February 12th, 2010

Went to a conference by the National Arts Learning Network/UKADIA yesterday.  Our team were looking to share what we were doing in terms of embedding sustainability into the curriculum and to get ideas from others, maybe make a network, in the light of the forthcoming government targets on carbon reduction for Higher Education and Further Education establishments.

What we are doing here at Plymouth College of Art includes several research initiatives by staff (some of which will be appearing on this site shortly as case studies), and including sustainability issues in teaching in Critical, Contextual and Historical Studies.  I think including the issues in cross-disciplinary ways increases the understanding that we are all in this together.  For me, this is one of the really good “side effects” of this research position – that research so centred in one discipline can be rolled out across curriculum.  The cross-pollination is a good thing for everyone, I think.

More in another post.

Weird happiness.

December 17th, 2009

There are a few things at the moment that are making me feel as if I have a purpose on earth.  One of those is teaching a module on sustainability to my students here at Plymouth College of Art.  When I’m involved in this kind of work I don’t have to lie awake at night wondering if I’m just making things worse either by doing something that is not sustainable or by not doing enough to promote sustainable practices.  And, unlike the internet, there is an immediate feedback loop that lets me know if I’m making sense – plus some of the students are kind enough to share their own journeys – emotional, material, intellectual – in and out of class.  The link between research and teaching has been fruitful here and I think may continue and grow in importance after this research phase is done.

Polar bears falling from the sky. And wearing hats.

November 30th, 2009

A colleague of mine sent me this ad – the link is to youtube:

I think it’s interesting.  Shocking, yes,and as far as I can remember the first shock-horror anti-flying carbon ad I’ve seen.  But I can’t help thinking its effectiveness will all be in the wrong direction. Have a look at the comments underneath and (as far as one wants to pay any attention to youtube comments) they all seem to have gone directly to the default position of denial.  This is because it breaks one of Futerra’s (see below) “rules”:   Don’t create fear without agency.  In other words, if you give people a message that creates fear, you should also give them a way of acting to create change, and this ad doesn’t do that.  Again, Futerra make it clear that confronting somebody with the difference between their attitude and their actions on climate change will make them more likely to change their attitude than their actions (this is known as cognitive dissonance).  I think this is the clearest thing you can see from the comments underneath:  people seems to be running to denial pretty quickly here.

The Friends of the Earth one is a better attempt, I think:

I’m sure it was the hats as well…

It was Jerry Mander in Four Arguments for the Abolition of Television who made me aware of the difficulty of using the hegemonic media and language to criticise the hegemony.  The idea of these videos going viral is an interesting addition to this debate.  Viruses do have the potential to bring down behemothic hosts much larger than they.  And they seem pretty much to be the only kind of action that might be able to do this.

Maybe teaching is viral.  My students are often in that place of, “why do we have to go so deeply into this?”  “Why do we always have to analyse everything?”  But analysing the psychology of how (and whether) certain approaches work in terms of behaviour change seems incredibly important to me.  There’s an awful lot of thought, creativity, talent, money, emotion, time invested in those polar bears falling from the sky.  Those are a lot of resources to waste on the wrong outcome.

A Network of Beneficial Relationships

October 29th, 2009

“A house with a conservatory attached does not look like an ecosystem, but it shares its most important characteristic:  a network of beneficial relationships.”  –Patrick Whitefield

During the Making Futures conference and beyond, we started to see that craft may not just be defined by material processes.  Its defining characteristic may yet turn out to be the beneficial relationships engendered by a craft approach.  The majority of speakers at our workshop here back in May identified a strong interest in educational or otherwise skillsharing relationships built around crafts, and the Making Futures conference further elucidated this concern.  (There will be more information on this available on this site when the next Stage Report is published – soon.)

Previously craft’s mission has been seen as defining by difference – NOT art, NOT design.  Are we looking at a more inclusive style of self-definition; one which depends on being malleable and accepting, rather than focussing on divisions?  In this way craft and its subsections and its similarities to other artforms is seen as part of an interconnected system rather than a singular form.


Being Good.

October 21st, 2009

Every so often, as a named “sustainability” person, I start to feel that people are avoiding me.  Only my friends will say what most people won’t:  “I’m fed up with thinking about sustainability!  I want luxury, excess, beauty – I don’t want to have to think about being good all the time!”

And I say, “Me too.”

The thing is, nobody likes to feel nagged.  And most people (most people I know anyway) feel that they don’t want to do what they’re told, specifically because they’re told to.  People who are very willing to act in the way their conscience or logic might tell them, balk when it’s something they feel made to do.  And looking at Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon this morning, thinking how we all feel looked at and judged all the time, by unseen and secret forces, only adds to the feeling that we are being nagged.  Is there some kind of link to childhood where we immediately feel the same reluctance to obey authority?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s got something to do with feeling that there are so many ill-thought-out centralised authoritarian pronouncements and decisions made, that obeying any of them adds acquiescence to the stupid rules or requests as well as the ones which makes sense.

And then I look at other cultures, or even to my childhood, and see that there seemed to be examples that worked well of things like recycling, that were much more carrot than stick:  getting money for recycling, even at point of sale for new items; having a culture of sharing stuff; just basically being rewarded for recycling as opposed to threatened with punishment for not.  As most of us know, or sense, the threat of punishment seems to force a sort of closing-down, whereas the hope of reward can provide a sense of openness or willingness.  So maybe we are getting a kind of tension here:  we want to do the right thing and when we feel like that we feel open; but feeling the threat of punishment closes that feeling down.  And then we get confused and recalcitrant when the best we can do is do the best we can until we feel threatened again.  It’s an uncomfortable feeling, like being one of those balls attached to a bat by a piece of elastic.

Last night I saw a man on TV, clearly very knowledgeable, very smart.  He was a mathematician and worked in chaos theory.  He could explain, in admirably clear and elegant language, how weather patterns formed, how flocks of birds danced their shapes in the sky, how – even though our predictions are sometimes not very precise - there is an order which underlies all.  And the best application he had found for all of this knowledge was to build better microwave ovens. 

I think this closing down of willingness that I was talking about is more creeping, widespread, and serious than feeling reluctant to recycle.  Some would argue that ideas have become smaller and more closed since we feel we have run out of places to colonise.  We have no space for our big ideas, for our good intentions, any more (though we still seem to be allowed to blow up the moon to see what’s there…).  Somehow we need to stop thinking of sustainability in the camp of smallness and reluctance.  We need to put it more in the camp of big ideas and luxurious plenty.  If people with lots of knowledge and ideas only think in terms of making things, like microwaves, we have too material a sense of what luxury and plenty are. 

There’s a groundswell of thinking within the craft movement, moving from a concern with the artefact, the product, to the relationships involved in its making – the process.  We need big, luxurious ideas about relationships and processes.  That is the next frontier.  And it probably doesn’t involve blowing things up.


October 19th, 2009

Last week I attended an artist’s talk by the photographer Rosemary Horn.  Driven by concern about the damaging material processes of photography, Horn has developed (ha ha) methods of working with natural materials, principally vegetable matter, in a search for more benign processing.

I have said before that material processes are potentially the easiest “target” for sustainability debates – maybe particularly for visually-motivated people such as many artists.  The materiality of a thing is literally the first thing one sees about it.  And for many people, perhaps, that is where the debate rests.

I think with this approach what you get is a very practical argument around how much stuff – pollution, carbon, environmental degradation – can be balanced out against how much new stuff – read crafts, or photos in this case – is necessary or desirable.  For many of my students – and the default question for many of us – is, why make the stuff at all?  Does the world need any more stuff?  And why make it in a certain way? 

That kind of debate is difficult enough, presupposing as it does that we all want or need the same amount of, or qualities in, our new stuff, or that we are all agreed on the amount of damage we consider acceptable, or we all have the same amount of concern for other related issues such as conditions for workers.

But I think there is more to craft than its immersion in materiality.  My fellow NALN researcher Liz Wright, influenced by psychologist Dr Aric Sigman’s paper on the importance of experience of material (stuff) for full development in children, is convinced that the process of making stuff is necessary to the full development of human potential.

This is a subject with its own discussion on the forum pages.  And if you are interested, there are some (and will be more) on the booklist section of the site.



October 14th, 2009

Jonathan Garrett has written an article in Ceramic Review which would be of real interest to anyone who is interested in this area.  Jonathan is one of the participants in the workshop we had here in May and is a passionate advocate of craft as a force for good.  He encourages us all to stand up and be counted for craft!

Making Futures

October 12th, 2009
Making Futures at Mt Edgecumb

Making Futures at Mt Edgecumb

Well the Making Futures conference has come and gone, leaving a great deal of interest and excitement in its wake.  It would be impossible for me to choose one highlight, there were so many great things about the two days.

Richard Sennett did not make it in the end and we had two very interesting speakers in his place – John Thackera (of the book, blog, conference etc Doors of Perception ) and Carl Honore (author of In Praise of Slowness ).  Both were great and very thought-provoking.  Their websites are treasure troves of information, provocation, and – thankfully – comfort for those of us who are interested in these things.  And I really loved how each of them were so positive about continually adjusting their world-view to accommodate the new ideas or perspectives they were taking on.  This openness is the basis for the resilience the conference foregrounded as one of the things we needed to develop, and the absolute antithesis of the way most of the people who make decisions that affect us all go through their lives blindly and with very fixed purpose.  (Rant over.)

The conference was very packed and so I only saw a fraction of what was on offer, but the papers will be published in the near future by Plymouth College of Art.  You can see the abstracts on the confeence website.  I heard it often – and experienced it myself – that the sessions one thought one might not enjoy were often the ones which were most interesting.  I love that unexpectedness.

There is a thread on Forums on this site which talks about an event last week to talk about some of the ideas in a local context.  If you have any ideas you might like to join in:  it’s under the Connections thread.


April 6th, 2009

 Welcome to the Crafts and Sustainability website.  Here we introduce, debate, share, and otherwise investigate the intersection between Crafts and issues and ideas concerning sustainability.

On the 28th May we held a workshop here at Plymouth College of Art.  Several very interesting speakers generously gave their time, opinions, and visions.  You can watch videos of their presentations on the site (“Speakers at the Crafts Workshop”); and if you join the forums you can share your reactions and opinions, or begin to make connections with other people who share your views.  Or who disagree with you!  Please let us know what you think:  what we have covered so far that is interesting or relevant; what we might have missed; where you think we might go from here.

We’ve begun to find that the debate is always interesting even if concensus is not reached.