“Passion for the land where one lives is the foundation of belonging and is an action we must endlessly risk.” Edouard Glissant
Welcome to the first issue of Garland. We begin a seasonal review of places where objects are being made of enduring value. This conversation aims to open up new and renovated perspectives on the way our cultures are individually constructed and regionally intertwined. Stories are navigation devices that will guide us to where these objects are located.
This year Australia has experienced shortages of locally made baby formula due to increased demand from the Chinese markets. As capital flows more freely, we become increasingly separated from the origin of things. Yet even with ubiquitous air travel and cloud computing, there is an inevitability to place. The plane has to land somewhere and data are eventually stored in a physical location.
As known by Gestalt psychologists, we perceive our environment by distinguishing between figure and ground – the area of focus and its surrounding context. Knowledge of where things come from helps determine the level of trust or interest we will give to what is before us.
Many of the crafts have emerged from times when products were made from materials that came to hand, particularly local plants. But even today, when it is much easier to access natural and synthetic materials from around the world, there is a sense of responsibility to care for one’s patch. Even seeming placeless phenomena such as modernism or technology have their local stories, such as Paris or Silicon Valley.
So where does Garland come from? It emerges from a southern capital, Melbourne, of a southern nation, Australia, which was inhabited for more than 60,000 years by Aboriginal peoples who learnt to live on and honour their land. It was claimed as a British colony 227 years ago from when it functioned as a distant outpost of empire. Beyond its European roots as a nation, its journey is towards becoming an independent country and active member of its region, particularly the Asia Pacific.
In its association with World Crafts Council – Australia, Garland draws on a rich network of activities, particularly the major international craft biennales in Asia, which deserve to be more widely celebrated. The Pacific perspective is one that involves a dialogue between indigenous and settler cultures, traditional and modern practices. This includes the West coast of the Americas, with their continuing indigenous populations.
Garlands can be found across the Asia Pacific. They are intrinsic to Pacific island cultures as ways of honouring guests. They are part of the ritual practices in Hinduism, Buddhism and feature in the decorative traditions of Islam. Garlands were once an important element of Western cultures, such as the civic rituals of classical Greece and Rome, and English folk cultures such as the May festivities. They are mostly made from fresh materials at hand, such as jasmine or marigold. As such they mark a person, thing or occasion as special and celebrate the local bounty of nature.
This magazine honours the remarkable objects that are made in our region. They draw on cultural traditions, clever minds, strong hands and appreciative users. Rather than flowers, we garland these objects with words. In literary works such as John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn, the object has been an important literary device for elaborate themes. Here it is used to unlock the histories, life stories and impressions that form its trajectory. The appreciation of craft requires something more solid than what is otherwise provided by uploads to Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook.
We begin at the ‘top’ of the Asia Pacific, with a focus on the Korean peninsula. South Korea is home to some of the region’s most substantial events, such as the Cheongju International Craft Biennale and the Gyeonggi International Ceramics Biennale. We hear from leading voices such as Hyeyoung Cho, Misun Rheem, Saemi Cho, Elaine Kim and Yujin Moon. They reflect on the importance of craft traditions to Korean identity and a sense of community, particularly in the family. Yet this is at odds with a rapid modernisation that sought to embrace an industrial future. The impact of Japanese colonisation can still be felt in a sense of cultural inferiority – something other countries in the region can relate to.
The stories of individual makers demonstrate what a rich material culture Korea possesses. This includes paper string bowls, ethical craft, drawings on handmade paper and exquisite lacquer. But we also learn from Koreans abroad, who take their crafts into new directions, such as textile-inspired metal, literary jewellery and cultural alchemy through 3D printing. What emerges from this is a Korean interest in ‘labour-making devices’ – a sense that repetitive craft processes like polishing can counter linear time and foster connections between people, generations and ancestors. It’s interesting to contrast this with the hipster value of craft in the West, which values self-expression through the handmade, rather than the process itself.
The keystone of Garland is the quarterly essay, in which a writer is commissioned to produce a 5,000-word exploration of a handmade object. Julie Ewington dwells on a porcelain vessel by Kirsten Coelho, whose stillness contains enormous energy and brings the worldly currents of ceramic history into focus in an Adelaide suburb. Ewington’s own wordsmithing reveals how much meaning can be found in a single handcrafted object. In this issue, other poetic experiences of place have been fashioned in Victoria, Queensland, Flinders Island, Medellin, Mexico, Chennai and Auckland.
As well as articles, we’ve also introduced an online exhibition. The reason is to provide a broader reach into the creative endeavours of our community and open potential connections across the oceans, rivers and mountains that separate us.
We are very grateful to all those who generously supported us through the Pozible campaign, which enabled us to start our journey. We’ve been lucky also to find an organisation like Melbourne Artists for Asylum Seekers, whose artists have creatively engaged with the challenge of hand-decorating our limited edition covers. And we are thankful to the writers and artists who have thoughtfully shared their words and images with faith in a new lateral conversation.
Welcome to Garland. This is a new trajectory, and we look forward to sharing the journey with you.