MA Practice : Strategies of Thought, In Practice

As part of my experiment with mini-briefs a couple of months ago I created a quick zine based on the Marc Auge’s theory of Place and Non-Place, and discussing this in a studio tutorial sparked an idea about the ‘place-ness’ of crafted objects.

According to Auge non-place is not historical, not relational and not concerned with identity, and is structured around solitary individuality. Hand crafted objects can work to subvert each of these points, they are historical as craft skills and techniques are passed from generation to generation, relational as connections are made between makers, and concerned with identity as each hand crafted piece relies on the identity of the maker. Often the making of crafted objects is also structured around connections made between makers, as opposed to the idea of solitary individuality.

So, this lead me to thinking of handmade and crafted pieces as having/being ‘place’. And this sparked a whole bunch of questions;
– can objects with the qualities of ‘place’ exert these qualities on ‘non-place’ areas?
– would creating ‘place’ objects in ‘non-place’ environments give a sense of ‘place’?
– can objects even have ‘place’ or ‘non-place’?

This inspired me to consider two routes to kick start some practice work – ‘place in non-place’, such as knitted graffitti, and ‘place on non-place’, using craft techniques to rework ‘non-place’ objects.

bus time tables and disposable coffee cup with hand embroidery

My experimentation with ‘place on non-place’ began with hand sewing on to objects I find symbolic of non-places such as chain stores and train stations. On a trip to London I gathered a couple of train timetables and used one to create a kind of quick sampler using the classic phrase ‘Home Sweet Home’, and the other to document my walking route around north and east London. I also added a little simple embroidery to a disposable coffee cup, a symbol not only of travel but identical chain coffee shops around the world.

close up of embroidery detail on train time table

Adding handmade elements to each of these objects turned them from things that would be immediately discarded into decorative items that could be kept and enjoyed, and I found the coffee cup in particular to raise questions around consumption and disposability, possibly pointing to an application as way to promote recycling or similar issues.

The juxtaposition of the handmade and industrial forms a large part of the power of craftivism, and the idea of place and non-place fits easily along with this. However, while using it as a starting point has yielded some interesting visual results and food for thought I don’t want to head too far down a kind of theory worm hole and make my practice more academic than necessary as this could undermine the value of craftivism as accessible and available to everyone.