Kai Melbourne…

Over the years, I’ve corresponded with people in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Almost all of them, including both Pākeha and Māori, have responded with the salutation, “Kia Ora…” By contrast, my generic response, “Dear…” or “Hi…” seemed lacking in culture. I’ve tried to counter that by including the latest weather forecast in my signature, at least to make evident that this message in the cloud comes from somewhere on earth. But that’s not a shared ritual.

Occasionally, I will start an email correspondence with “Cooee…” which does have Australasian roots and at least acknowledges my settler background. But “Cooee…” is more an initial greeting and doesn’t work for an ongoing email conversation. Occasionally I use “G’day…” which is more familiar, but it feels too closely aligned the tourist promotions featuring the happy Ocker. It’s not a term that reflects our growing diversity.

This situation has come to a head recently as I’ve been corresponding with those involved in the upcoming Moana issue of Garland. From different Pacific voices, I get a wide variety of salutations, including “Sio’otofa…” (Tonga), “Bona Marum…” (Tolai, PNG) and “Drau bula vinaka…” (Fiji).

It grates on me to reply with a pallid “Dear…” Is there an alternative? One response might be, “Well too bad, your settler heritage is all about the flattening of ritual and tradition. Suck it up!” But I’ve tried to live by the maxim of the great Southern thinker Paulin Hountondji that “culture is a project”, which balances the debts we’ve inherited from the past with a responsibility towards the future. One of the projects we have in Australia is to lessen our colonial attachments and more fully live where we are in the world. How we talk to each other seems a part of that project.

A few years ago, I started a quest to find a name for settlers like me that might correspond to Pākeha in Aotearoa / New Zealand. I discovered that there was no common name for “whitefella”, but instead quite a dizzying diversity of terms reflecting different ways in which the European intruders were greeted. The most prominent term seemed to be “Balanda”, used by the Yolŋu from a word they were given by the Macassan fisherman to describe the Dutch colonists (“Hollander”). I kept a blog Being Balanda to document this, in response to Michael King’s book Being Pākeha. But the question of salutation goes beyond individual identity to how we speak to each other.

At an exhibition opening recently, I found myself talking with Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin. I presented my dilemma to her and asked if there was a term she I could use that reflected the culture of the Wurundjeri as traditional owners of Narrm (Melbourne). She encouraged me to use the word “Kai” as an email greeting. A word can be a very special gift. Should accept it?

We’ve now adopted the custom of acknowledging traditional owners at public events. Might those of us living in Melbourne begin also to adopt the Wurundjeri salutation? The history of our settlement is marked by Wurundjeri place names, like Toorak, Dandenong, Tullamarine and Yarra. Should we consider this a continuing process? Should we eventually re-name Melbourne to Narrm? Are there other local customary practices that would be more widely adopted?

It is not up to any individual—particularly a settler descendent—to determine these standards. But it seems important that we keep the question open, so that we can move to a better future together.

So kai, what do you think?

Image of Dandenong is taken from Victoria Places

Love and Money – Garland goes to town

“There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money.” Robert Frost

“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily.” Chinese proverb

Previously, we explored the village as a site of creativity. Now Garland moves to the town as a place where a culture of sharing can develop without the distractions of a larger city. The town is often the destination of downsizing—the “sea change” or “tree change”—which helps reduce the demands of money making and prioritise other things, such as art making and family.

Underlying this is a duality of love and money. It’s implied that money is a means to which love is the end. The reverse is usually perceived as problematic. Traditionally, “sacred economies” were able to counterbalance the marketplace, such as karma or soul. But there are fewer restraints to the power of money in late capitalism. In the growing service economy, platforms like AirBNB have commodified what were previously sacred values like hospitality. There is a sense in which money is becoming increasingly an end in itself. Under neoliberalism, many workers in large corporations fear that their efforts are more towards the bottom line, rather than the original mission. This is felt particularly by those engaged in creative practices, affected by reduced government arts funding and an emerging millennial generation that is less interested in accumulating things.

The surge against austerity in the recent British elections is aligned with a thinking that seeks to redress this imbalance of love and money. Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism argues that the economic growth which unpins capitalism will no longer be sustained, leading us more towards a collective economy, represented by platforms like Wikipedia. His argument focuses largely on information products. It poses alternative challenges for material practices like crafts, which seem more dependent on the conventional marketplace to survive.

In our part of the world, we often experience a duality of systems represented by the Western and indigenous cultures. Many of the articles in this issue involve collaborations with Yolŋu (spelling of “Yolngu” from Yolŋu Matha dictionary) artists, who divide the world according to a moiety, reflecting the division between love and money, sacred and profane. Some of these projects emerged from Castlemaine State Festival, which is the main source of our town-based material.

Our quarterly essay by Robyn McKenzie follows a quest to understand the meaning of string figures in Yolŋu culture. Ironically, she finds that this traditional cultural practice comes to light only when turned into a saleable commodity—the art print. Her article is complemented by a feature on Yolŋu printmaking Balnhdnhurr to support this. Michelle Montgomery details one of the collaborative projects in the Castlemaine State Festival that involved an urban furniture maker and traditional Yolŋu man. Emily McCulloch Childs returns with a sequel to her earlier Ernabella article that reports on the development of jewellery making with Yolŋu artists in Yirrkala.

Elsewhere in Castlemaine, we visit a conversation among residents about what they do for love and how they manage to afford it. We learn about some Castlemaine artistic practices in printmaking (Rhyll Plant and Ann Baxter), filmmaking (the Cantrills) and ceramics (Dean Smith). Patrick Jones offers a profound local cosmological framework for the sustainability ethic found in this Central Victorian region.

We learn from others about the balance of love and money. Michael Scott explains the nature of “hipster capitalism” as the re-purposing of old trades into creative practices. Tim Johnson describes a project for tradesmen and professionals that enables them to make creative play out of their day job. Penny Craswell gives us as the example of the Object Therapy project, which champions repair as a form of making. Lou Weis thoughtfully describes the creative role of capital in the high-end design. At the other end, we hear the story of Peter Seaton’s Brunswick murals that mediate between development and the street. Vicki Mason tells of a radical project for an alternative way of distributing jewellery. Inga Walton reviews an exhibition that reflects a particular marriage of love and money. And finally, Anna Battista tells us of a Ghanaian artist who is able to make art of money in the most direct fashion.

Elsewhere, we feature the first of a series on Japanese art about the bamboo artist Hafu Mastumoto. Carolina Triana offers a story of an Afghan weaving at the centre of a project to create a welcome couch in Western Sydney. Mandy Ridley and Fiona Wright write about Australia-India collaborations and Vishu Arora tells of the enduring production of fabled Ashavali brocades.

Garland itself is a platform that honours the contributions that we make without payment— sharing our work and advocating the work of others. Our journey involves learning from different creative contexts how making is appreciated, beyond its financial value. We’ve discovered the Korean joy of labour, the Punjabi arcadia, Girramay custodianship, the Persian drive to ornament, Indian love of story and Thai commitment to the village. We can now add the cooperative revival movement in our creative towns.

❤ to all those who made this issue possible, especially the good people of Castlemaine whose hospitality proved such fertile soil. Thanks particularly to Susie Elliot and Mark Richarson, whose Arena article set this in motion.

Further reading

Eisenstein, Charles. Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition. North Atlantic Books, 2011.

Elliot, Susie and Richardson, Mark. The Maker Movement, Arena

Mason, Paul. PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. Allen Lane, 2015.

Murray, Kevin. “The Future of Craft: Is Technology the Only Path to Postcapitalism?” Medium, January 12, 2017.

Ocejo, Richard E. Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy. Princeton University Press, 2017.

Rundle, Guy. A Revolution in the Making. Simon and Schuster, 2014.

Srnicek, Nick, and Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2015.

The journey home from the working week

Modern life has been geared around the regimentation of time through work. The nine to five, Monday to Friday, has become the universal machine for production. It was hard to think of life outside of this rhythm. Grab a coffee to kickstart the brain so you’re ready to go by 9am. And then it begins—the endless stream of meetings, phone calls, letters, emails and repetitive processes. The gears turn.

Everyday, the same grinding routine. The great difference was between work and life outside—the work day and the weekend.

But this seems to be threatened now by the introduction of the smartphone and the capacity of emails to appear at any time and anywhere, not just at our desk but on the train home, in bed, even in the bathroom. This is usually seen as a negative intrusion, making it difficult to sustain a work-life balance. The world of busyness colonises more and more of our waking lives.

But there are other changes afoot with office work. The introduction of the standing desk has given information labour a more active form of engagement. Telecommuting has enabled work outside the office environment, especially in the comfort of home.

It is natural that this opening up of possibilities has encouraged increasing interest in personal productivity regimens. Systems like Getting Things Done have spawned thousands of versions, apps and routines. These are mostly geared to keep us focused and prevent our time being wasted by confusion or uncertainty. But they still mostly involve a linear sense of time that essentially is spent processing repetitive tasks.

I’ve been working independently for a number of years now. I miss the random interaction that an office can bring, but I’ve found myself increasing impatient with the obsession around process that can be found in formal workspaces these days. I can’t imagine being as productive in an office as I can on my own.

But working independently has involved developing ways of staying on track. Over time, I’ve begun to realise that there are different areas of focus necessary during the course of the working week. You need to spend some time thinking about long-term possibilities, not just worrying about latest email request. Of course, the GTD method recommends a series of weekly and monthly reviews to cover this. But I felt I needed to integrate it into the working week itself.

I began to sort out the different areas of focus in their distance from myself. At the most distant were ideas for future projects that required non-urgent development tasks such as concept notes. At the other end, the closest was my “team”, involving colleagues who were actively engaged with me in current projects. The natural way of arranging this was to order it in a sequence that went from outside in. This led to a week that starts in the distance, then gradually moves inwards like layers in an onion. Here’s how mine goes:

Monday: projects in development, future deadlines, up to three years in the future

Tuesday: new partnerships and audiences, research into new competing/partner platforms, promotion and media, email newsletter

Wednesday: resources necessary to continue, funding applications, following up subscriptions

Thursday: existing audience and relationships, keeping subscribers engaged and improving their experience

Friday: colleagues and peers, collegiate activities, advisory panels

After having arrived by the end of the week, the weekend is spent reviewing and filing, with some intellectual activity for its own sake.

There are some tools that I’ve found useful to keep this kind of focus. As email is my “coal face”, I find the Active Inbox gmail extension useful in sorting out emails according to tags for each of the days. For drilling down into projects, I’ve recently moved from Workflowy to Dynalist. Dynalist have introduced documents, which means I can put each day in a distinct outline.

The main weakness in this system is that it’s easy to lose a day in the week with a series of meetings or travel. I try to date my weekly tasks so that they appear as overdue if not completed the previous day. Sometimes I have to combine two layers in one day.

My week as a whole is still relatively similar to the modern office routine, but it has a narrative arc that I find useful in ensuring that I cover the full scope of the enterprise. The “journey home” is hardly a novel story, but it has an enduring appeal. It extends what happens daily in the office life into a week-long process.

While technology may be seen to flatten our sense of timing, turning every moment into work. But with a little imagination, we can bend it to the shape of rituals that give greater meaning to what we do. Trade your steam engine in for a sailing ship.

Where is your village?

Introduction to Garland #6

A young girl called Pikul was pure of heart and spoke with a golden tongue. Tormented by her jealous stepmother, the angels took pity on her and granted her a blessing: every time she spoke, golden pikul flowers world fall from her mouth. Pikul was forced to talk by her stepmother who gathered the golden flowers and sold them. Eventually, Pikul did not want to speak for fear of the flowers that fell from her mouth.

While this tale from a Thai village is presented as a moral lesson to be “master of your speech”, the imagery of words transformed into flowers is charming in itself. The village is the repository of many such cultural treasures, which this issue of Garland seeks to uncover.

In our journey around the Asia Pacific, we have been moving between different regions to discover the genius of various creative places—enjoyment of labour in South Korea, love of nature in Cairns, mystical beauty in Iran and storytelling in Western India. With this current move to Southeast Asia, we consider a category of place. While villages can take radically different form depending on their host country—from the Indonesian kampung set in a lush valley to a hamlet off the coast of New Zealand’s south island—they do share a common difference from the ubiquitous city. Most people who live in a village are likely to know each other’s name. Relations are not as dependent on financial transactions: there is often collective work towards a community space, such as a temple (in Britain, a place must have a church to be called a “village”). And often there is a set of traditions associated with that place, including myths, rituals and craft skills that make the most of materials at hand.

In Asia, the village has been seen as intrinsic to identity. Gandhi claimed that “The soul of India lives in its villages”. In Vietnam it is claimed that “Royal decrees yield to village customs.” And in Thailand, the word moobaan means “village is where the home is”, which is where 75 per cent of the population reside.

Of course, this fond picture of the village can seem nostalgic in the twenty-first century. Urbanisation seems inevitable and now more than half the world’s population lives in cities, probably including you. From a development perspective, villages can be seen as “backward”, involving superstition, prejudice and boredom. But can we imagine a world without a village?

According to the Italian poet, Cesare Pavese, “Your own village means that you’re not alone, that you know there’s something of you in the people and the plants and the soil, that even when you are not there, it waits to welcome you.” So where is your village? Is it a birthplace in another country, where a dear grandmother still lives, refusing to leave? Or is it a place discovered during travels, which touched the heart?

We have some striking examples of how Thai culture today still turns to the village. Rudee Tancharoen journeys to Ban Pa Ao to find a lost bronze casting technique. Pawinee Sukhaswasdi Santisiri discovers a way of using water hyacinth in Isan. Watanya Siriwan makes a sacrifice of her art work in a unique village ceremony of Kra-tin. Jakkai Siributr creates embroideries that tells the story of the loss of home village by Rohingyas. And Sali Sasaki joins others in Chiang Mai to look at the contemporary relevance of village crafts.

Elsewhere, Bangkok-based jeweller Cecê Nobre collaborates with a Chinese tribal silversmith to create work for the homeland of Kilombu. Tuk Sukumarl Leksawat writes warmly of her exchange with a village in Turkey. The Kurdish artist Rushdi Anwar reflects on his work with Lana paper makers in northern Thailand. Singgih Susilo Kartono takes us the Indonesian village of Kandangan, where he has located his design business. Emi Weir celebrates the cotton made by Taileu villagers. Harriet Watts relates how textiles for a village in Laos village end up as Australian craft products. Sahr Bashir writes how a village in the Punjab helps urban designers think of the bigger picture. Pauline Tran presents the collaboration between textile artist Sara Lindsay and refugee Karen weavers. And Kevin Murray takes us to Denmark, a village on the south west coast of Australia, where artist Cecile Williams has helped forge a unique community.

In other articles, Kanita Kaniyomwakin tells the history of her “craft classic”, the Khao Tom Mud. Paul Northam writes about the Philippines exchange with Castlemaine (the village of our next destination). And thinking of future possible exchanges with villages, Zina Burloiu and Terry Martin reveal the collaborative potential of WhatsApp in Australian-Romanian wood art. Pamela Irving tells us what she has been able to with Ming shards in China. Shannon Garson writes about another ceramic exchange, this time across the Pacific. In other corners of the Asia Pacific, Hyeyoung Cho reports on the Kogei Triennale in Kanazawa and Martina Dempf on a jewellery festival in Kazakhstan. And in Australia, we hear from Bethany Wheeler about the glass workshop 1000 Degrees, Sonja Anderson’s encounter with the Cairns jeweller Kate Hunter and Michelle Montgomery’s take on Utopia art returning to domestic craft.

But no doubt the well-polished gem of this issue is Alice Pung’s longform essay about Vipoo Srivilasa. Vipoo is a Thai-born ceramicist who has flourished on the other side of the Indian Ocean, where he has established not only a striking artistic practice, but also a base for a flotilla of projects that help foster exchange in our region. Alice is able to reflect on a characteristic of Vipoo’s art that is rarely acknowledged despite its obviousness—that cute elephant in the room. Drawn herself to this cuteness, Alice asks why we tend to be suspicious that this quality is not serious in art. Whatever the outcome of her inquiry, the means she takes to get there is testament of a serious regard for Vipoo’s work.

Many people have helped with this issue. First, Vipoo has provided not only inspiration through his work but also guided us to discover some of the most interesting Thai work around at the moment. Sincere thanks to Jongsuwat Angsuvarnsiri, Atty Tantivit, Dr SImon Wallace and Sara Lindsay. And we appreciate the partnership with SACICT’s International Innovative Craft Fair, which has provided the source of so many stories.

Smell the pikul flowers…

Trading Tales: Narrative Design in Craft

Stories are an important way in which we connect together, over time and space. I’m currently in Western India for events launching our Garland issue New Homes for Old Stories. Here, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata have helped reproduce cultural values over millennia. The same could be said of other world religions, such as the Koran for Islam and the Bible for Christianity. Stories are also help bind smaller groupings, such as the stories passed down through families. And finally at an individual left, it can be said that a happy life involves having a consistent story that connects the successes and failures that constitute our personal narrative.

It is critical therefore to consider how stories are made and cared for. We tend to think of stories as being “told”, therefore consisting purely of language. Certainly there’s a “craft” in the telling of stories: bards, novelists and screenwriters have learnt how to sustain our attention over the course of a telling. But stories also have a material dimension. As with all things that are important to us, we find a way of experiencing the story through ritual, with the help of storied objects. In the modern era, this has been the role of the book. Beyond the mechanical operation of the books as a device for serving up words, this bundle of paper also offers itself as a home for the story itself. And in our modern era, we have build libraries as temples for the safeguarding and honouring of those stories. This is particularly where the book is a unique object, such as a illuminated manuscript. Other objects can also house stories, such as personal keepsakes that preserve precious memories—of travel to exotic lands or of dear departed ones.

So if objects are important to how we keep stories alive, then we need to think about how we treat them. There are two different tracks along which objects circulate.

The commodity track

In the market, an object operates as a commodity, which can circulate freely according to its exchange value. When we acquire such an object, we do so based on abstract considerations such as price. All things being equal, we are most likely to chose the cheaper object. In the consumerist era, an alternative value arose which we know today as “brand” identity. In this case, some products are valued because of the story behind them. Many chose to buy an iPhone even though it is more expensive than other equivalent smartphones because of the brand value of Apple. What is this value? Apple takes great pains to present itself as “designed in California”, building on the mythology of Silicon Valley, and particularly its prophet, Steve Jobs.

In the case of crafts, an equivalent is associated with the region commonly identified with high quality and authentic products, such as Varanasi saris or Kutch block-printing.

The key point about this commodity track is that objects circulate freely. They are available to whoever has the money sufficient to pay for them. And once they have that object, they are free to do with it whatever they will, even destroy it.

The gift track

By contrast, there is an alternative track which is made up of our ties with others. A key traditional means for objects to circulate is through the gift. As anthropologist Marcel Mauss observed, an object bestowed on another created a debt which served to bind that person to the giver. We are not free to do whatever we like with a gift. How we treat the gift will reflect on how we value the giver. Most gifts must be acknowledged, even over time as we report on the pleasure it gives us.

A key moment is the ritual of giving. Often this is extended by the use of wrapping, which creates the suspense and grants the giver time to provide a story about the object, particularly why they chose it for you. It’s the thought that counts. One of the reasons why handmade goods are very appropriate gifts is that they tell the story of the handmade, which itself is a testimony of care and this carries over to the expression of value in the relationship.

In formal terms, the commodity and gift tracks are dialectically opposed, like the spaces of profane and sacred that we seek to keep separate in order to maintain of social grouping.

The social market

But there are ways in which the market can taken on social values. We become friends with a shopkeeper over time and award him or her our trust, so we might buy from them even though it is more expensive. We all know that tourists are much more likely to buy a craft object if they visit the workshop and meet the maker personally. The craft market often provides a space for this, when we can buy directly from the maker and offer our appreciation.

More recently we’ve seen a particular kind of social market emerge with the development of ethical capitalism. Here we can buy a product for the sense of goodness. Critical here is the backstory of the NGO or needy cause that prompts our generosity. New versions of the sharing economy such as AirBNB work on an ambivalent combination of personal guest and customer.

And so we’ve seen ecommerce platforms emerge that not only sell us products, but also tell the story of their makers. Such platforms offer many benefits. They provide recognition for the artisan and offer a dignified stage on which their work can be presented. This personal perspective is likely to lead to higher prices and therefore greater returns to the craftsperson, reflecting the benefits in one-to-one encounters such as craft markets and workshop tours.

But there is a danger. Seen purely within the terms of a “brand identity”, such stories risk turning the craftsperson into commodity, him or herself. Here they must learn to conform to the stories which have higher value, in particular romantic stories of creative expression for its own sake, which deny the personal struggles many have to survive. We all do this, to an extent. But there is the risk of alienation from the originary context of the craft in the traditions and stories that will seem foreign to someone from another country.

One way of countering this is to make the platform two-way. So rather than our normal anonymous online experience, we can consider facility for the buyer and seller to interact. The buyer learns about the seller, as much as in reverse. This has potential to introduce the gift track that facilitates a relationship between the maker and the consumer. This is the move behind the innovation introduced by IOU Project, where users were encouraged to upload photos of themselves wearing their purchases, alongside images of those who made them. (The concept of Samaanata developed by the Sangam Project sought to establish a platform of mutual respect across the supply chain, including producer, developer and consumer).

A key element of narrative design in craft is the instruction for use. This is not just about the material care of the object, but also how to honour its making. This could be the kind of occasion to wear a garment, how to activate an amulet, or in the case of giftware, the kind of person to whom it might be given. One way of supporting this covenant is to provide a platform where consumers can share evidence of how they honoured the intentions.

E-commerce need not be just a pixelated version of the supermarket or shopping mall, inspiring our greed and lust for new things. It has potential to be a social space were we can encounter all the different capacities it takes to make a world. It can help tell stories of what binds us together, made present in the precious object we hold in our hands.