid student of the writings of Lewis Mumford, whose radical philosophy of responsible interaction between people, their environment and culture belongs to the tradition of economic and social discourse that Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman continues.

What I find compelling about the whole Taking Time project (some two years in the making) is the place dialogue, conversation and collaboration has had in its conception and nurture. It is quite unusual, but refreshing, to come across an exhibition that has evolved and will evolve further through strategies that enable dialogue to develop and then be given value. The search for dialogue, collaboration, analysis and feedback is something I recognise in my own making during this year when I have unwittingly brought together a collaborative experiment that has so many components found amongst the questions in the themes of Taking Time.

 So without further ado, here are my answers to those ‘questions about global and local conditions that we (artists and makers working in the area of craft) find ourselves in today’.

David Gates

David Gates @ Taking Time

How can contemporary craft making enable social interaction and embrace collaborative practice?

 Craft has to achieve a visibility, not so much in the exhibiting of the final product, but in the business and process of making. The public perception of craft appears to be: something rather quaint, merely decorative, the product of the personal hobby, a feature of occupational therapy and voluntary arts practice; or as something expensive, difficult to comprehend, not easy to justify, embodying exclusivity and quite beyond our reach. We could be more aware that the making environment within most craft practice is intrinsically beautiful and radiates purpose, and that the artist/craftsperson has a special intrinsic nature too. Historically craft has benefited from a distinct kind of patronage in the provision of space and services, as well as the promotion of the individual vision that is pliable to the needs and requirements of others. Reinstating craft practice and personal vision in locations where social interaction can take place (the NHS, education, museums and galleries, public institutions) could be an effective starting point. Collaborative practice often benefits from crafters being welcomed into acknowledged and secure networks (such as the HOST in West Yorkshire and the FutureEverything festival). Such practice is rarely documented, publicised or promoted and its dynamics are neither understood nor encouraged by the major funding and ILBs (such as the Design Council).

Clark - promise

Promise by Sonya Clark

How do we think about the relationships that form an important part of making processes including those between people; people and places; materials and ideas; and the space and time that allows for things to change or be made?

 Here’s an interesting statement from composer Nigel Osborne heard recently on Radio 3. Apply this to craft perhaps. Osborne is talking about a recent performance project he curated – String Theories at London’s new concert venue Kings Place. “It’s a kind of snapshot of a place in time. It seems to me that art now exists in microclimates. It’s not metropolitan. It’s not led by big publishers and big organisations; it gathers in microclimate places . . . so it’s nice to represent new work by its environment, by its place, by the lines that join people together in their lives and make them end up in one place at the same time . . . and there were such a variety of people of so many different backgrounds who were putting in all the things that matter  . . . but don’t usually get a voice. It was a fascinating random slice”.

Gary Breeze

Gary Breeze @ Taking Time

 How do we understand time constructs that are used within the making process? These may be fast or slow.

 One aspect of computer technology that few artists have picked up is the machine’s ability to capture poiesis – the blossoming of blossoming to use Heiddeger’s words. Poiesis is described in Plato’s Symposium as something that describes the process of begetting and making. It lies outside clock time and is something akin to virtual time  – where an idea of the process of making a piece can be imagined in the mind’s eye in a fraction of the real time of making. The converse of that is the breaking down of a complex sequence of decisions that may come about through improvisation with material. Machine capture with digital tagging and processing can illuminate a previously mysterious sequence of decision-making or physical action.

Image 8 copy

One of Alice Fox's animated textile images for 15 Images

How can performance, which involves the public in the making of the work challenge ideas of authorship and explore ideas of ownership?

Here’s a reaction to hearing and seeing the web version of Fifteen Images (Le Jardin Pluvieux) – a contemplative work produced through dialogue and collaboration between makers in textiles, music, digital animation, and web design. 

 Hi, very beautiful tonalities! Organic progression with playful mind and fingers of conclusion exponented by spacetime metamorphosis. Now I can understand your interest in weaving. Actually, now when I see that connection (viewing the project link) I also realize that it is textures that I’ve always been mostly interested in music. Texture is like mental progressions within the mind, algorithmically speaking multiple paths simultaneously opening up, closing down, with interaction, similarities, differences – but

the most interesting thing is that it is only the interaction of the mind with the piece you hear and see, that FINALLY is the composition, not just the piece (or mind of the composer and artist) itself, nor the mind (of the composer and artist), but my own mind (and composition and artwork (although someone else’s): by listening and looking at this marvellous piece I just created it – absurd?! – Great stuff!

 Although this may seem a rather muddled ‘stream of consciousness’ response (and by a Finnish composer struggling with his English) it does describe how time-based art can challenge ideas of ownership. This listener (I gather) created his own way through the performance and played with the animation and layering of the images. So what he’s saying is – the work became his . . .

Heindrun Schimmel

Heindrum Schimmel @ Taking Time

 How can we better understand a making process if we reverse the process or ‘unmake’, literally ‘unpicking the stitches’ to reveal ideas of process, materiality and what an object may look like when it is complete?

This is what the trace aspect of computer analysis of making allows the artist to do – not only can one ‘unpick the stitches’, but more important unpick the decision-making sequence that decided the positioning and choice of stitches in the first place. With such virtual tools simulation becomes possible, not just of the final object, but of the process as well.

Matt Harris

Matthew Harris @ Taking Time

 What do site, locality and place mean within the making process and can our personal histories transcend or go beyond our geographies?

 The poetics of place is increasingly recognized as a significant factor in analysis and criticism. There is a growing body of literature on this phenomenon. However, although such study is usually focused on the outcome and not on the making process, the blogging culture with its use of sound and video clips alongside the still digital image is able to both capture and comment effectively on the making process. It can reveal and transcend personal histories and go (via the Internet) beyond the local to the global.

BoomWehmeyer

Boomwehmeyer @ Taking Time

 How can an object encourage you to slow down and to take a second look and ask why it looks or functions as it does?

Visual artists discovered in the 1970s that working with film and then video ‘captured ’ the viewer’s attention in an exhibition setting. The time-based factor stopped the gallery viewer in his/her tracks for longer than the oft-observed 10 seconds average in front of a piece. If an object has movement or is attached to interpretative media that might, for example, provide views of the object outside the range of the viewer (let’s say from a range of different angles the viewer couldn’t move to) then the viewer is ‘captured’, will slow down, take another look.

Rebecca Earley

Rebecca Earley @ Taking Time

How do makers communicate ideas of making and how are these spoken about?

 Increasingly makers are considering the web, its forms and structures (blogs, multi-media presentations, open-form browsing environments, social bookmarking), at the outset of, and integral with, the making process. Fifteen Images (Le Jardin Pluvieux) is one such piece. The ‘makers’ have recently learnt that there are aspects of critical explanation and technical language that need to be understood when critical investigation from a particular rather than general direction is engaged. We have recognized that, to best communicate ideas of making, a dialogue has to be engaged that is best governed by the notions surrounding the community of inquiry: an term coined by the American educator Malcolm Lipman. This requires participants to agree upon, and possibly negotiate with each other, shared tools for dialogue. A good example of this is in action is the Radio 3 producer guidance notes for talks and features: every technical term not in common parlance has to be properly explained and demonstrated satisfactorily. This means no listener is left fumbling for a dictionary, reference book or Wikipedia.

What may seem strange to you is that I haven’t yet been to Taking Time (!), currently in Birmingham but touring throughout the UK over the next 2 years. I do know someone who has, and who kindly lent me the catalogue and gave me some of her impressions. I do plan a visit when the show reaches Plymouth. For the best pictorial guide currently to Taking Time go to these Flikr pages here. In my blog for 9 September you can read a resume of the Slow Movement with links to many of the individuals and organisations connected to it.

Ruthin CC

Ruthin Craft Centre, North Wales

Back in the studio I’m just putting a warp on my loom to experiment further with raphia and tapestry weaving techniques. I’ve nearly finished reading Tim Ingold’s brilliant study of lines – in music, weaving, writing, map-making, storytelling and walking. This book titled Lines: a brief history will be discussed here in the near future. I also managed a trip to North Wales to see, in its final days, the Follow a Thread exhibition of new tapestry art at the Ruthin Craft Centre. An inspiring place and a fascinating exhibition that deserves a blog all of its own. Watch this space. . .

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3 Responses to “Taking Time – themes and questions”

  1. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    In terms of my own weaving—which is very slow indeed!–it is all about process and working in the moment and allowing the working in the present moment to influence later moments, later moments for which there may have been other plans!

  2. Dot Says:

    If you keep going I am confident that you will find your own path in weaving. I see you getting your thoughts together now. I think you need to find a way to bring the kind of understanding that goes into your music into cloth.

    By understanding I mean philosophy, approach to creative work, the finding of a way to express something, and having a message. Creative works without a meaning can be a technical tour de force, but art needs to say something, and the best weaving is art.

  3. In Just Spring « Nigel’s Weaving Blog Says:

    […] last week. This has a fine essay by curator and textile activist Helen Curnac of Taking Time fame (see my blog on this). It also has an introduction to Jilly’s career and achievement by June Hill, former director of […]

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