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Craft

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Let us begin by taking a walk with William Morris, the famous British designer, on a bright afternoon in the 1880s, and make our way to one of the newly established suburbs of London, built to accommodate the numbers of people who are beginning no longer to want to live inside, above, or even very near, their place of work. The advent of extended street lighting has facilitated this new trend — previously, travel to and from the outskirts had relied upon either the sun or the moon — but its primary motivation is, of course, the enormous growth in industrialized modes of production: one cannot live in or over the factory in which one now works as one of a large, anonymous group, and one will not, if one at all can not, live near its often belching unpleasantness. Because this is for the most part not something that the workers can not do, it has become something that their superiors very quickly will not do, as they have begun to trade the hustle and bustle, the mixed economy, of city living, for the quiet and almost entirely residential areas growing up around its margins. And so here we are, with Morris, in a near silent street, lined on either side with the new Victorian villa, a detached residence on a relatively small piece of land, similar to its neighbours in style, but suggestive, in its albeit very qualified independence from the homes around it, of the privileges of the independently rich. There is nobody at all to be seen but gentlemen and their ladies and servants, no tradesmen at their work, no shops selling their wares. Those are to be found on the main street, a new invention of the new lifestyle, perfect as a foil for the genteel retirement tucked away behind it. “A beastly place to live in”, Morris observes, and quits the scene at once.

The beastliness of these new suburbs inhered, for Morris, in their operating to segregate, not only the population, but also the processes of production and consumption on which life and livelihood relied. Those in the new villas ate, of course, they sat on chairs, dressed in gowns and puffed on pipes, but, contrary to former times, they now felt it desirable to remove themselves as far as possible from the materials and processes that provided their food, their chairs, their gowns and their tobacco. In many cases, this feeling was but an aspiration; not all could afford the move outwards, and even those who could were, by today’s standards, still compelled to a very intimate association with the nuts and bolts, and the mechanics, of their lives. But what mattered to Morris was less the fact of people’s removal than the attitude towards labour and its materials from which it sprang, and to which it contributed. The sedate seclusion of the quiet suburban street made him shudder because of its disdain of, its effort at retirement from, the stuff and the skills that supported it. Women were learning to be proud of their ignorance of the patterns for sleeves and for shifts; mothers were beginning to boast of not knowing how to care for a child; and men were growing angry if the workings of their households came before them in any manner other than as good fires, fresh flowers, fine meals, and strong sons. In short, it was fast becoming a presupposition of the age that the highest form of human existence knew nothing of the labours whose fruits it enjoyed, and was removed as possible from the materials and the arts upon which its satisfaction in life so relied.

Morris followed Marx in deploring this separation of labour from life, of manual effort from leisure, of practical work from a more enlightened condition; for Marx, and to a great extent for Morris, it was a tragedy for the labourer, for its effect was so far to demand of him that he labour in isolation — from the product of his labour, from the process of his labour, from those with whom he laboured, and from his thinking and feeling self who laboured — that the work to which he was assigned came increasingly to be premised upon this isolation, what Marx called this alienation. What Morris saw and objected to was an effort to make machines out of men, by taking the life from work to such an extent that manual effort lost its creative and intellectual aspects, practical engagement its requirement of the wisdom gained from experience, and labour any relation to life.

But what Morris also saw and deplored was the tragedy that this separation implied for those in the leafy streets of suburbia, those who had been “freed up” to eat, to dress, to think, to live, without needing to concern themselves with the materials and arts that provided for them. Because what Morris also saw was that an existence “free” of the stuff and skills of existence is one for which possibilities for creativity, for originality, for resistance, are gradually dissolved, not simply because those who are free to think, create and invent, cannot follow through in practice on what they have thought of, created and invented (this is a merely circumstantial problem, to do with lack of access to a skilled worker or control over him) but rather that they cannot think, create, and invent. The degradation occurs at the level of creative possibilities, and not simply at the level of their realization. In short, Morris knew that creativity, that originality, that thought itself, is a skill and requires practice; one’s capacity to know that this gown, or that amount of salt, or that shade of paint, or that particular remark, is most fitting is degraded when one ceases to know how gowns are made, or food cooked, or houses built, or conversation conducted. It was not only the worker, then, who was alienated by the retreat of privileged living to the suburbs; that which we now think of as life — all those things that we now regard work as “freeing us up” to do: read, paint, shop, travel, think — is also alienated, from the educative, the enlightening, incubation that is craft. The other side of alienation is the artifice of separating life from utility, the “freedom” to think and act from the exigencies of the everyday and its purposes.

Sinéad Murphy (2012) The Art Kettle, Winchester (UK) & Washington (USA): Zero Books

‘Craft’ Pp 21-24

Excerpted with the permission of the author.

Turkish_glazed

Friday, June 20th, 2014

For David Abram or Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Sent to Funda Susamoglu

Date and Time: 26/03/2015 12:09

Dest: Turkey

Quantity: 1

Weight: 0.604 kg

Int Sign SP £0.00 £11.60

Delivered: 30/04/15

Gropius_glazed

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Sent to Medbh McGuckian.

Date and Time: 08/09/2014  11:23

Dest: Belfast, UK

Quantity: 1

Weight:  kg

(E) 1st Class  £3.20

Delivered: 10/09/2014

Lucie_Rie_glazed

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Sent to Ben Marcus.

Date and Time: 08/07/2014  14:32

Dest: Maine, USA

Quantity: 1

Weight: 0.538 kg

Int Track+Sign SP  £50  £15.15

Delivered: 17/07/14

Spode_glazed

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Given to Sally O’Reilly (handed over in Patisserie Deux Amis, Judd Street, London).

18/09/2014

Keith_Murray_glazed

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Given to John Thackara (handed over at the RCA, Kensington Gore).

18/09/2014

Leach_glazed

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Sent to Ali Smith.

Date and Time: 01/08/2014  13:27

Dest: Cambridge, UK

Quantity: 1

Weight: 0.440 kg

1st Class Medium Parcel  £5.65

Delivered: 02/08/2014

Staffs_slip_glazed

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Sent to Sinead Murphy.

Date and Time: 20/09/2014 11:40

Dest: Newcastle UK (EU)

Quantity: 1

Weight: 0.456 kg

Signed For 1st / Small Parcel  £4.30

Delivered: 22/09/2014

Finnair_glazed

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Sent to Timothy Morton.

Date and Time:  16/07/2014  11:18

Dest:  Texas, USA

Quantity:  1

Weight:  0.558 kg

Int Track+Sign SP  £0.00  £15.15

Delivered: 24/07/2014

Gorge_glazed

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Sent to Graham Harman

Date and Time  16/07/2014  11:21

Dest: Ankara, Turkey

Quantity  1

Weight:  1.589 kg

Int Sign SP  £0.00  £17.40

Delivered: 23/07/2014