Many of us face twin necessities. We need to have some space in our lives for creative freedom. This is a capacity to make things of intrinsic worth—works of beauty and truth. But at the same time, we have to exist in a capitalist world which can only acknowledge the monetary value of things.
Inevitably, we find a compromise. We cobble together a life that grants some creative expression while ensuring there’s enough money in our bank account for the recurrent debt payments. This seems a long way from the noble ideal of an artist who exists outside the system. But rather than feel shameful or resentful about this compromise, we can share this challenge and learn from each other.
For Love and Money, Garland developed different models for creative survival. We then sought statements from a variety of local Castlemaine practitioners about how they manage to balance the competing needs of love and money. Though deeply committed to working outside the market, through gifting and bartering, the conversation inevitably came up against the responsibility of caring for children, which required reliable shelter and thereby a commitment to the highly financialised housing market. But this was recognised as a common challenge to be worked around, rather than a “brick wall” preventing any progress.
The “lucky” person finds that their creative instincts align with the market. They are handsomely rewarded for their creative work and can survive from their art. Some even establish companies for their artistic production that employ skilled workers. Such “winners” include David Bowie, Magda Szubanski or Ben Quilty.
For most people in the arts, the week is divided up between the time spent earning money and the time for realising one’s creativity. This can be an artist who serves in a restaurant at night in order to paint canvases during the day. Some will begin their careers by finding a trade that can set themselves up with a secure base to support their true love.
There are many external forms of support that can enable creative freedom. This can come from family in the form of a working spouse or a generous parent. In some rare cases, there is a benefactor who gains pleasure from seeing an artist’s potential realised. But for many, the patron is institutional. The university can provide support for creative work by translating it into points for research credit.
In the romantic model, the artist eschews dependence on money to live a life on the margins, maximising their creative autonomy. It is possible to live on very little if one forgoes conventional expenses, such as fast fashion, overseas travel, concert tickets and a car. This can involve embracing sustainable practices such as permaculture and foraging.
In the twenty-first century, a new path has opened up that involves refashioning a practical occupation into a form of creative expression. This can involve trades such as tattooing, beer brewing, cheesemaking or even coffee barista. This was previously an ironic gesture as part of the hipster scene, but it has since become more serious in its commitment to returning a pre-industrial commitment to work. See Michael Scott’s analysis of Hipster Capitalism.
Around the world, there are a number of towns which have developed a unique culture of sustainability. Castlemaine in Central Victoria is home to many ventures designed to enable exchange based on trust outside the power relations of the financial system. For the development of this issue, a number of local residents gathered in the back garden of The Local to share thoughts about how to balance love and money. As conversation pieces, each person brought an object that they considered to be made “for love”.
This vessel, known as a kalash, is one of a pair made by Manohar Lal at the end of the 2015 Crosshatched tour. Manohar made two to ensure at least one would be available for an Indian family for their “moving to new house blessing”. This one came second on delivery. There was small renumeration in it for Manohar Lal, but as one role of a traditional potter in India is to make ritual vessels for cultural maintenance, I suspect he was more than happy to make these vessels. I am rewarded to know that through my efforts (love), cultural maintenance can continue for the Indian diaspora in Australia in small ways through ceramics. For me, the vessel embodies Manohar Lal’s consumate skills as a potter but also the joy of decorating a vessel, something he does not do in his home workshop.
You can read about Sandra Bowkett in Andrew Stephens quarterly essay.
The Sun pendant is a work from a series Promises to keep, made for an upcoming exhibition which seeks to look at objects designed with the capacity to hold promises. Learning to trust ourselves to honour the promises we make to others and ourselves can start with small actions. This pendant seeks to ask of its wearers, “Do you want to help do more for the environment?”, well if so, then this pendant can help you carry your promise through. Disseminated through direct contact with me the maker for a tiny nominal fee it also has a second payment form attached to it. Wearers/buyers are asked to honour my request to send a photo of themselves putting on their jewel for the first time, at the moment they are ready to undertake their promise. For me the maker, in connecting directly with the wearers of my work, who I need to trust will fulfil the action of photographing themselves as they embark on their promise, I’m taking leap of faith. I’m now connected to them, hoping they will keep their promise to themselves but also to me, the work and my project. In doing one small thing for the planet, even if it is just learning to mend a hole in a sock or take less plastic bags at the supermarket for a year, many promises are kept.
Read Vicki Mason’s article in this issue about a parallel project, Broaching Change.
Approach to work / models
There are some of all of these models in how I approach the work I do. The main thing for me is not that I necessarily create things of high worth (though I always hope to!), but to explore how digital technologies and manufacturing can enable the relocation of some of the means of production back to a scale and distance that allows for new engagement with how current artifacts and objects are made.
I am looking for new ways for communities, and the people within those communities who make things, people like me, to autonomously and directly design and make the things that they want and need to create a future that is in the best sense, resilient and sustainable.
The bike light fitting
This 3D printed fitting was designed and printed to extend the life of the light after the original fitting was damaged. The first version of the new fitting was not quite right dimensionally so the one pictured is the second version. I consider objects that I make through the 3D printing process to be transitional and there could be another version of this object in the future; one that is changed, improved or just dabbled with.
I think that the object itself is pretty ugly, but in a funny way. I was feeling whimsical when I designed this and so experimented with aesthetics and functionality. The outcome is functionally good, but aesthetically iffy. Still, when designing these types of objects, I am also interested in what can be explored through the design and making process at a particular time as well as getting a particular outcome.
The materiality of objects made this way is interesting when they are joined with other objects that are made of similar materials but with a different manufacturing process. I find the hybridity of such assemblies very interesting because of the way they outline a process that allows a designer increased agency in the design and production of objects that would normally be beyond the reach of many without sophisticated technology.
Rob Eales is an Industrial Designer who is interested the in use of Open Source Hardware to create new things, fix broken things and explore the way that things are designed and made.
My slingshot (otherwise referred to as a rabbit or duck gatherer), is a simple but effective tool used for the procurement of wild meat. The frame is made from blackwood wattle that is indigenous to where I live, which I cut and shaped. The handle is wrapped in the skin of a rabbit that I had previously killed to feed my family non-industrialised, non-abattoir meat. The sling is made from two lengths of rubber (the origins of which I do not know). The marble or pellet holder is made from a small piece of salvaged cow hide. It is perhaps a reflection of our society that cars, which take so much life and produce so much pollution, are acceptable and legal, while this simple tool, used to enact resource accountability, is rated illegal.
You can read Patrick Jones extended thoughts about making in his essay Lively Hood.
A Story about the love of making, and using that which is freely available.
Or, if you are a maker, listen to your hands.
A Winter’s Worth of Witling
When I moved into my first rental in Daylesford, I inherited an apple tree badly in need of some attention. I asked a local arborist. When he came to see my tree via a visit to my studio, he said: ”I see you make bowls. All you have to do is shape your tree into a bowl, this will let the light in.” I followed his advice and was left with a huge bunch of sticks. While I gathered them after the pruning I noticed how beautiful they were. I tied them up and stored them under the house, where they slowly dried/matured.
Not knowing what to do with them, I did know that I didn’t want to waste them. In time, and who knows how that happens, I came upon the idea of carving a series of long thin sculptures. However, these became walking sticks.
Each stick suggested how I should approach it and, following their suggestions, I carved a series of them. I then created ferrules (the metal piece at the end of the stick) from sections of copper pipe. Since I saw each stick as a sculpture, I decided to also carve stands for them. This led to the idea of an exhibition which I organised and made more interesting by witling more sticks during it. Another introduction of my work to my new community, plus an expression of my love of making.
I thought I would add this interesting aspect to my stick project. Since I was still an innocent in the land of art pricing I thought I would do something different. I placed a note on each item with the time I had spent on the piece. I asked for a remuneration in relation to what the intended buyer had earned during the same amount of time. Thus a doctor would pay a great deal more than a student. I received a few dollars from a local council worker, plus I sold a few sticks to some pensioners, but the higher earning bracket dudes stayed away from that idea.
You can read Petrus Spronk’s article about his travels through South Korean in our first issue.
Out of scarcity and necessity I, and so many others including participants in the workshop, have found diverse ways to draw out the most from very little. Artists make-do and try to support themselves and their families by utilising scraps, off-cuts and items that can be collected for little or free and/or traded. Much creativity and resourcefulness is utilised when artists are doing this kind of hugely labour-intensive trading, scrimping, salvaging and re-making, and artists, exhausted by this labour and the heartbreakingly low financial remuneration, are often in the position where they can do little else. Artists are unable to use the full breadth of their skills and abilities and don’t have the financial freedom to explore/develop/fully realise their ideas through travel, experimentation, resources, dialogue and, most precious of all, time.
I feel that artists are excluded from full “paid-up” participation in our society through, simply, not being paid. Whilst art is regarded as a “nice” recreational activity for both the viewer and the maker and hence, essentially within the domain of the amateur—the word itself meaning “for love”, there can be no monetary value. So the artist remains unpaid or paid tokenistically. It is considered enough that artists “love” what they do and that this is payment in itself.
The art viewer is (exempting viewing international “blockbuster” exhibitions) not required to personally pay for their consumption of artwork and does not question how they have come to have this privilege—this is simply the status quo. The viewer will see exhibitions at public, academic, commercial galleries/spaces and ARIs paying nothing and go onto the rest of their day paying for transport, food, services, entertainment, accommodation, etc. but not questioning why they didn’t pay for the experience of viewing art.
It’s an enormous privilege for the public to walk into art spaces and view/experience art for free and I strongly believe that this should be retained. To me, the way forward is for public money to pay artists a living wage. A living wage for artists is respectful, it brings stability and dignity to a precarious situation and, contrary to the cliched belief that artists enjoy living ‘on-the-edge’, artists thrive when their needs are met and they are able to actually make their work. The current situation for artists is unconscionable.
As a designer-maker, I’m interested in how the physical act of making impacts well-being and attachment to objects, space, place and environment. I began my working life as an automotive designer at Ford Motor Company, working on programs such as the Territory, Ranger and European Mondeo and leading projects such as the R7 show car and Asia Pacific Fiesta. This work gave me insight into production for consumption, developing goods for mass production that were firmly embedded in economies of scale.
Over the time I spent in industry, my ideological position shifted to the point where I could no longer justifiably design generalised, unsustainable products to turn profits for big industry. This is where I entered academia and began researching how we might design low-cost enabling tools-for-living that can be made by anyone anywhere in a sustainable way. I completed a PhD investigating how open-source hardware and hands-on practices of making can encourage attitudes of product, social and environmental sustainability, designing a range of products reusing household waste in a modular system designed to facilitate continuing reuse.
Three key principles emerged from this and continue to inform my research and practice—openness, design-for-reuse and making. I am interested in how tangible expressions of these help create the narratives that shift culture, inspire systems renewal, develop communities of practice and provide new and optimistic senses of self, space and place.
The object I brought along to the Castlemaine event (though I didn’t get to talk about it) came out of these lines of enquiry. My early research experientially explored systems of open source hardware, analysing and making RepRap 3D printers as a case study. Since these RepRap builds, I have designed my own machines to the point where they are now refined enough to integrate into the Industrial Design program at Monash University. Students make their own 3D printers, introducing them in a hands-on way to distributed manufacturing, simple robotic systems and an empowered ability to design through making. While I have had the luxury of spending work-time on the project, the overall time I have invested is far beyond what I will ever be remunerated for. The returns come in the form of building communities of practice, knowledge sharing and personal satisfaction.
While I am satisfied that my work-life is now more ideologically aligned, there is still a gap between this and where I’d like to be, caring for the people and things important to me. Entering academia meant sacrificing income and, consequently, opportunities to own property and live near where I work. Over a decade ago, I decided to purchase a home in the regional town of Castlemaine, given many in the community shared my values and housing was affordable. This meant a high time-sacrifice, commuting 20 hours per week to Monash University, which is nominally 20 hours on top of the 40 hours I spend at work; I now miss out on this time with my family and friends and being at home. My ambition is to have a more life-integrated practice that allows me to spend more time caring for the people and activities I value most while producing the work that satisfies my ideological drives.
Sadly, debt makes it difficult to achieve this is. The consistency of reliable employment required to repay a mortgage ring-fences the majority of my productive time. The great irony being that I’m sacrificing what is most important—livelihood and close relationships—to provide a home (shell) that houses these. The question is, how can the work-work I undertake support my livelihood and valued relationships, rather than dominate them? Further, how can this system, in turn, elicit reciprocal support in a surrounding community?
Our event in Castlemaine was, for me, an experiment in non-monetary trade, being a relative newcomer to time-honoured bartering practices. I made two trades to facilitate the event. The first was with Nikki Valentini for our use of her venue, a local café called The Local, trading my skills as a maker to make a street sign in exchange for the space, food and hospitality. Our negotiations took place as an informal offers-and-needs process, spending time prior in the café space talking through what would best meet her business needs and negotiate what would constitute an equitable exchange. A communication designer had already completed artwork for the venue’s branding and communications, but Nikki did not yet have an outdoor sign made for the venue, so I offered to make one for her.
The sign was not complete prior to the event, so trust on Nikki’s part was a key concern. She and I did not know each other prior to the exchange, so trust needed to be based on a sense of reputation and general good will. As a first interaction, the stakes were relatively low: if I failed to hold up my end of the bargain, Nikki would lose a small investment in time preparing food, some produce and possible income for the use of her community garden space for a number of hours. For me, the space itself, while adding to the narrative of the event, was not critical (there were backup options if needed) and given all of our the participants were bringing food from informal exchanges, bartering or gleaning as part of the experimental process, we would not go hungry. Now that Nikki and I have established a working relationship based in trust, future exchanges may increase in stakes.
The second exchange was between a local winemaker, Richard MacEwan of Twangadiddlydoo, and my wife Susie and I, in exchange for supplying wine for the Castlemaine postcapitalism and craft event, took on two activities: promoting an upcoming concert at the winery and harvested grapes over two weekends. The first was an immediate action, where Susie and I posted fliers on notice boards around Castlemaine and handed out promotional material at WideOpenRoad gallery openings for Richard’s upcoming concert. Harvesting grapes was a longer-term obligation requiring trust that we would follow through on our social contract and work when the harvest was ready in the following weeks. This we did this with our family and friends, enjoying it as an experience we would not typically have an opportunity to share.
What was most satisfying about the experience was the memorable and meaningful exchanges that reciprocally provided for genuine needs. The negotiations were relational, attached and concrete where monetary exchanges would have been detached, remote and abstract. The social contracts were community building and relationship forming with lasting connections likely to continue over time based on interpersonal connection rather than limited to the moment of trade. Susie and I were able to spend quality time with our family and friends while meeting our obligations (the exchanges included integrated life-work activities). I was also able to get a direct benefit from using my skills as a maker in a situation where I would not have likely been given an opportunity for monetary exchange. Further, there are as-yet unknown reputational benefits in undertaking these needs-based exchanges, building the narrative of what I do and adding reputational value to my creative practice.
Sadly, at present there are not yet the social/commercial/cultural systems in place, or physically enough time in the week, to take on these kinds of trades as a way to fully support livelihood. Given they are outside monetary systems they cannot pay off a mortgage nor can they pay for things like overseas trips, going to the movies or taking the kids to Dreamworld. The time I spent in the exchanges was on top of my working week, so unless my financial situation changes, this kind of trade is unsustainable in the long term. For it to be viable, a transformation in expectations and values of what constitutes a “good” livelihood needs to take place. Widespread sociocultural and sociotechnical reframing such as this is a long-term proposition—something maybe to work on over a lifetime.
For further thinking about the maker movement, read the essay by Mark Richardson and Susie Elliot in Arena Magazine.
Olives, apples, quinces and Dutch medlars! Coming to the end of the Harvest season now, these are the fruits on the radar of The Growing Abundance Harvest Team. Each Wednesday morning and some weekends you will find The Growing Abundance Fruit Collectors gleaning and picking produce from registered trees from backyards, orchards and from wild trees on road sides or vacant blocks.
This project began six years ago as a community response to peak oil and climate change and has been formed on quality connections and relationships between volunteers, farmers and property owners looking to ensure that we turn these challenges into opportunity. This is one initiative of The Growing Abundance Project that forms a number of links toward creating a more connected, viable and resilient local food system.
The fruit that is harvested is brought back to the Hub Plot garden in Castlemaine central. The project is run on a 1/3 rule where 1/3 of fruit harvested goes back to the property owner, 1/3 to the volunteer harvesters and 1/3 for redistribution. Volunteers enjoy a coffee from our social enterprise café, The Local, while fruit is sorted and organised into boxes for collection by local schools for classroom fruit breaks; to the Salvation Army and Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services for collection from food insecure individuals and families and a proportion goes back to other TGAP enterprises.
School canteens serve the students and staff food made from Harvest surplus and other local sources while educating students on the benefits of healthy eating. Junk food is diminishing and there is an increase in the demand for our quality tuckshop food. For those not in our schools, they can enjoy local food that makes use of the Harvest gluts at The Local. Here the daily menu is creatively designed on what is available in our region.
In exchange for the harvested fruit, an experienced pruner and a crew of volunteers return in winter to prune the trees, to keep them healthy and productive. Volunteers are given free access to pruning workshops and once trained are offered employment in the paid pruning service available to the broader community.
Harvest has over 300 volunteers and over 50 properties registered and is a win-win for all involved. The project has received funding in the past, but is currently 100% volunteer run. If working towards a local connected and resilient food system speaks to any philanthropists, organisations or companies wanting to fulfil their corporate social responsibilities we would love to hear from them. Get involved!
Photos of the Castlemaine conversation thanks to Mark Richardson
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