University of Tasmania

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The ethics of making: design for reuse and repair developing an alternative strategy for studio-based craft and design in a world full of stuff

posted on 2023-05-25, 14:10 authored by Niklavs RubenisNiklavs Rubenis
We exist at an interesting point in time. Waste is exponentially increasing; resources are diminishing; yet we are accumulating more and more possessions. The world is inundated with stuff; it is everywhere - in our houses, our offices, on our streets and littering our environments. Stuff has become a problem. This is a conundrum for studio-based craft and design (SBCD), the lens of this project, which, like many design endeavours, has a preoccupation with the design and the making of products. This reality raises challenges around roles, responsibilities and ethical imperatives that drive SBCD in the 21st Century. If it is acknowledged that design (action) and craft (making) is responsible for authoring the construction, altering and interaction of our built environment, then perhaps both are powerful tools in how we shape our physical existence on this planet. SBCD, however, appears to be in crisis often marginalised as a vocation taught and practiced bound to past models that fail to sufficiently make links with salient issues of our time. As such, over the last several years many educational programs that have supported SBCD across Australia have been discontinued or amalgamated into larger homogenous programs; the last decade or so has also seen a swag of cultural organisations move to drop “craft” from their titles; and there appears to be a decline of professional craftspeople. , , This presents as another conundrum and raises the question of the value and relevancy around SBCD’s offering to a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world. Yet SBCD has many worthy inherent attributes. It is a localised practice that supports a local ecology that further promotes high-level technical, material and creative skills. Because SBCD also focuses on an individual in a studio free from industrial constraints or imperatives, this gives a practitioner critical agency. But for SBCD to make a relevant and timely contribution to a world drowning in things will require a decoupling from existing modes of practice and a deeper understanding of design and its impact to social, cultural, political, economic, emotional, environmental, historical, ethical and technological imperatives - an exploration beyond lingering Modernist ideals of design as an aesthetic ‘form-giving’ pursuit. This is the motivation for this practice-led-research: To interrogate the 'whys' and 'hows' of practice and to seek and develop an alternate strategy for SBCD that squarely faces a question that essentially unravels the very core of what it does - why make more stuff? Through exploring a broader perspective of design and by focusing on universal issues that transcend any one discipline, this research considers that SBCD turn attention to dealing with that which already exists. This manifests with a focus on creative challenges and opportunities for design's engagement with reuse and repair. Effectively, I use SBCD as an exploratory tool for inquiry into a) environmental concerns of waste and these links to design; b) as a strategy for giving alternative values to goods that have been discarded; c) and as a practice that engages with social, cultural and ethical concerns when presented with issues outside of domestic disciplinary concerns. Initially revolving around the sub-genre of furniture and objects, the practice that is presented here transforms into a much wider scope of what could define a model of SBCD within an Australian context. Through performing ‘micro-interventions’ into globalised flows of transient materiality, this research develops a case for SBCD. When recomposed within an ecology of practice, and by redirecting offerings that engage with issues beyond an object, SBCD has a relevant and worthy contribution to make to both the sustainment of the built environment and to material culture. This project is the beginnings of an alternative mode of practice.





School of Creative Arts and Media


Australian National University

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