Manifesto

What is a manifesto?

For me it a set of principles, attitudes or goals to work towards. A way of defining and refining what I do.

Here’s the skeleton of my current thinking which I intend to embellish and expand over the next short while. Stay tuned.

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PRACTICE

I rarely refer to what I do as art, craft or design; these terms feel pretentious and overly defined. I often use the term work, with its open definition and connotation of labor and humility. Increasingly, I prefer the term practice.

Every meaning of the word seems appropriate to my understanding of what I do.

  • Practice = Learning through repetitive action; as in archery practice or piano practice. Confidence, capability and fluency only come from hours spent in the studio, working at the bench. The body and the mind need to practice in tandem consistently and repetitively for creative action to flow smoothly.
  • Practice = Spiritual or aesthetic devotion. As a student of Zen I’ve always found a strong link between meditation practice and the practice of making. Both require diligence, consistent devotion, acceptance of failure and an understanding that practice itself is the goal.
  • Practice = Professional activity; as in legal, architectural or medical practice. I consider myself to be a highly trained and uniquely experienced and talented person. Similarly, my colleagues each have unique perspectives and hard-won skills which they bring to bear in their creative endeavors. Making often has been portrayed as anti-intellectual or ‘blue collar’. Naming our activity a ‘practice’ redirects this viewpoint.

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EXPLORE

I always try to make each project I undertake a vehicle for learning.

  • A chance to meet new people, to
  • Travel to and work in the most diverse and engaging places on the planet,
  • Explore other ways of making and new (to me) technologies (“to play in someone else’s sand pit”), and to
  • Explore new ways of thinking through research.

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SUSTAIN

Creative practice must be sustainable. Despite the fact that this term is becoming a meaningless buzzword, the notion it embodies is increasingly (desperately) essential.

Our work needs to be –

  • Economically sustainable. None of us can continue working unless we can survive (even thrive) financially. Pricing of work and the amount paid to assistants and subcontractors must be realistic and allow all concerned to continue working happily.
  • Environmentally sustainable. The materials and processes used must have minimal negative environmental impacts at all stages of the life of the object. In fact, they should pay an ‘environmental dividend’; returning positive benefits to the environment outweighing their costs.
  • Culturally sustainable. Creative work must be supported culturally. It must reach an appreciative audience who responds to and supports the work, otherwise we are indulging in a self-absorbed hobby.

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LOCATE

“Think globally, act locally”

This is clearly connected to the notion of Sustainable Practice, but is worthy of a whole section of its own.

Strive to –

  • Use locally available resources – both human and material.
  • Distribute and locate work locally. Moving objects around the planet is a pain at all levels – freight is expensive (environmentally and financially), work gets damaged in transit so easily, taking my work across the country or the planet deprives a local artist or designer the opportunity to place their work where mine is going.
  • Conceptualize around local histories, experiences and phenomenon. This connects to explore through practice through engagement with the local environment and culture.
  • Honor and maintain the local ‘flavor’ in our world’s distinct cultures.

I am enamored of the romantic image of the village woodworker who is called on to make everything from carriages and cabinets to coffins. Works of high craftsmanship as well as basic utensils. Works that will be treasured and will last for generations as well as daily items which will wear away in a season or two. Anything that the community needs and which his skills can provide. Is this achievable in the 21st Century and what would it look like?

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MAINTAIN

Always consider the full life span of everything we make – not just the initial impact.

Make everything so it  is –

  • Maintained by the user/owner. Maintenance includes easy cleaning, repair and user modification.
  • Ages nobly. Patina is the signifier of an object that is imbedded in culture.
  • Recycled. Not just a notional potential for recycling but something inherent in the object or its cultural context. e.g. if its made of gold it WILL be recycled.

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SHARE

All knowledge should be open access. I have learned from uncountable numbers of people through working with them, being taught directly by them, reading their writing and even just hearing of their activities.

It is the responsibility of everyone to share what they know freely with others and the new generation of creative people.

Proprietary knowledge may help fuel Capitalism but in the long run, I believe, it restricts the growth of knowledge and creates a greater divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.

5 Comments

  1. David Trubridge May 26, 2010 at 2:42 am

    great thinking donald — i am with you almost all the way and i think maybe we should make something like this a manifesto for all of us. but ‘almost’ because of the local issue. if i buy a donald piece to have here in new zealand, then i am not depriving anyone local because there is no local donald! and as well, cultural exchange enriches us all and i think it is very important to retain a mutual sense of global nourishment. i guess i am particularly aware of this issue down here in our remote corner of the pacific — we kinda need that intercourse or else we will become terribly isolated. it is probably quite different in one of the centres of the western world!

    Reply

  2. David. This is a manifesto, not a rule book, so its intention is to provoke argument – preferably over a good glass of wine in a smoky bar. Thanks for stepping up!

    I see your point about ‘local distribution’. Cultural isolation and lack of local resources is a good argument in favor of long distance exchange. However the other side to that coin is international homogeneity and cultural hegemony.

    Perhaps there is a ‘local Donald’ in New Zealand or a local David Trubridge in Bayarea but they don’t have an opportunity to display their work because of the presence of the international superstar. Companies like DWR distribute the international name designers and leading galleries and museums strive to show the ‘blue chip’ artists. The ‘local’ doesn’t get a chance to thrive or be supported culturally in that environment.

    Its already hard to tell when you walk down the street if you are in Bayarea, New Orleans, Auckland, Manchester or Melbourne. What makes a city and its culture distinctive is its local flavor and we are consciously eroding this, and thereby making the world a poorer place.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love your work. And it was a pleasure seeing your lamps when we came across them by surprise in London or Sydney or Melbourne on our last trip – like bumping into an old friend. But don’t you think that experience is one end of the slippery slope leading to the ‘Hiltonization’ of the world?

    (An interesting aside. John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their 1969 Bed-in for Peace in the Amsterdam Hilton. Their room (#902) became a popular tourist destination subsequently. This is a heady little clash of international and local culture.)

    I wonder if work can be distributed widely and still achieve a local flavor. I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this? Part of the attraction of your work is that it retains the local flavor of New Zealand. But is that really meaningful in Vienna? Should we strive to create products and experiences that somehow absorb or become part of the local culture where they end up rather than retain the culture where they came from? Is it possible to design a cultural chameleon – something that soaks up the ‘local’? Or is that like putting koalas on the counter at Starbucks in Sydney?

    Every creative act we make requires a compromise of principals. My manifesto is probably unrealizable in its purest form. I hope though that it helps me consider the full consequences of my actions and gives me some guidance on the best path to take.

    Please get back to me with your thoughts. Making a Manifesto is a cultural action and, like making work, it only makes sense if it reaches and engages with an interested community.

    Reply

    1. Donald, I love your Manifesto. And David I think your point is a very good one. I feel odd adding my two cents in such company, but perhaps Donald if the art is going somewhere where there is no ‘local donald’ there is an opportunity to interact and share ideas/values/techniques etc. You lecture, talk to people about your work and values and that makes a difference. I see the real problem with moving lots of stuff around the world much more in manufacturing rather than the arts. You come with the art. What comes with all the cheaply made furniture and flooring getting unloaded at the Port of Oakland?

      Reply

  3. Pippa,
    Welcome to the discussion!

    I agree that there is a wide gap between the artist called in to create a project a long way from where he or she lives and the container load of anonymous design awaiting distribution through some no-name retail outlet in the world. But they are ends of the same spectrum, I believe, and both can be influenced by the intention of those in control of the process.

    In my case its in my personal control, I can refuse projects which don’t give me the chance to create for local conditions – easy.

    In the case of manufactured goods it needs to be a proactive decision by many stakeholders (consumers, retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, designers) to embrace the local and forego opportunities that might be financially lucrative (often marginally so and only with unaccounted social or environmental costs). Even at the design/retail end it is possible to embrace and support the local by limiting the distribution of certain designs to certain geographic/cultural zones – to develop a distinct flavor for each location where the product is sold. Perhaps this is a superficial approach compared to purely local creation and distribution. But it does at least require a more intimate understanding of locale from companies to be able to create something distinctive for that place.

    I would love to see a world where everywhere we travelled had a distinctive quality to it – geography, climate, language, music, clothing, food, etc. We need to strive for this just as we strive for biodiversity, the survival of indigenous peoples and their languages, and the health and economic well being of the underprivileged. I see the preservation and expansion of cultural diversity through engagement with the local as intrinsic to these other issues we are tackling.

    Reply

  4. David Trubridge May 30, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    i think pippa has hit the nail on the head. in effect we are both right, donald. we are in agreement over what pippa calls manufacturing — all the bland bulk of stuff we see everywhere. this happens solely for short-term and short-sighted ‘economic’ reasons, shipping vast quantities of cheaply made goods vast distances. yes this is sorely depriving local creativity, while it squanders rapidly dwindling resources for little reason other than some distant business profit.

    i have argued in my lectures for the increasing importance and value of craft as part of the whole creative process (in which we all engage). this is because of:
    1) its innate sense of caring, which is in effect subversively anti-capitalist (make something well because of an inner [moral?] imperative, rather than to profit someone else).
    2) the inevitable consequence of a local flavour, through the possibility of craft’s connection to local materials and time-honoured local processes.
    3) the vital role it can play, through 1) and 2), in building a nourishing culture that has emotional and spiritual depth to it — unlike the current and prevalent narrow, rational, pragmatic global ‘culture’ which leaves us un-nourished and rootless.

    BUT (you were waiting for that word!) there is another aspect of culture that is global in its common humanity, and crucially in its constant reappraisal and questioning of that humanity. why are the works of picasso, dostoyevsky, eliasson, herzog, rabindranath tagore, napangardi, ben okri and countless others so widely shared, so revered and so important? would you have gone to a concert by ali farka touré or supported a local rap artist? there are lessons and stories in these people’s own cultures that we all have to hear. ok, these are the extreme pinnacle of human creativity and we will only ever see their work (if it is visual — the written, music and filmic arts are lucky in their ease of movement) if we are lucky in public places. and it is vital that we do. if you agree with that, then how far down do you draw the line and say this role can now be filled equally well locally? that is a gnarly one!

    it all comes back to that word ‘balance’. too much today is out of balance. but i do fervently believe that a more balanced cultural world is possible, and of course beneficial. we do not want bland global homogenisation any more than we want protectionism and ghettoisation which lead to xenophobia, and a loss of understanding of other cultures. so no i don’t see the recognition of a common global culture or humanity as the start of your ‘slippery slope’. it is just a question of knowing where to draw the line!

    — —

    your other question about wide distribution retaining a local flavour is also interesting and pertinent. yes i really do believe that, in theory, something from new zealand can be meaningful in vienna, for the reasons i have outlined above, ie if it has sufficient relevant cultural value. (as far as my own work is concerned, it is not for me to say – that is for others to decide).

    and, for the same reason, i don’t believe your ‘cultural-chameleon’ concept is possible. that goes against everything that i believe a creator/artist to be. it can only be contrived and false. for a creator to be operating fully and effectively, s/he has to initially work through the art part of the process, imbibing, soaking up everything around them and filtering it through their vision, emotions and experience. this is necessarily a local process, generating a local flavour. but the true genius of the work lies in its universal appeal that then transcends the local provenance. dorothy napangardi is the perfect example. however there is, in theory, nothing to stop such an creator relocating and going through the same process in another place to produce a quite different result. like transplanting a french grape to australia where it makes a quite different wine, but of equal value.

    once again, though, where do you draw the line, and who draws it??
    what is the difference between a souvenir and a cultural artefact, between good art and bad art?! eh?
    kia ora.

    Reply

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