LOST IN THOUGHT BY ALISON JACKSON

GRAY STREET WORKSHOP 24th November – 24th December

 

Exhibition Opening Speech

 

Lost in Thought - Sustained in Practice

Bench Batch Bunch or The importance of small things

 

Alison Jackson has done the impossible.

She has created a self-sufficient and viable, full-time practice for herself as a silversmith in Australia. Where many grumbling and perhaps jaded, but none-the-less well-informed practitioners have wandered from the field, hammers in hand muttering complaints about there being no market for such time consuming work, Alison has stubbornly persisted, adapted and succeeded in connecting with one.

So a little background on Alison’s practice to start… In co-operation with her partner Dan, Alison self-produces her range of handcrafted jewellery and tableware that is retailed around the country.  The range includes Cheese Tools, Tea Scoops, Planter Pots, Copper Vessels, Little Spoon Big Spoons and Butter Knives and of course jewellery. 

These objects are designed with an idiosyncratic minimalism. While ultimately hand-made Alison employs the use of locally available industry. This combination of craft and industry finds a parallel in the maker in a powerful mix of pragmatism and passion. While Alison doggedly dedicates herself to the continued tradition of the silversmith, she does so in a way that respectfully considers the realities of manufacturing and the market. She comes across as an advocate for the local within the global mind-set.  

Alison also regularly attends the national network of artisan and design markets that have grown to critical mass over the past 5 years. She has come to Adelaide for the opening of “Lost in Thought” directly on the back of a weekend design market in Canberra and you can also find her at Big Design Market in Melbourne on the 2nd – 4th of December, and at Finders Keepers Sydney from 9th – 11th of December. In this way Alison connects with new audiences, directly marketing herself and her work and benefiting from increased sales and an ever broadening loyal client base.

Her work is also available directly via her website alisonjackson.com.au. Alison self-manages sales from her website that also represents the broader scope of her creative practice. This includes special, large-scale commission-based projects and the exhibition of one-off or limited edition work.  Alison’s work is regularly selected for inclusion in national and international exhibitions.

With her hands, from a bench in a studio in Queanbeyan, NSW, on the outskirts of Canberra, Alison moves metal into unique and often functional forms. Her workshop is affectionately titled Pocket Studio and was founded in 2008. From here Alison and her small team, made up of Dan and a newly acquired studio assistant, run all the production required to meet orders. It is a space that is both necessary and sufficient and has steadily grown to meet the increasing demands of Alison’s practice.

The studio even has its very own website through which students can enrol in Pocket Studio’s workshop education program.  Alison runs regular classes in jewellery and silversmithing providing a second tier of business and an additional stream of income. Sharing her infectious enthusiasm for her craft means Alison connects with her local community and builds a more robust network and business model. It also follows the traditional path of seamlessly enfolding teaching into the practice of making and reinvesting craft with meaning for a popular audience. Alison’s workshops are always full, usually with regular, returning students. She has a waiting list of those wishing to enrol if a place becomes available. It is a gentle kind of exclusivity. 

Alison received her initial training at The Australian National University in Gold and Silversmithing and graduated with honours in 2008. Whilst completing her degree Alison travelled to Germany on a student exchange where she would return under an Australia Council JUMP mentorship in 2012 to work with German Silversmith Maike Dahl. Since 2012 Alison has also worked intermittently as tutor and sessional lecturer for ANU and Sturt Craft Centre. From 2008 to 2013 Alison worked for Fink & Co. with the late and great Robert Foster. Perhaps it is here that the first inklings into running a craft and design business took hold.

Yesterday when I was talking with Alison about her approach to the business of her craft I asked Alison about whether custom jewellery commissions was something she considered. Alison’s response was a definitive no.  It is refreshing to encounter such certainty in a relatively young maker.

And this brings me to “Lost in Thought”.

Alison clearly has a passion for functional and well-made objects but in looking at "Lost in Thought”, Alison’s second solo exhibition, one might deduce that it is the vessel that sits at the centre of it all. Perhaps it is the passion for the vessel fuelling the fire that makes all the rest possible.  

In this exhibition the vessel, with its implied function and tacit, body/object relationship has given Alison a chance to let her mind wander. She has sketched out, in in three dimensional space, concepts that relate to domesticity. Working at a domestic scale with abstracted domestic forms Alison has created a quiet body of work that is about weight, balance, touch, the dialogue between inside and outside and the preciousness of small things.

In looking at the work I was reminded of the assertion that Gaston Bachelard makes in the Poetics of Space; there is always more inside a closed box than an open box, as the closed box is invariably filled with the vastness of the viewer’s imagination.  Through the use of abstracted function and contained space both physical response and memory are mobilised by this work. The viewer is invited to explore the interiority of the object. “Intrigue” is the word that Alison used yesterday to describe this process.

For me the word that comes to mind is tenderness. Through various ways Alison’s wanderings have captured different aspect of the tender relationship that people can have with objects. Imbuing objects with that kind of humanity is an intuitive task and an essential component of good design practice. 

This body of work falls into a series of groupings that are each determined as separate through material and formal characteristics. The contrast highlights what Alison describes as separate characters or personalities in the works. From the catalogue; “Lost in Thought is a glimpse into Alison’s making process, where the initial spark of an idea is free to change as the object develops, giving each a unique personality and together they form an eclectic bunch.” The collective noun that Alison employs to describe this group is instructive; as any maker knows it is the bunch and not the batch that recharges the creative battery.

It is an important insight into the context of Alison’s practice that from the bench comes the bunch and the batch. The bench is the foundation of her practice, setting the constraints of scale and the pace of production and supporting these two diverging paths of making.

Tacit exploration of material and form create the individual outcomes that together can be curated into a bunch.  When exhibited this reveals, in Alison’s case, a kind and tender subjectivity at work behind the scenes. This in turn supports and is supported by her commitment to batch production, and not just in financial terms. The skillful repetition of known outcomes produces the muscle memory of the maker. As the bunch gives rise to new ideas the batch hones the skills required to see them proliferate.

Bench, batch, bunch; bench, batch, bunch; bench, batch, bunch; the alliterative potential of the words mirrors the rhythmic strike of the silversmith’s steel hammer onto fat and annealed copper sheet. As the metal moves under the watchful eye of the maker form emerges from flatness.  So while Alison Jackson gets "Lost in Thought" she is simultaneously sustained in practice.           

Alison’s work is an antidote to our disposable world of invisible objects that leave no trace in memory. It contributes to a growing movement that supports the artistic and environmental sustainability of our material culture. Whether for production or exhibition Alison makes objects for the home. Objects that endure physically and emotionally by eliciting a tender response from their owners. Owners who care for the objects they collect. 

Building Blocks

Building Blocks – Architecture x Jewellery at JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design - Floor Talk

As one of the exhibiting designers in Building Blocks – Architecture x Jewellery, I’ve been asked to speak about the connection between architecture and jewellery so I could discuss architecture as a subject or inspiration for making jewellery. Certainly the work of Jessamy Pollock who is another exhibiting jeweller could be spoken of in these terms. I could also speak about the parallels between the technical and design processes in creating works of jewellery and architecture, of which there are a surprising number. I could speak of the procurement of client-based and site-specific works that is common to both jewellery and architecture…but I’m not going to do that.  

Instead, I’d like to speak about a more essential relationship between jewellery and architecture, that is, the way both mediums resonate with notions of home.  Despite their very different body/object relationships, buildings exist at a scale that allows them to contain the body and jewellery exists at a scale that means it is contained by the body, jewellery and architecture share in the fact that we inhabit them both.  When we wear jewellery we find ourselves on the inside of the work, it becomes part of our bodies and therefore not exterior to us, but part of our skin. It’s this relationship between inside and outside that connects these two very different typologies of object. So, with the idea of home in mind, I’d like to put jewellery and architecture, under the same roof, so to speak.

In the book “The Poetics of Space” French phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard speaks about our first house as the space in which we all learn the functions of inhabiting and that this house becomes a blueprint that we carry with us throughout our lives. In our first house we learn the habits of dwelling in domestic space.  For Bachelard the habit of daydreaming is an essential function of habitation as it is through daydream that we transform the house into a home.  And it is through daydream that we return to this original home throughout our lives.  Bachelard draws a distinction between the geometric space of the house and the psychological space of the home, for Bachelard home is the shelter that allows one to dream. Bachelard calls this psychological space the oneiric house. This portable concept is carried with us creating our sense of home where ever we may find it, the original mobile home, if you like.

Inside architecture and its surrounds we nest in order to evoke our oneiric house and transform space into place. We adorn our interior spaces with objects and images to create a place that allows us to play and to dream and to feel at home. Building Blocks might refer to the architectural spaces we inhabit and also to the objects that we collect that constitute those spaces as home.  Building Blocks recalls our early childhood memories of play, the physical embodiment of daydream. Play is an essential practice in the creation of home. The building blocks in this exhibition do not adorn the inside of architecture to create home, although they could. These blocks have been designed to adorn the surface of our bodies. So once we step over the architectural threshold from inside to outside jewellery can function with talismanic power to evoke memories and dreams that embody our oneiric house. The way in which we adorn ourselves not only projects to others who we are but also carries an unutterable secret for its wearer. In this sense jewellery becomes the home we carry with us. The shelter that allows us to dream.

Jewellery and architecture share in this extreme dichotomy of inside and out but they are not alone in defining our sense of place. Design, all design, from civic to architecture, from furniture to fashion from web to jewellery and everything in between plays a role in ordering our behaviours and making sense of our world, but also in accommodating our need to dream and to play and to feel at home. Even when we are not physically there.

In this sense why can’t a building be a considered in the same way as a jewel? In the words of Jarvis Cocker

“The whole city is your jewellery-box; a million twinkling yellow street lights. 
Reach out and take what you want; you can have it all.” Jarvis Cocker - Sheffield: Sex City

Thanks to Mel Young (and Jarvis) for the above quote.

 

Building Blocks

JamFactory Gallery Two  23 SEPTEMBER - 27 NOVEMBER

Artists  Claire Brooks, Christian Hall, Courtney Jackson, Jessamy Pollock and Andrew Welsh

 

Crafted Economy

Lately I’ve been thinking about the marketplace to which my peers and I contribute. As a maker I am invested in the meaning of things.  I am aware that the location of objects ‘out there’ is central to the way other people will make meaning out of them. The labels we attach to objects stick.

‘Craft and design’ has come to signify an important point of reception for goods and services in Australia.  It is also a product category that is gaining currency. For me it denotes a place where craft is necessarily distinguished from the outcome of recreational activities and the broad arena of design narrows to focus on the creation of consumer items. Personally, I feel comfortable locating much of my practice here. This context elevates craft to a profession and adds value to design through association with the hand made.  It is a term that is inclusive of a myriad of methods and scales of production, from hand to machine and from singular to multiple. Importantly craft and design implies a shortened supply chain that brings the maker into play as part of the story of the product. Heightened economic and aesthetic value, resonance with the maker, narrative if not conceptual content, and a sense of provenance within production take centre stage in these products, arguably positioning them within the broader field of visual arts practice. 

This diverse range of activity, be it defined as artistic, artisanal or designer, represents an alternative to the dominant models of mass production and consumption. Here, ethically minded consumers can make a choice to carefully curate their own experience and, to some extent avoid the trap of contributing to the daily practice of making waste. This attitude finds its origin in the history of connoisseurship and the act of collecting, but increasingly is a mode of operation for people of diverse income levels looking to make their purchasing habits mean something.   

Researchers tells us that we are happier when we spend our money on experiences than when we purchase objects. Experiences become part of the narrative of who we are. They are the way we form connections with others so the value of experience persists long after the novelty of a new object has faded. Crafted objects on the other hand buy into the ‘experience economy’ and represent a sustainable alternative to mass-produced, disposable products. Through their sense of provenance, heightened aesthetic and material value and the narrative of the maker, crafted objects offer a rich and more sustaining experience that endures in the lives of people, providing deep personal and cultural connections. The ‘have less, live more’ of the experience economy translates directly to the ‘buy well, buy once’ of the craft and design sector and carries similar sustainable outcomes.[i]

 In 2014, Etsy, the e-commerce website for craft and vintage products reported annual sales of 1.93 billion U.S. dollars. However, the company also reported a global community of 1.4 million sellers and an optimal product price point of 50 U.S. dollars and below.[ii] Despite the merits of an extraordinary business model this noisy global bazaar may not be the place for professionals who seek to make lasting cultural contributions through their practice and be paid a sum commensurate with their effort.

The business model that underpins many operators in the professional craft and design sector is one that aims for economic growth balanced against the requirement for creative fulfilment and high quality production. This model places inherent limitations upon viability through high labour, low volume production that restricts distribution capacity and creates high cost product for a relatively small market. Makers have begun to overcome the geographic limits of practice through an online presence that extends their access to a global audience. This strategy is not without its challenges.

Clearly though, there is significant commercial potential where e-commerce and the handmade converge. Craft was once considered incompatible with the online environment and associated digital technologies. But the media-rich, multi-faceted and interactive experience of internet content makes it well suited for the dissemination of craft and design.  Not only does it provide access for the maker to a global audience but conversely gives the audience access to the maker as part of the product experience. It is now part of the maker’s task to find ways of presenting their product and practice in context, and this can include their own life and local environment. For the buyer, purchasing directly allows them to feel that they have participated in supporting a local economy and the creative diversity of a community, what Ezio Manzini has referred to as ‘cosmopolitan localism’.[iii]

Ezio Manzini is a leading thinker in sustainable design and the designer’s role in a sustainable future. He has proposed that we are moving toward a new economic paradigm that offers a sustainable alternative to globalised models of mass production and consumption. He describes this new model as ‘small, local, open and connected’.[iv]  The reality of sustainable organization of production and consumption is already evident in the slow food movement. Quality, local produce now competes at premium prices with cheaper imported product due to, on the one hand increased awareness that it is an ethical choice, and on the other an appreciation of the quality of the product and the time that this quality entails.  Increasingly the act of purchasing is being understood as an act of ‘co-production’ of not only the product but also of the conditions that made its production possible. Because the consumer is informed the purchase is felt to be an act of care, support and investment in social values that translates to a sense of deep connection. The slow food movement was predicated on the notion that quality takes time, time to make and time to enjoy.[v] And in the case of food production this pleasure is seasonal and local, antithetical to the agro-industrial system of food production and the waste and pace it entails. It is not hard to see how this model can be extrapolated out to inform craft and design.

Seen through the lens of Manzini’s small, local, open and connected, the socio-economic value of the craft and design sector begins to takes shape.  Small-scale enterprises are nimble and responsive to change and tend to be networked with other small-scale operators. By remaining embedded in the local community they can benefit the local economy and reflect the values and culture of their origin. There is something of the ‘keeping it honest’ to the local as this is the site in which feedback is incorporated and the iterative process of producing quality outcomes takes place.  Meanwhile they can remain open to the world market and connected to a global community that provides a link to the latest developments in research and technology. This kind of operation is what constitutes some of the best independent craft and design practice in Australia and to a large extent is an enabling structure required to facilitate both authenticity and innovation in the products produced.

The idea of the ‘co-producer’ as opposed to the passive consumer implies that on both sides of the product equation there is an investment being made in something beyond the product itself. In the slow food movement it is the ‘right to pleasure’ and the responsibility to protect the heritage of food production that facilitates this pleasure. The culture of craft and design is also about pleasure, but the real significance here is a return to a sense of care for objects. A sense of care that starts with their crafted production but does not end there. In a world dominated by unsustainable production and waste making, taking the time to care for things, invest in their longevity and collect objects that will endure is a profound and moral act. One of the small but significant things makers can do, for themselves, for each other and for the planet, is to remain open and connected to their audience in a way that invites their participation as ‘co-producers’ of a sustaining and sustainable material culture. In order to achieve this at the highest level we need to be able to speak as a sector with a single voice about the most important things we collectively contribute.

In an increasingly connected world new organisational structures and systems of consolidation are required to cut through the noise of the online environment. One example of an enterprise that is attempting to do this is the Australian e-commerce website Handkrafted.com. Described as ‘a community marketplace connecting people with passionate makers to commission quality bespoke goods’[vi] Handkrafted is at present a national directory of independent furniture makers but the website indicates plans to extend to other crafts. Customers are able to register and upload a brief that is then available to registered makers to respond to and appropriate connections are formed.  It is the kind of simple enabling system that has the potential to provide a platform for the growth of a creative community.  This is a highly nuanced area and the ability for online to capture high quality, high value, bespoke craft and design and broker projects with real commercial outcomes is yet to be truly tested.  Crowdfunding platforms, blogs, online retail and emerging models of connection all attest to the fact the online environment will play a part in either the development or demise of markets for innovative and authentic local product.

This raises important questions for the craft and design sector that may be the catalyst for defining opportunities moving forward.  How can our new ‘borderless’ socio-technological landscape help us to produce a map of the present that augments our local economies and physical experiences rather than replacing them?  What is the call to action needed for likeminded artists, craftspeople and designers to participate in an ongoing connection? What are the services needed to count these voices and produce a robust aggregate representative of the real sector?

In this extended explication of my own perspective I have looked at craft from an economic and environmental perspective. It is a view particular to the conditions I find myself working within as a maker and also in my role as Creative Director of the JamFactory Metal Design Studio in Adelaide. I have attempted to outline some broad and common values that may unite us as a sector. I have chosen not to discuss the research based and speculative approach to practice that is integral to the health of our culture and arguably an area made most vulnerable by contracting arts funding. However, proper recognition of craft and design as a sector can only help to establish a broad attitude that sees this area appropriately valued for all that it contributes.  In the spirit of participation I’d like to ask you to offer your perspective, through whichever means you have at your disposal, that may add to or counter my own. Because in growing the voice that will define our future the advocacy we need most is yours, the makers and co-producers of culture. 

 Christian Hall

[i] Co.Exist. Jay Cassano.http://www.fastcoexist.com/3043858/world-changing-ideas/the-science-of-why-you-should-spend-your-money-on-experiences-not-thing, Accessed 7th April 2015

 [ii]  Etsy. http://www.etsy.com/au/progress-report/2014/community. Accessed 1st July 2015

 [iii] Ecologia Politica. E. Manzini,http://www.ecologiapolitica.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Resilient-systems-and-cosmopolitan-localism.pdf, Accessed 2nd  June 2015

 [iv] Singapore Management University. E. Manzini,https://centres.smu.edu.sg/lien/files/2013/10/SocialSpace2011-The-New-Way-of-the-Future-Small-local-open-and-connected-Ezio-Manzini-.pdf Accessed 2nd June 2015

 [v] Social Innovation Generation. E. Manzini,http://sigeneration.ca/documents/SustainablequalitiesbyEzioManziniandVirginiaTassinari.pdf Accessed 2nd June 2015

 [vi] Handkrafted. https://www.handkrafted.com/,  Accessed 1st July 2015