Inter-changes Keynote Presentation: reflections and shadows

It’s been over a week now since the Inter-Changes: Craft+Context symposium finished in NCAD but it left me with so much food for thought that I’m still thinking about what I learnt. Although I studied design history and visual culture as part of my graphic design degree, I often overlooked the important role craft plays in the design industry. I’m told this is not uncommon. But I found the symposium so full of rich, insightful discourse that I won’t be making that error again anytime soon.

The conference was opened by a keynote speech by Glenn Adamson. Luckily his excellent reputation had enough pulling power to move people away from the tea, coffee and good weather. He was introduced by Declan McGonagle. He spoke of the damaging misconception many people have that the visual is a natural and not a considered process and that it is not connected to intellect. With this in mind, he mentioned the importance of putting a critical framework and context around craft and welcomed Glenn to speak.

The topic of Glenn’s talk was about the culture of the handmade copy.  But of course, he managed to do what all great keynote presenations do and speak beyond his chosen subject and discuss ideas that would inform almost all presentions that followed him. Over the course of the two days I kept reflecting back to the points that Glenn had made in relation to other speaker’s work and presentations.

I will not attempt to transcribe or reiterate Adamson’s own words. It was his presentation after all. But I would just like to mention some points he made that really stuck in my mind…

He argued that the ‘replica’ could be seen in the realm of pure craft. He used the analogy that if there was a competition as the symposium to see who the most skilled crafts person was, the fairest and most accurate way would be to get each individual to make the same object from the same material. (Unfortunately this competition never took place!) He spoke of the educational importance of replicas and used the copies of Greek sculptures in the V&A as an example.

In art, sometimes the reality of production is seen as some kind of embarrassment. Adamson spoke about the importance place for  what he called ‘Re-skilling’; a form of artistic management similar to a curator that uses and selection as a artistic process.

As an example of this ‘re-skilling’ process, he reminded us of the beautiful instillation ‘Trophy’ by ClareTwomey comprising of 4000 birds made from Wedgwood blue clay that were placed around the Cast Courts of the V&A. Twomey commissioned these at a time when Wedgewood ceramics were in financial trouble. These could be taken away by the audience, which can in one sense be seen to talk of the disappearance of craft but also shows the importance of craft in relation to gift giving.

He used a quote by Tanya Harrod “The world is full. So why are we still making things?” to challenge the designers and crafts people in the room to have purpose to their work. And as a graphic designer working in an industry which is build upon the idea of the multiple; 1,000s of flyers, 100s of business cards, 100s of posters, this really made me think… And it cast a bit of a dark shadow.


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