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RE-CRAFTIVISM: What is it and how am I using it?

​Two weeks ago I outlined how I will be continuing to investigate textiles and how they reify colonial capitalist ideologies through economic chains that bring about ecological and social trauma. Before I begin to write too deeply about the research, I thought I would take the opportunity to outline what Re-Craftivism is and where it originated from within contemporary Western culture. This week I will write about "slowing" as a method. We have heard about it when it comes to cooking and there is a slow art movement in which Arden Reed encourages us to slow down the process of looking at art, but what are the sensory implications as a producer or consumer of goods?

Craftivism, a form of activism that takes up craft, was a term coined in 2003 by Betsy Greer, a young writer and stitcher who attended Goldsmiths College where she earned a MA in Sociology and began to determine her practice as an artist and activist. (1) Often used to address the ill effects of capitalism or draw attention to other social issues such as environmentalism, pay inequity, race marginalization or misogyny, Craftivism primarily is manifested through different textile practices including needlework, cross stitch, yarn bombing or even knitting as seen in the Pussy Hat Project that raised attention to many of the issues women still face and are reified through the election of President Donald Trump.(2) Although still considered a recent term within the art world, the ideas and methods utilized within the performative and yet primarily peaceful movement can be found throughout different avant garde time periods and cultures as part of different art movements such as Fluxus (3) or engrained within a variety of indigenous belief systems and non-Christian faiths.

The Craftivism Manifesto above is found at the Craftivist Collective website, a project started by Sarah Corbett (4). I chose this manifesto to work from as I felt it clearly reflected concepts I have been thinking about since my MFA research. Why I have chosen to amend the word Craftivism to read Re-Craftivism is to acknowledge how everything is in a constant state of change until its not! To be more clear, each time I listen to someone speak, read an article, skim a chapter, take in an art exhibit or turn into the news, my perspective and approach to my research shifts or is recrafted in some small way. For example, up until last week I was calling this self-reflexivity, however in my theory class last week I learned that French marxist philosopher Louis Althusser might see this as interpellation, a process by which we internalize all that we are exposed to so as to become subjects and subject of certain ideologies through a variety of political, social and economic state apparatuses.(5) Some might argue that there is no room for the individual or independant thought amidst the institutions and technologies that surveil, impose and control our existence, but I would argue, based on French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's concept of Habitus, that we each interpellate ideologies and their branches of concepts differently due to the different contexts from which we come.(6) Just in reflecting on this paragraph, I have realized that last weeks readings have been internalized, analyzed and synthesized so as to re-adjust my understanding and how I position or communicate about the world. Trusting that each individual in my theory class grabbed onto these texts differently and therefore interpellated them based on their own values, beliefs, interests and research, we can assume that the new ideal is no longer to be in agreement of have consensus, but rather to agree to disagree and find a way to move through or beyond that to where we can coexist in a way that is beneficial to all. .

If I consider my studio practice in regards to the first rule of Craftivism, "Be the Tortoise", ultimately it is time to slow the &%$#*! down. By reducing the pace of my output, it requires me to recraft how I have been working over the last thirty years. By slowing the production of art down, this ultimately allows other areas of my practice to be re-crafted. Less time making for the sake of making or selling, means more time to read, write, and present my work. As new connections are made between my research and other fields, reading lists, written texts and presentations also need to be re-crafted. All artists do this, we just don't often think of it as part of our practice. Unfortunately, many of us see these other activities as the very unpleasant work that takes us away from being in the studio. To shift this thinking, I need to recraft my attitude so that I am able to find joy and value in the work that audiences cannot see, touch, hear or feel, trusting that these rich and intimate processes will end up resonating or emitting from the work in some way.

This mandate to slow things down also connects to the text 24/7 by Jonathon Crary. Crary claims the digital world provides a continuous supply and demand global economy that has become pervasive both in our public and private realms to the point where sleep is the only space that we can exist or have agency outside of capitalism. Although I disagree with this argument in that dreams are often infiltrated by the systems and narratives of our day to day lives, I do align with Crary's plea to fight for our right to sleep in complete darkness and silence. Through sleep we are provided the time and space to recharge our capacity to understand the nuances that help to differentiate us from the AI technologies that threaten to replace us at every turn. It still isn't clear why pressing sleep buttons on our computers doesn't qualify in the same way, it may come down to the theory, from which I paraphrase Theodor Adorno, that if we are not participating in and through new technologies then we don't exist or are deemed disposable waste through a capitalist lense. (7)(8) The other argument may be that although our machines are sleeping, this doesn't mean that digital technologies and networks are at rest.

Some of my questions around slowing things down as a method are: Do we gain more time to do the things we love when we slow down? Is only doing one thing at a time a way of slowing down the world? Can we take the increasing number of cancelled school buses during winter as a sign to slow down and embrace a more preventative approach to health and wellness? Can we place qualitative, quantitative and intrinsic value on time missed or spent? This last question may be related to writing by Professor Dylan Robinson who speaks about hungry listening.(9) Never hearing this saying before, I have taken "time" to reflect on what this might be and how time constraints or our lack of time informs a type of listening that is extractive, lacks reciprocacy, or as Michel Foucault might suggest, only carried out to gain knowledge as a tool of power. (10) I can only hope that some of the listening I have done in the past and will do in the future will resonate outside of this definition.

So how is Re-Craftivism a political act? I would suggest that since the beginning of the industrial revolution, just to be an artist creating original works of art is a political gesture. As artists we have decided to resist societal pressures to locate ourselves in work environments that do not fulfill our dreams, utilize our gifts or relinquish our skills and knowledge to machines. Additionally, we somehow manage to resist or stave off the hyper-capitalist mindset of conservative, corporate North America and the general lack of interest or appreciation for the arts as seen through the dwindling of arts education offered in the public school system and more recently demonstrated through Ford's major budget cuts to arts and not-for-profit funding bodies. The fact that we, as artists, continue to do what we do despite the continued undervaluing of what we create and how we contribute to society's well-being, demonstrates a huge amount of resistance to the discriminatory, colonial, capitalist, patriarchal regimes that persists through neo-liberalism today.

So what might "slowing" look like as a producer, consumer or disposer of culture? Below I have come up with some ideas on how I might become a more mindful agent in determining an ecologically sound practice outside of time constraints and hegemonic capitalist superstructures now determined by global corporations versus the governments we vote for.

As a CONSUMER I have begun to slow down by...

Buy local, second hand goods! Shopping in this way requires you to interact with materials as well as the scale, shape, patterns and craftsmanship of an item. Shopping online can often prevent us from using our knowledge to discriminate between one item or the next. This displacement of human interaction with other humans as well as with our own bodies and preferences helps to prevent us from being reduced to data where businesses are able to determine our likes, dislikes and consumer habits based on our online activity. A much more ecological approach to shopping, as it doesn't require shipping or packaging, consumption is slowed down as it takes a lot more time to find the perfect sweater or outfit that is in the right size, design, fabric and price point. Interesting enough, my guilty pleasure of shopping second hand equates to more leisure time perusing racks with close friends or antiquing with a loved one. I'm not saying don't click on those SHOP NOW ads that incessantly pop up in Facebook and Instagram, but I would encourage, once you have loaded up your digital cart, shut the apps down and look for similar designs being sold by local merchants or designers. It might take you longer to find something you were drawn to online, but it may provide the time you need to change your mind about the item or even discover that you have something very much like it at the back of your closet.

Setting my own guidelines and limitations for consuming. Beyond creating a budget, I have begun to create my own rules around consumption as a way of taking back the power from the industries that depend on our materialistic desires, addictions and consumer complacency. For example, I now only buy clothes that are primarily constructed from natural fibres and will go with other items I already have. I have also become an expert at combining different articles of clothing so that I can wear it several different ways in many different places, without people thinking I have a limited wardrobe.

Custom ordering the perfect gown, painting or piece of furniture is also a way of slowing down, as when we buy this type of work, it is typically more expensive and thereby encourages us to really contemplate our needs and desires. By meeting, consulting and following up with the progress of an artisan designed item, it is likely that we will begin to appreciate the time and energy that goes into good craftsmanship, while on the flip side understand how an item at the Dollarama is actually a sign of environmental devastation and human exploitation. This knowledge has ultimately changed what I value and therefore what I invest in.

Choosing organic. Learning how toxic chemicals used both in the production and processing of fabrics can be absorbed through our skin, I have begun to research companies that only import organic raw materials. Unfortunately these companies don't offer all of the designs you see being produced in synthetic fibres, which can become frustrating, but ultimately it will train you how to be more patient and wait for that unique piece of casual wear that ticks all your boxes. This frustration may even inspire you to learn how to pattern make and sew so you can get the styles in the fabrics you want. This is sure to require more time for learning and setting aside the screens that "hail" us. By buying organic clothing it is also more likely to be salvaged for second hand shops and by second hand shoppers. Upon disposal, cotton, wool, bamboo, hemp and silk are also quicker to break down over time. *Note, the production of cotton requires the most amount of water for its growth and processing, so be on the lookout for bamboo or hemp when buying new.

As a Producer I can slow things down by....

Working with found or second hand things, not only for their existing form but for their material compositions. The requirement of having to undo, deconstruct or prepare something prior to making will give you plenty of time to really consider what and how you will make something new. This way of working may even require the learning of a new skill or trade. And if I want to be able to compete with the machined aesthetic firmly woven into our psyches, I must take more time to learn how to properly finish and present an item so others are able to acknowledge the expertise, care and time that has been taken.

Read more! Write more! There isn't much to say about this other than that, in the past I haven't taken sufficient time to reflect or plan out my creative practice in a way that can help to document or inform my process. I would argue that some of the best artists in the world understand the value of this and are able to use their preparatory sketches and reflective writing to reach different audiences or even access different fields whose economies are able to support different branches of our research.

After years of prolific production, I am trying to avoid creating series that don't facilitate the learning of something new with each work. This statement comes from years of creating "bodies" of work that in the end left me unfulfilled upon their exhibit. I would quickly identify how meaning and joy only resided in the idea and process of arriving at the first work within a certain iteration, with all other pieces taking on the energy of forced production so as to fill or balance a gallery space. Imagining each work as an opportunity to learn something new about myself, my process and the larger world around me helps me avoid the depression and self doubt that creeps in when the money and accolades don't. I recognize that this concept can only seriously be considered from a very privileged position or by having another form of income, but creating work that all looks the same and can be deemed accessible / marketable by systems who serve to economically benefit from you staying right where you are, reduces our passion and energy into commodified labour. If we, as artists stay where we are, we fail to create any movement amongst our audiences to understand or even take up the purpose, value and narratives embedded within art.

Resisting the urge to create a hyperlapse video has also been an intentional act to slow the production, consumption and appropriation of art down. There is nothing more frustrating for me to see an artist not only reveal their process online, but to speed it up so as to undermine the preparation, thought and time that goes into a work. Just ask yourself, why are you telling the world it is easy and why are you showing them how to do it when you have spent a painful amount of hours studying or refining your practice? Artists are already at such an economic disadvantage, the idea that we are showing the whole world how to do what we do and that it takes no time at all to do it, explains why the majority of the world undervalues our skills, knowledge and energy. Also, when that silly person at an art fair asks you how long it took you to make something, I can guarantee you they are quietly calculating in their head how much the work should be worth based on their own economic status and where they place art within their established hierarchy of knowledge and skill. What they don't understand is that we don't get where we are overnight and it took all of our years of training and previous artistic explorations to arrive at the piece we worked on this week. If you decide to respond to their maddening question, I would suggest telling them "as many years as I have studying art."

When Disposing of goods I slow things down by....

Considering how something might be recrafted. This can become overwhelming if your consumption habits have not been drastically reduced over a substantial amount of time. It is always wise to set up some parameters or limitations to help you free you from the guilt or self-imposed obligations that can lead to hoarding or working in a way that doesn't reflect who you are as an artist. Oh, and by the way, Pinterest is a fast and easy way to speed past the art of slowing down, so resist this at all cost.

Wondering who else might use or need what you no longer can use in its existing form is also a way to reduce what goes into the garbage. Do have any family members who have commented on how much they like something you have bought or do you have nieces and nephews who are heading off to college and need household goods? Offer them a free shopping spree where they too have agency over what they bring into their lives.

Look at an object for its material or parts. There are times when things are not salvageable or desirable in the state they are in, chances are that if you take them apart, you may be able to use parts or materials in different ways, if not only to recycle them. With every day, communities are beginning to add different outlets and bins to collect our waste from plastics to electronics. If nothing else, research what businesses and organizations are collecting such items as part of a larger ecological or community effort.






(5) Althusser, L., Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (notes towards and investigation)


(7) Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep

(8) Max Horkenheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”



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