Crafts and Sustainability
Recovering the ideological, social and aesthetic purposes of the crafts
Craftspeople, in Britain at least, have in recent years been attempting to redefine themselves and find a new critical voice and more intellectually and aesthetically challenging arenas in which to engage their creative energies. This has been attempted by trying to re-align the crafts as a sub-branch of the fine arts and as part of the international art market economy, or as part of the high-end, urban consumer orientated fashion and design industry. For some craft practitioners this represents a cul-de-sac, critically and aesthetically speaking. At the same time public discourse and policy relating to climate change, carbon sequestration, renewable energy, agricultural reform, food sovereignty and environmental sustainability, have reached the top of political agendas worldwide. As previously with scientific, industrial, transport, community, forestry and farming sector innovations, craftspeople have begun to respond to these new challenges, and they are now beginning to develop a range of interesting crafts and design-led initiatives promoting environmental sustainability.
There has been a recent emergence of new craft sub-genres including Slow Crafts, Craftism, Relational Crafts, DIY/Lo-fi, Ecological Crafts, and other challenging new interfaces for the crafts with bio-technology and digital technology, suggesting that contemporary crafts discourse is once again wide open to radical new ideas and critical impulses, including the idea of surfacing a new Ecological Aesthetic, and other agendas for the crafts sector in relation to environmental sustainability and social responsibility. The Littoral Trust is interested in these developments, and is keen to promote new contexts and creative challenges for the crafts to enhance their 'unspoken pastoral significance', promote the adoption of a 'slow movement/biological time' practice ethos, recognize and re-valorise the agricultural and rural heritage of the crafts, support the introduction of more carbon neutral practices, contribute to the development of a sustainable Creative Rural Economy, and embrace a 'radical DIY/ecological lifecycle' approach. In so doing it might also be possible for the crafts community to reposition itself as a significant critical and cultural force, nationally and internationally, and help to define and articulate a radically new cultural strategy for environmental sustainability.
Re-embedding the crafts in the discourse of environmental sustainability
We also think that the crafts community is uniquely well placed to inform future policy initiatives for environmental sustainability, by virtue of their rural origins and past agricultural heritage. The crafts have other origins and advantages too, of course, such as an innate capacity for imaginative re-engagement with the new overarching discourse, and policy initiatives promoting environmental sustainability. This re-embedding be achieved through tactical engagement with policy initiatives for rural development and sustainable food and agriculture. Demonstrating how this might be achieved will form the basis of our crafts and sustainability research and project work over the next few years.
New time, space, and social, ecological and economic contexts for contemporary craft
The Handmade project aims to map out new interfaces, contexts, and partnership opportunities for future crafts practice. These include proposing new parameters: temporal (slow crafts; adjusting practice to seasonal, biological, social/community and ecological time cycles); spatial (exposure to unanticipated post-studio contexts and conditions, such as working in scientific or agricultural environments, or with novel climatic, political or demographic forces); professional (the decentring and eventual displacement of the professional craftsperson as the privileged or sole author/expert); and other radical ecological, social and economic ‘flows’ or systems-based dynamics; as a new professional and theoretical arena for contemporary craft engagement. Secondly we would work to promote a new repertoire of critically aligned craft practices that could engender more effective and practical solutions to specific environmental problems or issues. This, in the longer term, might also surface a new crafts-based ecological aesthetic, and inform a cultural reframing of future policy discourse for environmental sustainability.
LITTORAL is a non-profit arts trust which promotes new
creative partnerships, critical art practices and cultural
strategies in response to issues about social, environmental
and economic change.
LITTORAL 42, Lodge Mill Lane, Turn Village, Ramsbottom
BL0 0RW, UK
Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1706 827 961
Reg. Charitable Trust No. 1002365;
Pivate Limited Company No. 2526443