The value of the collective and the community was presented by Carole Hanson Epp at the Verge conference in Brisbane in 2006. Epp explored the meaning of community to makers and artists and the role community plays in the relationship to and sustainability of creative practice.
Carole Hanson Epp
As has been expressed by other speakers at this conference, one's practice is a continual questioning of why and how. It is a constant re-evaluation of the viability, necessity and possibilities of one's practice. When I find myself at an impasse, frustrated with the struggles in my studio, with the direction of my work, or with the larger dialogues surrounding the contemporary craft sector, I tend to look outwards, towards the community, not necessarily for the answers, but for a dialogue, for a discussion.
What I am going to speak about today stems from thoughts regarding what has influenced the sustainability of my practice thus far. And while obviously, as an emerging artist I am still in the beginning stages of this journey, each step forward and each regression brings to light which avenues offer the possibility of sustainability. This has led me to question what role the community might serve in relation to my practice. Leaving an academic institution and setting out on one's own requires the development of a new set of skills and knowledge regarding the nuts and bolts of creating and working within the sector. Once removed from the daily interactions with peers, academics and advisors, isolated in the studio, and potentially, as in my case in a new geographical location, the development of a relationship with a new community seems to offer a viable alternative to having to figure it all out on one's own.
What I am setting out to discuss today is mere opinion rather than a historical or theoretical approach. I unfortunately pose more questions than offer solutions, but I have come to realize that that is the nature of my practice and the reason why I continue to be inspired and active in this field. What I hope to accomplish is to open a dialogue about the relevance of community and some of the facets thereof. Speaking from a primarily Canadian perspective, which relates ideally to an international audience, I will be covering two of the different communities which I see as impacting the production of my work, with a final discussion tracing the means at our disposal of addressing, interacting with and engaging both of those communities. Beginning with the craft community, I will speak of the potential role it serves as an educative, supportive, critical and collaborative body. Then addressing the need for each artist to work in the larger "public" community, I will be looking at the responsibility that I feel we as artists have to our audience and what relationships can be established between an artist and the community they serve. And finally, by analyzing the new role that the internet is playing in the dissemination of information and the possibilities it offers through on-line communities as a means for dialogue I hope to offer a perspective on the future potential for craft communities.
… the idea of community is based on this sharing of experiences and exchanges among individuals who are free and equal … 1 Marie Fraser.
As makers when we create there is always elements of our identity present in our work. We then move outwards to incorporate influences from traditional practices, contemporary aesthetics and from the communities of makers which we access through local initiatives or global means such as the Internet, magazines, conferences or otherwise. That initial individualism that imbues the work is what acts as our individual narrative within the larger narratives we chose to incorporate. And that individualism is the strength of the work. But while that individuality is necessary for the to the success and understanding of a work, I believe in the incorporation of a larger dialogue, for as Rosalind Krauss stated, 'The privacy of our memories is what is most trivial about them; rather than our uniquely personal memories, it is those we share that form the 'touchstone of humanity'."2 This community in which we work; and the larger community in which we participate as craftspeople, is a built up on a relationship between individuals in a community. I like to think of a term used by Marie Fraser, an art historian and curator from Montreal. In an article once she made mention of the idea of a "community of strangers", which is in essence what a community really is, we are strangers and individuals, but we are brought together under certain conditions for specific reasons.3I think this idea of a "community of strangers" becomes even more relevant when we discuss the communities formed via the internet.
I think that community can be both detrimental and fundamental in our search for self, in our development of identity. Since humankind has a need to form groups to maintain survival we have had a type of community. In taking part in a community we are essentially giving of ourselves to a larger group, requiring a level of generosity, but also strength of character and conviction.
Chantal Pontbriand, in the editorial comments to an issue of parachute magazine whose theme was The Idea of Community states that "a balance between the individual and his or her singularity and the group is what is at the heart of what is at stake 'in community'".4 It is a delicate balance that we must, as artists, be aware of and conscious of when working collaboratively or within a community. Communities form as a result of certain commonalities, a shared goal. Formation can be either intentional sought out or arbitrarily constructed. Either way community is important to the search for and construction of identity in that we often seek to define ourselves through the knowledge gained as a result of interactions with others and the broader community. Pontbriand goes on to state that, "our vision of community, of ourselves and of the world in which we live, is at the heart of the most influential artistic practices of the day." 5
So what does community really mean to us as makers and artists? If art is seemingly so prized for the accomplishments of individuals and their unique perspectives, where does the community fit within that framework, and what can we make of new trends in collaborative practices? What forces artists out of the studio and into the community? Is it the need to network, to gain and maintain contacts in order to advance or sustain an artists' practice?
Craft-based mediums, like ceramics, approach the idea of community differently in that we are brought together through the need to share expensive equipment, support each other through long firing schedules and to share knowledge in a field of research that is limitless. History has seen the bringing together of potters and ceramic artists across cultures, in guilds, through councils, in workshops, to assist in diminishing the extensive workload that is required in the pursuit of knowledge, skill, integrity and refinement. And in current times we see the continuation and expansion of such endeavors to include working across disciplines and as a community on an international level through the use of technology, the internet and blog style chat groups.
My personal notion of community is far reaching, and grows ever more so. It includes those artists who I share workspace with, those that I share dinner and conversation with, artist from other disciplines that I work with on a critical and theoretical level, it is the communities that I access via technology, the students I teach, the artists I provide technical assistance for. It is a group of writers, thinkers, makers, and instigators. It is the organizations that exist in our art and craft sectors and it is the general public.
I have found that working within a community of artists or collaboratively can be a means, in particular for emerging artists, to gain valuable experience, access to opportunities and an awareness and understanding of the role of the community in support and critique of ones work. When we leave our academic environments to set out on our own as craftspeople we are still in need of a community of like-minded, inspirational, challenging and active producing artists around us. Academic programs can instill such skills as self-criticism and personal motivation, but it is through the community that we evolve and build upon that foundation. A discouraging reality is that a large percentage of craft graduates end up pursuing work that is unrelated to their field of specialization, and this trend seems to be related to the lack of support systems or communities within the crafts or the need for a more cohesive community.
But as it has been seen, and has been discussed before, different facets of our community need to be re-evaluated in terms of their role and overall relevance. Our craft community is in the midst of change, or perhaps better put on the brink of potential change, but impetus from the individuals in the community is required.
When I returned to Canada, after two years of study in Australia, and looked to re-establish myself with the local community I looked first to the craft councils and guilds. Why not, they understand the working language of my discipline; they know the tradition and history of my chosen craft. I figured that these communities existed to take on the role of education, information dissemination and support. They bring together a community and provide a source or space for the gathering of people, information and ideas. They also play a role in advocacy to ensure the potential and environment for a viable and sustainable practice.
Guilds offer the potential for access to space and equipment, teaching opportunities, committee work, board development, exposure of work through sales and exhibitions, joint marketing and professional development workshops. A range of skill levels and experiences in a guild environment provide interesting exchange and dialogue. The role of councils on the other hand is related to advocacy, community building initiatives, and the outreach of craft in the public sphere.
To quickly illustrate the prescribed role of the Saskatchewan Crafts Council (my regional council and craft gallery) I'd just like to briefly quote from their website;
They exist: 'To foster an environment where excellence in craft is nurtured, recognized and valued, and where Saskatchewan craftspeople flourish creatively and economically.'
They value: 'Excellence in craft, education and mentorship, promotion, setting of standard, integrity of craftspeople, supportive community of craftspeople.'
And their mission is: 'To create an environment in which quality craft flourishes as a creative and economically successful activity.'6
I believe that it is the responsibility of the community and the organizations involved to re-evaluate their adherence to such a mandate and role in the community in order to grow and change with the disciplines that they support. And while a strong mandate is one thing, the visibility of such a mandate in action is another thing altogether. Speaking primarily from a Canadian perspective, the situation is a bit problematic. While one must remember though that these communities can't be everything to everyone, there seems to be a desire for more visibility and outreach. I would question the extent of the impetus that such organizations provide to the practice of individual artists, in particular the practice of emerging artists. But the problem also lies within the community itself in the form of passivity and indifference. If this is not a reciprocal relationship wherein the organizations support the community that also supports them then we run into difficulties; a situation that is often witnessed in Canada. Only through active involvement will we as practitioners see the growth and development of these organizations and the artists they support. Attendance at events, membership, financial support, volunteering of skills and time, are all means towards common goals.
In contemporary craft practice what is also at stake is to not limit one's outreach to just the craft communities for working within the larger "arts' stream will offer different opportunities and exposure for our disciplines to larger audiences. This is an idea re-iterated numerous times so far at this conference. Again it's accessing the world beyond the ceramic fortress. We must be willing to push the boundaries of our mediums in the studio as well as in the community, pushing for greater visibility, gallery representation, publication opportunities and exposure in areas where craft has been overlooked. Art Craft and Design, while perhaps seemingly separate communities, contain common goals, and methodologies of work. Working collaboratively across disciplines creates unity rather than divide and offers far more potential for collective creative and theoretical advancement. The resistance of crafts' association with design or inferiority complex to art must be again be re-evaluated as all three areas are in constant flux and the proliferation of interdisciplinary practices is still steadily on the rise.
In Canada there is a provincial craft council representation as well as National level advocacy in the form of the Canadian Crafts Federation. Unfortunately we often see, as a result of lack of funding and geographical distance, that these organizations have difficulty working together. A study, coordinated in 2001 for the Canadian Crafts Federation, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Industry Canada, entitled: Defining the Crafts Sector; Working Together to Develop the Crafts Sector, summed up the current situation by stating:
Despite relatively little recognition from economic development ministries and the generally low levels of support for crafts from provincial culture or heritage ministries, crafts sector people have a strong history of working together as a community to promote their crafts and market their products. This could easily form a strong foundation for further work on a provincial and federal basis if only adequate resources could be provided.
When something as simple as sending delegates to provincial or national conferences and symposia is difficult to financially support, we can only be left with a fractured national craft community. And in Canada the idea of putting together an annual or bi-annual national conference such as this seems perpetually out of reach. It is not for lack of desire for unity that the crafts community suffers, but rather lack of funding and the willingness to address at a federal level the economic viability of the arts and craft sector in Canada. However on a positive note, the increased use of the internet and new technologies is working to bridge that gap between communities.
This deficiency of funding is felt at all levels of the community, and is also visibly seen in the lack of individual artist grant funding for craft, lack of exhibition opportunities, calls for submissions, competitions and craft specific galleries. Another need that has to be addressed in Canada is the need for a national craft, or ceramic publication. In a country the size of Canada, (with a population of over 32.5 million people) with number of practicing craftspeople that we have, it is no wonder that we suffer a lack of unity when there is no common space or voice to unify the community, and to produce critical and theoretical dialogue. Again though on a positive note we do have two incredible national craft galleries to promote the work of Canadian and international, contemporary and traditional ceramic artists: the Gardiner Museum in Toronto and the Canadian Clay and Glass Museum in Waterloo.
To quote again from Defining the Crafts Sector:
The crafts community is diffused and loosely organized, partly because it is possible for an individual to design and make products without the support of other organizations.7
This of course is inarguably true. My point is not that we need to rely on these communities to produce work, for of course one can produce and secure sustainability on one's own. I do however argue that they can offer sources of further enrichment, training or support and that it is our involvement that will ensure that the organizations themselves are no longer "diffused and loosely organized", instead rather that they become more sustainable as well, and in turn are able to offer more to the individual artists. The community does not exist solely in support of the artists and their practice, but rather it is a reciprocal relationship, wherein the artist's contribution is also essential.
In a talk at Challenging Craft, an international conference held in 2004 at the Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen, Jayne Wallace, a jewelry maker and theorist, spoke of the need to address that we are not only responsible to our own community, but to the larger community (i.e.: our audience) from whom we need to be in communication with in order for us to address their concerns, their desires and the ebb and flow of the marketplace.8 We have a responsibility to constantly and continuously question and communicate what we believe is of value in our practice, in our chosen disciplines. This will not only help to ensure that there is a socially perceived relevance for craft, but will also be the unified, collective working towards sustainability. The realization being that in order to create a sustainable practice for oneself, we must work to create it for the discipline as a whole.
A definition of community need not be in the form of an organizational model. In my own experiences the most valuable communities I have been involved with have been comprised of artists and writers that have been brought together under the umbrella of similar desires to question contemporary craft practice and visibility, to exhibit together and to share research and theoretical pursuits. It has been a small community, whose membership is in constant flux, whose residences span several continents, yet who are consistently offering each other challenges, support, an outlet for ideas, and access to opportunities. My point being that communities can take all shapes and forms.
But I guess what is the important point to remember is that it is not just a matter of creating work for ourselves or a predetermined audience such as an arts community. This can quickly become an exclusive and elitist audience, which while potentially supportive and understanding of the work based on its knowledge of the language of art, the work created holds little value for the community at large. What is truly relevant is the work that we do in collaboration with the larger communities, our audiences.
The idea of community has become an important topic of discussion in a current context wherein artists feel the need to look to, incorporate, respond to, and actively engage with the surrounding world. And if we are to argue for its relevance Chantal Pontbriand sees art as " a method of thinking that is inscribed at the heart of community, between the singular and the plural, a way of sharing that is, in actuality, a way of thinking." 9 While art has always been made in the frame of mind that it serves a purpose, political, social or economic, artists more and more often address the public's need for new perspectives and re-interpretation of what is happening in the world, particularly in a climate such as our own, wherein we search for meaning and understanding of such events as the gulf war, political unrest and upheaval, violence and terror, poverty, starvation, global health epidemics and ecological abuses. Through art we can address issues that are difficult to digest and we can remove them from the spotlight created by media that serves only to sensationalize. As artists we in turn find new means of creating dialogue about world events through a methodology that privileges a plurality of vision, idea, and means for inciting change. "Distant participation" is how writer and theorist Elizabeth Wetterwald describes the current position of artists. They are given the charge to make sense of what is presented to us in the world though the dissolution of the authority of the artist as author and by re-contextualizing their standpoint and placing themselves not in opposition but in a state of awareness of the diverse perspectives and arguments for a given dialogue.10 The artist thus becomes the instigator and a participant in the dialogue, rather than an authority. The artist is thus simply a part of that overall community that then exists in relation to the work.
To me, art is a service provided to a community. It is a tool that society can use for advancement, for reflection, for a call to action. It can be seen as the centre of a wheel, bringing together diverse communities of people, perhaps geographically distant or even ideologically opposed into conversation in an environment or space removed from the real event, however still participating in and affecting the world. The art object becomes the focus of a conversation between people or communities, a space of contemplation. As Pontbriand describes it; "community allows us to make the link with contemporary art ' a practice located 'between"; between individuals and the group, between ones' self and one's experience of the world, between one's self and the other."11
To me this is as relevant to the crafts as it is to the arts sector. While you might argue that not all craft based practice is concerned with or addressing conceptual or theoretical topics, I would argue that it still exists in a dialogue with the issues.
As an example, whether I am making a piece of political figurative sculpture, or a decorative piece of functional pottery, I see myself as communicating a message about the state of contemporary consumer culture, which is inarguably a discussion addressing political, economical and environmental concerns. On the one hand, the sculpture is a very obvious message of the evils of corporatism, gluttony and the abuses of contemporary agriculture. And on the other hand is work that I produce to speak of concerns about industrialization, the loss of material process knowledge, over consumption of goods, the creation of sustainable products and design, as well as the creation of value in the marketplace. Conceptually the two are not as separate as they seem.
I believe that my work can act as a form of resistance to the status quo. This ability to communicate, to dialogue with and to challenge an audience are all steps towards sustainability in one's practice through creating work that not only serves a purpose, but which offers to a community the means to make change, the space to discuss and most importantly the bringing together of a community through the work. Objects act as a space of intimacy between people within a community or society that can be estranged. We must remember that "art (is) a genuine, immediate form of social practice, or symbolic action" 12or as Walter Benjamin states "the classical foundation of artworks on 'ritual' will be replaced by another social function of art; its foundation on politics." 13>
This should not be mistaken as a call for craft based practices to be intentionally didactic. Rather it is the about the realization that in today's context all actions have a political reading, that is that they are physical representations of our moral and ethical ideologies, regardless as to whether or not we chose to actively address this as a part of the subject matter of the work.
In The Masterless Way: Weaving an Active Resistance Faith Gillespie, describes the craftspersons' position,
There is clearly anther imperative at work now in our exercise of the old crafts. It has to do with reclamation, with reparation. The world seems not to need us any more to make "the things of life." Machines make more and cheap. The system needs us to do the maintenance jobs and to run the machines that produce the so-called "goods", to be machines in the consumer societies, which consume and consume and are empty. Our turning to craftwork is a refusal. We may not all see ourselves this way, but we are working from a position of dissent. And that is a political position. 14
Something that was said by David Suzuki during this year's NCECA keynote address brought the issue back into focus for me. Suzuki discussed how my generation of artists (or my generation in society in general) has existed in a culture that is 100% saturated in consumerism. We may fight and oppose this, however we have no idea what it is like to live in a culture that is not so market driven. As the years go by there are fewer and fewer people that remember the way our culture existed and sustained itself before the 1950's and the contemporary advent of fast food, all night chemists and the separation between process and product. Since the industrial revolution our world has changed dramatically, however the last 50 years has seen an even steadier increase in the focus on consumption.
So how does one fight against a way of living that is 100% integrated into one's life? We see our community in two ways; one as it is currently, the other as it could be different as based on our critique of the current. 15 So how then do we find the means to reconcile the two? Through resistance, which is strengthened through the bonds of community. The attitudes towards social reform begun in the late 1800's have had a lasting impact upon the community of makers, giving new meaning to technical proficiency in the crafts and on the objects and their subject matter. So this notion of resistance can be seen as a bi-product of craft production or as an intended instigator. Resistance can be a key narrative that is presented in our communication to the larger community.
What one must keep in mind when creating work and dialoguing with a community is, as Wetterwald states, "what is at stake is to see the world not as a monster alien to oneself but as something in which one fully participates".16
These issues manage to unify a community of makers; be they potter, weavers, textile artists, woodworkers or jewelry makers. And the strength of this community, which spans mediums, geography, age, and culture, will be what can create change in the larger community. The more we are unified in this position, the more visible the need for change, the greater communication we can have with our audience and the more likely that the crafts will increase in social value and thus maintain a sustainable stance in the world.
While the internet itself is not new to us there are many advancements and developments that are happening that are changing the manner in which we use this technology. I will not go into great detail as there are other speakers at this conference who will be discussing this topic in much greater detail, however I would like to briefly discuss the idea of community as formed by the internet.
The language of new technology can be a foreign language to many, in particular maybe those that are more versed in the language of working with one's hands. The computer and its resulting technology are arguably a source of concern in that it is theorized that new technologies are increasingly removing us from an active sensory relationship with the surrounding world. And this works in direct opposition to the aims of an object maker who relies upon the tactile, immediate and intimate relationship between a person, their environment and the world around them. But technology is also increasing the potential of the craftsperson to reach a larger, albeit more distant and disconnected, community.
In my own experience it has been solely thanks to the internet and email that I am able to continue to work in collaboration with artists from Australia, the United States and the Asia Pacific region. And this is just the beginning. With access to technology such as web publishing, pod casting and blogging, communities everywhere are forming around the basis of shared ideals and common goals. Web-publishing and blogger communities are actively contributing to critical dialogue and theoretical research on the web removing the dependence upon more established publications to write about crafts. Even flickr.com is quickly evolving in that we see countless web-base portfolios appearing rather than simply travel photos and random imagery.
On his website www.redefiningcraft.com Dennis Stevens advocates for a revolution in the ceramics sector through a renewed interest in theoretical writing. Clearly articulating the problem with current writing about ceramics, he states that we are using a language and theory which is not our own, but rather borrowed from art theory and primarily French Post-Structuralist theorists. 17 As he sees it, craft as a community is more unified in its approach to making, theory and documentation as a result of its separation from art, and he theorizes that this unifying by common cause can allow us the ability to move forward as a community, in support of each other. As we have heard over the past few days, there is a move towards more integration with the arts stream. Whilst I agree that we need to further our collaboration with the larger arts community, I also champion the notion that we need to do it in a manner that befits our community's needs. Our community is desperate for critical and theoretical engagement. The question becomes whether we look to our own community to step up or if we continue to seek out this engagement in collaboration with the fine arts sector. My answer I guess would encompass a bit of both.
And if there is call to arms to develop new theoretical initiatives from within our own community, we have finally been given the tools and free access to do so. Contrary to most publications on ceramics, which consistently present technical how-to or historical research, blogger sites present musings on theory, critical reviews, discourse and fresh perspective that is uninhibited and immediate. This is a conversation that is current, not published months, years after the fact, edited and reworked, but which is happening right now, and at that speed we have the ability to learn and evolve at a much greater pace.
As internet Theorist Micheal Strangelove states in the article The Internet, Electric Gaia and the Rise of the Uncensored Self states,
The Internet is not about technology, it is not about information, it is about communication - people talking with each other, people exchanging e-mail … The Internet is mass participation in fully bidirectional, uncensored mass communication. Communication is the basis, the foundation, the radical ground and root upon which all community stands, grows and thrives. The Internet is a community of chronic communicators. 18
And here in lies the future of the craft community if there is a willingness to work as a community towards sustainability.
Already we see an increase in the number of blog styles sites solely discussing craft practice and craft theory, where not only are papers and texts published but where responses to the written material is collected and published so that the conversation can continue indefinitely. The only thing that limits the potential of this type of communication is the marketing and outreach of the sites. Accessing the sites requires the time and patience to find these hidden gems, once found each site is a portal to other related sites, but even as one such blogger states on his website that, "if you're reading this, it puts you in a couple of different categories. One is pretty elite: a place among three people that currently know this page exists and the second, while honorable, is slightly larger; craft freak and someone who knows what the acronym NCECA stands for." This unfortunately highlights the current state of such sites in that there is little awareness of the sites, and what access exists is limited to a small community of knowledgeable individuals. How then do we market this to a larger audience, as these conversations are crucial to the development and sustainability of our community, but also are relevant and important to get across to the larger audience? Within our community is where change will begin; having these conversations in society is where change has to happen.
So access and visibility are important to develop, but so to is the content. While I often smile at the sarcastic, swear filled ramblings of the anonymous blogger on Counter Culture: art, craft and aesthetics in the 21st century, we must get past the stages of anger and resentment in order to produce productive dialogue, criticism and theory. Dennis Stevens on his website Redefining Craft, also speaks of the struggle to get people reading, responding and involved in the blog style dialogues that are happening. How do we make the larger community listen? How do we get our own community involved? Again it seems that this is a tool at our disposal, which we can use in the proliferation and dissemination of writing about craft, by craft theorists or practioners, however it is up to us to get the conversation started.
Artists use this medium of the internet in various ways, as a space for research and inquiry, searching out information, images, video, and on the other hand as a means to project their own work outwards, either through personal sites, or gallery sites displaying images. This access grants the same freedom of exposure to both established artists as well as artists at other stages of their careers. And what is interesting is that the layout of the web allows for the context surrounding the work to be present.
Not only are we presented with objects, we are also presented with the corresponding text, artist statements, links to other sites, and a range of information that can open doors for the viewer into the work.19 Context and content is provided via the web in a manner that can be more efficient and immediate than any gallery or museum initiative. The work, while removed from its inarguably crucial tactile relevance becomes interactive in a different manner.
As practitioners if we want to remove ourselves from the discourse of the institution, the gallery or museum, whose hierarchies of art and craft we oppose, we must search out new venues and avenues in which we can expose our work to the public in a context that we have determined. This removes the gallery/museums role in assigning meaning to objects and places the control firmly in our hands. It is a control and power that we must approach wisely and with caution, however it allows us great ability to convey accurately what is truly meaningful and of value in the work.
And the web is not only used as a space for finished work or ideas, instead it also actively engages the community in a sort of live sketchbook, that evolves and develops as a response to the interaction with others. Writeboards are only one example of this where you can post text and have others edit, collaborate and rework the document, all the while tracking all the changes that are made. A blogger known only as Julian wrote the following:
For me it comes down to making things public in a way that is part an experiment in a kind of open-source design practice, part as a way to manage a torrent of ephemeral material, snippets, thoughts, sketches, cobbled together prototypes, … , that start and then stop and then divert - a collection and idea circulation machine. It's a way to circulate thought within my modest network of thinkers, … , and enroll them in the process of creating terribly evocative objects that move beyond what I could create on my own. 20
While Julian is actually a design engineer, his words speak to our community as well of this tool at our disposal, which has opened us up to greater levels of communication as well as collaborative possibilities via the internet. Schools and Universities are also using this technology to offer distance courses, to present course material and to link communities of students, scholars and artists. The individual artist working in their studio needs investigate the time to be involved with this growing on-line community. No longer can one express frustration at being out of the loop or disconnected from what is happening in contemporary crafts, as the community exists, one just has to be proactive in their involvement within it. But as Avi Amesbury stated in her talk on Wednesday, these initiatives have the capability to fall flat as we are dealing with a community of makers, who would rather work with their hands and be in their studios. One can hardly blame them. But we must keep in mind how this tool of the internet can foster greater visibility for our work, the sector and the related research.
So to return to the beginning question of how do I see community directly impacting my work, in the past few years there have been many ways that this has been made visible in my practice. The most influential way has been through the dialogue, communication and collaboration that exist through the work with an audience. Throughout the frustration and struggles of one's practice, the constant questioning of whether you're on the right track, if making the work is even relevant, and whether there is an audience that you reach with your work, I am perpetually returning to the larger community, the public for inspiration. The need or void that exists in society, the one that we as artists can fill through our work, is what inspires me to continue. It is the collaborative spirit and the role of the arts and crafts in the moral, social, economic and cultural fabric of society that feeds my practice.
Another key event that transpired was my moving to Australia to continue my education. Whilst I had been involved with numerous interconnected communities back in Canada, I had to shift my perspectives when I changed geographical locations and interacted with new communities of thinkers. Immediately I found myself severed from the comfort zone that had supported my work and practice, and I began to re-evaluate all aspects of my practice and the inner-workings of the communities I had left as a result of the new comparable community. The re-evaluation of the context and relevance of my work in relation to a broader international view of the ceramics sector changed my work so significantly that I find it difficult to associate it with my former practice. This was a not a result of changing or molding my practice to adhere to a new set of rules or context, but rather the broadening of my perspective on the role of craft practice in society through the attainment of greater knowledge about international perspectives and voices.
I have since returned to Canada and have re-established myself with a community there, yet continue to work to develop and maintain the community I worked within here. My presence at this conference is a clear visible indication of how that community is continuing to assist and foster my professional development. Each act or undertaking within the various communities I collaborate with has a ripple effect in that it further broadens the scope of my practice and community. Through initiatives such as web-based projects, curatorial and exhibition development, critical writing, or even simple dialogue between makers and thinkers about the current state of affairs and opportunities, the community I worked within and the collaborations I've undertaken with them are constantly challenging my practice and perspectives in a positive and proactive manner. Geography might separate people, but ideas cross all boundaries and borders. Whatever I may lack in one community, I seek out in another and that keeps my work evolving at a rate that assists in its sustainability. Community can be there to assist with the nuts and bolts of a practice, or to inspire thought and creation, either way, it is there to challenge and support, to raise questions and above all else to provide a space for dialogue which is the most crucial requirement for change and growth.
Carole Hanson Epp
Verge: 11th National Ceramics Conference