Author: Cvetka Požar

Nearly two and a half decades, since the mid-1990s, crafts have been making a comeback across Europe, even though they have never completely disappeared, despite the predominantly serial mass production. One of the lesser-known facts, for instance, is that traditional craftsmanship played a crucial role in the shaping of the new aesthetics of Italian design between 1945 and 1960[1], in the period of modernism, which in principle rejected manual production.
With the rise of industrialisation in the 19th century the importance of handicraft gradually started to decline. At the beginning of the 20th century it was Walter Benjamin[2] who drew attention to this phenomenon; for him, there was a connection between the metaphorical power of old crafts, such as weaving and potting, and storytelling – they were both threatened by industrialisation. But Benjamin was not nostalgic; he found a solution in objects such as Duchamp’s readymades, authentic works of art that are a product of invention of an uninhibited mind.
The MADE IN: Crafts—Design Narratives project re-examines the alternatives to handicrafts today, when certain skills are being forgotten and those who have them do not have anyone to pass them on to, while those who persist have a hard time making ends meet with their work, for one reason or another. Architect Nicholas Coeckelberghs from Brussel’s BC Architects points out[3] that as an architect he wants to be involved in every step of the construction process. BC Architects take already used construction materials or excavated soil from construction sites to make bricks. In doing so, they employ both machine processing and traditional construction techniques. This comprehensive approach offers a solution for a more sustainable lifestyle, which is bound to (and already has) become a necessary component of our lives. BC Architects see a solution for this in a combination of craft and industrialisation. We could find a connection here between Benjamin’s reflection on craftsmanship, for which he saw the future in embracing the new, in inventions such as a mass-produced urinal which when put in a new context turns, through the artist’s intervention, into a work of art. The present-day analogy is mainly about a change in perspective on something that might facilitate the survival of something which may no longer have a reason to exist, but may at the same time have certain values important for the future that we do not want to see disappear. But it is also about a change in perspective on that which is disappearing on account of massive changes which call for systemic solutions (lack of natural resources brought about by climate change). We could begin by being open to asking questions in the first place.   

It is not common for the Museum of Architecture and Design to feature handicrafts, but they made their way into our programme in 2014 at the Biennial of Design (BIO 50: 3, 2, 1 … TEST) through Hidden Crafts and Nanotourism themes. When looking for the craftspeople for our MADE IN project we started with traditional crafts, but our aim was to select those that either have the potential for the future or are pursued by people seeking new opportunities for developing their craft. In the course of our investigations we detected certain similarities, differences and the problems that define the position of handicrafts in Slovenia. The most prominent commonality shared by the featured craftspeople is their harnessing the skills and knowledge passed on to them by their ancestors or master craftsmen. Some of them stay true to the tradition and create sustainable products, such that we have no need to replace in their lifecycle. Only a few have adapted the traditional approaches to the demands of the market and made a successful breakthrough abroad. The rest continue to work the traditional way, but have to deal with the lack of the natural resources (e.g. husks from non-hybrid corn variety) that are the only materials they can use to make their products. This problem has forced many to look for new materials which they could use.
However, development and progress come with changes in society and these in turn also change needs. Who still uses big, wooden handmade vessels and buckets that people once used to prepare and store food in? They have long been replaced by lighter plastic vessels. Our increasingly consumerist lifestyle does not support the old ways of food-keeping. Craftspeople who still make such things are few and far between; some have adapted to the consumer-oriented times and revamped their state-of-the art products into decorative miniatures. The production method has been adapted accordingly, for such products cannot last without glue.
In the past, craftsmanship, the production method and the use of materials were often a reflection of one’s living in harmony with nature. The skills acquired through practice produced quality and, more often than not, sustainable products. The key was understanding the material, the process itself and last, but not least, the wholeheartedness of it all.
The MADE IN project serves as an opportunity for us to raise a number of questions: What is the purpose of collaboration between craftspeople and designers? Where does it lead to? The future of handicraft and perhaps even its survival in the market? Something more? Perhaps awareness of a more sustainable use of resources, use of local materials, and environmentally-friendly production?
The sharing of skills that in the past allowed us to live in harmony with our environment, revitalisation of traditional techniques and exploration of new alternatives to how they are used are some of the ways to new solutions for the future, ones we are bound to explore. This can be achieved if we collaborate, network and, most importantly, embrace new knowledge. New skills and knowledge can pave the way to other creative processes. Collaboration between designers and craftspeople is beneficial for both. The first learn the traditional skills and use them in novel ways, while the latter become acquainted with contemporary work methods and processes that can facilitate their development and even existence. But, one needs to be receptive for such in the first place, or in Alice Rowsthorn’s words: “The future of craft may well be determined by its ability to embrace the elasticity of contemporary culture by making tactical incursions into other disciplines, as its old foe design has done so deftly.”[4]


[1] See: Penny Spark, The Straw Donkey: Tourist Kitch or Proto-Design? Craft and Design in Italy, Jurnal of Design History, Vol. 11, Issue 1, 1998, pp. 59–69.
[2] More in: Tanya Harrod, Introduction, Journal of Design History, Vol. 11, Issue 1, 1998, pp. 1–4; Esther Leslie, Walter Benjamin: Traces of Craft, Journal of Design History, Vol. 11, Issue 1, 1998, pp. 5–13. 
[3] Nicholas Coeckelberghs was invited to give a lecture for a MADE IN workshop conducted by designer Lukas Wegwerth in Urban Magušar’s pottery workshop in Radovljica between 9 and 13 September 2019.
[4] Alice Rawsthorn, Design as an Attitude, JRP Ringier, Les presses du réel, Zürich, Dijon 2018, p. 48.


Author: Louise Schouwenberg

In the vanguards of the art and design worlds, there’s a remarkable interest for traditional techniques that, due to many reasons, lost their appeal at the start of the 20th century. The renewed interest is remarkable, as the crafts had largely turned obsolete since the industrial revolution. Moreover, where craftsmanship was still cherished, low wage countries provided cheaper alternatives. In spite of very interesting cultural experiments to win the battle, the fierce competition has caused a closure of many European craft industries in these last decades.


Author: Koraljka Vlajo

The future of traditional crafts in Croatia hangs in fine balance. Right before our eyes small craft shops are, one by one, disappearing from towns and cities. Partially, it is a consequence of historical and political regional circumstances and, in part, it is due to globalisation process and overwhelming quantities of low-cost goods that are pushing out more expensive local products.


Author: Thomas Geisler

So, what do you do for work in a place like this? Ideally, you’re a craftsperson. A strong number of whom emerged from the agricultural society in the valley, their endeavours occasionally reaching industrial dimensions. The world market leader in wire hangers, for example, is an inventive metalworker from the region, and there are more of his kind around here. The people who want to stick with manual production and – simply put – remain independent yet united in their battle against globalisation, established Werkraum Bregenzerwald in 1999.