A BREED FACING EXTINCTION?
Lamps made from sealskin, a combined case furniture and record player and a hand built motor cycle. All items that in one way or another mix technology with arts and crafts. In that way they earned a place in the exhibition 'Pimp Your Ride! - An exhibition on crafts and technology' in the Design Museum Næstved. It is, however, not just handicraft and technology, which is mixed in these and the others items on display. When you look closely on the items they are hybrids in many ways through their materials, origins and means of production. They are clear images of our time, where new technological possibilities and globalisation have caused, that we more and more seek back to the near, the authentic and the personal. With the request to slow down and increase the awareness to the man made, the items on display will demand our attention, our reflection and our empathy - all of it based on craftsmanship.
HYBRIDS FOR REFLECTION
Hybridization and hybrids are terms connected to biology. In biology a hybrid is defined to be a crossbreed of two different species, which normally not are able to produce young or seed together. When we talk about 'design hybrids', which the items on display in the Design Museum Næstved very well can be characterizes as, we see examples of the same phenomena: items, which are crossbreed of materials and ways of production, that we normally can not imagine together.
These crossbreeds, however, open up for some completely new and unique qualities and features just because of their (often) surprising combinations. Jens Frederiksen's 'Cigar Box Guitar' and Charlotte Bodil Hermansen's 'Seal Bell' lamp both are examples of designs, where two otherwise incompatible items and materials are combined. One is amazed and amused about the ingenuity behind the 'Cigar Box Guitar'. The funny transformation of a simple cigar box into a guitar's resonance chamber. One can very well imagine, that the 'Seal Bell' lamp could cause discussion and indignation by using sealskin for covering the lamp shade. But this is perhaps the exact intention.
To cause discussion and reflection with aha moments and to point out new truths seems to be a general theme for many of the items on display. But this is also characteristic for much of the design, that comes into existence at present.
Many of the products and design items that surround us should preferably meet more needs than pure function. As consumers we nowadays have very complex needs, many of them not pronounced visible and concrete. They are about the feelings and values we ascribe to our items. We want them to reflect our political, social, financial and environmental points of view.
In a world with so many different things, it is difficult for a designer to make his or her products stand out from the crowd. Many of the products that stand out therefore are those, which manage to address social and political issues. Just by their presence and the vision they are made of.
The items displayed in the 'Pimp Your Ride!' exhibition contribute to a modern discussion through their qualities of hybrids. They force us to take a stand on issues like sustainability, luxury, production and the producers behind. These are all aspects reaching out beyond the product itself.
With recyclable materials, African prints and the name of the person who made this bag sewn into the lining Bangura Bags not only focuses on sustainability. The bag becomes a very personal product through the used material and the name of exact that man or woman who made this particular bag. In the same way the specific and characteristic textile print points to the "home" of the bag: Africa. The personal and authentic is in particular reflected in the handmade quality. Exactly that is the common denominator for all the items on display. The handmade quality seems to be what gives all items something peculiar, provocative, thought-provoking and affirmative.
But how can it be that our designers seek back to handicraft? And why combine it with technological products? Products that easily could be produced with machines?
Today there is not a thing or part of our life, which is not (or could become) mechanized. Since industrialization technology was the way to go to make every thing and process more effective, smarter and more separated from our daily lives and doings. On top of that there is digitalization. Now we can with just one thing - our smartphones or tablets - live and take part in social networks like Facebook and Instagram. We can interact with our friends and acquaintances without seeing this people in real life. We can play solitaire without holding one single playing card in our hands. We even can do handwork. Just by tabbing and using apps on our tablets and phones we can produce pottery, use digital perler beads and "paint" pictures.
Homo Faber is Latin for the 'creative human'. A creative human who makes useful artificial items and tools (contrary to the naturally generated ones). As long as we have known tools and related to material culture is has been in recognition of every items starting point to be humans with a creative urge. The great number of handwork apps in our phones and computers show the large interest for exactly this fundamental creative unfolding in our time. But there seems to be an unavoidable paradox too, when we do handwork without even touching clay, needle and threat or brushes.
The selected and displayed items in the Design Museum Næstved are design products that seem to address this conflict, besides containing the combination of handicraft and technology. This and an implicit criticism on the new technologies and the speed, that many items of today are products of. By incorporating the handmade in otherwise technological items they dismiss the tendency, where practically everything can be produced by machines. In short, there can be identified a seeking back to craftsmanship, to natural materials and to an investment in absorption.
In the 'Pimp Your Ride' exhibition we have placed a number of items in a category, we call Slow Living.
As the name suggests, the Slow movement is all about slowness. It is about absorption and quality too, rather than rushing through one's doings. It is about acting as good as possible, rather than as fast as possible. The Slow movement was originally initiated with the Slow food movement in Italy about 20 years ago. It arose as a reaction to the fast food restaurants by McDonald's. The movement worked for a tribute to local and organic food produce of the season and for thoroughness in cooking. Everything they thought to be the opposite of fast food. The Slow food movement has since inspired to many similar movements like slow travel, slow thinking, slow schools and so on. They are all branches which can be united in one: Slow Living.
The lifestyle and rituals that our chosen items in the slow living category demand or invite to is like taken from the slow living manual. When Hugh Miller chooses to build a vintage Bang & Olufsen record player into his case furniture, it is an expression for this tendency. With the invention of mp3 files the playing of music can be done easily and quickly just by pushing a button on the computer. Hugh Miller, however, prepares for a much more "troublesome" and time-consuming way to play music. He demands a more active listener who has to take the record out of its sleeve, lift the pick up, put it down again and adjust the rotation. And exactly that is the point.
Speed and efficiency are no ideas belonging to living slowly, where you want to dissociate from the speed of society influenced by fast media, optimization and 'busy is best'-philosophy.
With the choice of craftsmanship as response to the technological, with all the displayed items represent, there in general is an implicit arrow pointing to many of the values connected with the slow-movement. In connection with most of the items we can identify a tribute to the "troublesome" rather than the easy solutions. When Wrenchmonkees hand build motorcycles, when Pernille Bülow mouth blows her lamps and when the designer affiliation Superlocal works to build social relations and to (re)generate craftsmanship traditions by exclusively using recycled materials, all this is a token of designers, who will not cut corners. One example of Superlocal's production is the exhibited hair dryer made out of mouth blown glass, recycled electronic parts and a reusable material like cork.
The 'troublesome solution' is in no way to be seen negatively. On the contrary. The troublesome is here the same as absorption. It is the processing of materials, it is the personality in the products, it is the quality of the materials, the sustainability and the unique.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SENSUALITY
'Pimp Your Ride' therefore is a tribute to handiwork, to processing and the thoroughness in production of the items and to the people behind. All the items on display have in common that they through their materials an processing very much point back to the human hand, which created them.
With that we are approaching an area that was one of the German socialist Karl Marx' favourite topics: thoughts on commodity fetishism. From a Marxist point of view this term covers the circumstances in which capitalism alienates the connection between manpower, production and the product. In other words, we perceive the different items only as isolated consumer goods subjected to the premises of the free market. Doing so, we fail to see and forget that they in reality are products of human labour. When we buy a product we are not only buying the physical item, Marx says. We also purchase manpower and the working hours used in production of the item.
Marx used the expression alienation to explain the segregation between manpower and product caused by capitalism. The term 'alienation' is here to be seen as conditions and behaviour in individuals, institutions or the entire society, which has become alienated to important characteristics in themselves. Human characteristics could for instance be going to work, being social with others or expressing oneself creatively.
When schools massively cut down on creative subject, or when creative unfolding primarily is happening in apps on our mobile phones, we are heading towards an alienation of the creative and craftsmanlike qualities and unfolding. It is this tendency the current exhibition will dispute.
(foto: Morten Dahl Hansen)
The items on display are all in one way or another handmade or influenced by craftsmanship. With that our focus is on the language of form and the qualities, that make us pause and think about the origin and use of things. This is happening in a different way than mass-produced, impersonal goods can inspire us to.
'Pimp Your Ride' becomes also an outcry and a reminder of the importance of sensuality. There are three reasons in particular for that.
When the present exhibition at the Design Museum Næstved is called 'Pimp Your Ride', it is not only a reference to how the items on display are crafted and manipulated in a more personalised an handcrafted direction. It is also an invitation to take action oneself and an offer to view at the thing that surround us in a new way.
(foto: Morten Dahl Hansen)
Besides that, we ascribe a completely different value to our things and items, when we either have made them ourselves or are aware about the fact, that they are handmade (and possibly unique). This, on one hand, brings luxury to the items but also a connection which causes the commodities to stand out and not as easily to be discarded again. And thereby a comment is made on our use and throw-away society.
Finally we get a different experience and learning through bodily perception. When you hold a lump of clay in your hand you can feel its weight, its structure and its material. This experience is not given you, when you puddle your clay in an app on your smartphone. Or you just can swipe away when something more exciting happens on your Facebook wall. Creative unfolding demands awareness, involvement and absorption. In the items on display, of course, it is primarily the design who got this experience. Our hope with this exhibition, however, is to address the peculiar and unique in the handmade items. We want to inspire the public to interact themselves, to work further with the design or in some way or another to gain experiences with handwork.
To add a touch of craftsmanship to technological items does not alter the original function of things. Nor have new, ground-braking invention been made. Nevertheless, the craftsmanlike character may just be the quality, that challenges our perception of what things use to be. Exactly the push that makes us pause and rethink the value of absorption, involvement and slowness. In short: craftsmanship and handwork.