SENSIBLE CRAFTS: How can Traditional Crafts progress in the Industrial World?

In the age where craftworks can be produced by machines, it is time that traditional crafts have to evolve. The question is how and where this evolution begin?
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In the creative industry, ‘handicraft’ or ‘craftwork’ would be one of the most complicated and hardest to interpret. In a traditional sense, craft is an object made out of basic necessities, created by ‘hands’ and ‘local materials’. But at present, the term ‘craft’ has been reinterpreted in various ways. As a result, the world of craft has expanded (or distorted in a sense) far beyond its original definition.

What is CRAFT?

Found Leaves with delicate crochet embellishments by Susanna Bauer
Photos: susannabauer.com

The essence of handicraft has been discussed vaguely for quite a while. People of the 21st century interpret craft differently based on their own experiences. Designrs of new disciplines see craft one way, while traditional craftspeople see it another way. Different communities with different sets of values explain and develop their craft philosophies differently. But this variety is necessary for the future generations to find new ways for their inherited crafts. How, when, by which materials; these are the essential keywords for traditional crafts to progress.  But what is exactly ‘craft’ in the 21st century?

… Some say it is every little thing passed on through knowledge and skills
.… Some say it is about working little by little without constraints from industrial production.
… Some say it is about the process of learning, producing and finishing something, and the creator can see the whole life-cycle of the product.
… Some say it is the handicraft made by human hands and everyday materials (and does not depend on logistics, does not affect the environment or family relations).
… or some say it doesn’t have to be an object. Food and service can be crafts as well.

INNOVATIVE CRAFT: Connecting New Production with Craftspeople

‘As Above So Beneath’ by Zuza Mengham
Photos: zuzamengham.com

Putting aside the definition, the important question remains: should a good craft work create benefits for the community that create it? This idea encourages us to rethink. Are those majestic craft products with expensive price tags still relate to their communities? Do they give back to the craftspeople who create them?

The SACICT Guru Panel conference held in June 2019 was joined by experts from various design fields, from branding managers, experience designers, local craft promoters, IT engineers to creative business advisors. These gurus were invited to discuss about ‘opportunities’ and ‘directions’ for Thai crafts in international markets. SACICT Craft Trends 2020 divide the future consumers into four categories, one of which is what they name ‘The Utopioneer’.

THE UTOPIONEER = UTOPIA + PIONEER Utopioneers are the consumers who look for new challenges in the modern world. They are determined to learn new things and embrace new technologies. They want to create a better society, a better world, and elevate their lives to be closer to their ideals.

The Utopioneer consumers are closely related that what is called technical craft or a design discipline that combines technology with handicraft. And when it comes to technical crafts, three keywords are present.

1. BEYOND LIMIT – or Algorithmic Craft represents a tendency that craftspeople opt for algorithms as tools to create new works.

Poised between the most ancient craftsmanship and the most cutting-edge forms of algorithmic design.
Algorithmic Lace bra, by the American designer Lisa Marks won Lexus Grand Prix Design Award 2019
Image: dezeen.com

2. BIOMIMICRY – or a tendency that craftspeople use technology to create new methods or approach to imitate nature.

Zuza Mengham interprets perfume in resin
Oyster and Mussel table และ Lodz sculpture by Zuza Mengham
Photos: zuzamengham.com

3. UTILITARIAN – or Utilitarian Aesthetic, meaning creating objects that are both beautiful and functional.

Leg-O table by Kunikazu Hamanishi, combining old-world woodworking techniques and modern LEGO pieces.
Photos: behance.net

Craft with Features VS Gadget with Soul

Common Ground collection by Annelie Grimwade Olofsson & G. William Bell is about the power of sharing emotions, skills and ideas with each other, welded together their melodies into a beautiful symphony of wood and glass.
Photo courtesy of the designers.

But how to connect craftspeople with the new generation of consumers? Prang Lerttaweewit, an experience designer and founder of Another New Design Studio suggests that craftspeople might need to have more insights of the perceptions and behaviors of the targeted consumers. “Right now, every discipline, including craft-making, is interconnected. Craft is not a standalone discipline anymore. Also, the consumers in this age have different lifestyles from the past. We create identities from our experiences. It is not just about the objects we have or brands we use anymore,” explained Prang, before adding that the modern consumers are happy to spend more with ‘experiences’ that can fulfill their identities.

“If craft communities want to connect with modern consumers, craftspeople need to transform themselves into artisans who implement creativity in their works. Also, they need to stop thinking that craft is old, tech is new.”

Generation Cool Craft

Tung Ming-Chin’s wood sculptures often depict figures trapped in space as metaphors for inner emotions.
Photo: mymodernmet.com

Art and design specialist and editor of art4D magazine Pratan Teeratada said that craft is not something old anymore. “Today, everything is craft. We have craft coffee, craft beers, craft dining, craft chocolate, even craft soda! People have positive feelings toward craftsmanship. For me, the true craft is what relates to humans. Because everything can be craft. I think what people long for might be Humanism craft, or what brings us back to the human spirit or the spirit of living.”

Bronze work by Rush Pleansuk embraces inspiration from surrounding nature.

{suMphat}Tipi and moon Tipi.Side table..Craft at ease, get loosen and having fun

Posted by Sumphat Gallery on Saturday, 21 July 2018

“It doesn’t matter how you define craft, the real craftspeople are not into it. These new buzzwords are just marketing.”

Pratarn also suggests that in this age, a crafter and a designer can be the same person, but the creative representations can be categorized at least into 4 groups. “There is a group of people who see craft as materials, an element that can turn into something beautiful in some contexts. Another group is people who have specific passions. They like to do research and experiments. They can be called pioneers of modern crafts. The third group is people who are interested in tools. They want to use technologies to create more delicate and smoother products in lesser time. The last group is people who want to transfer traditional craftsmanship into contemporary objects so that traditional skills can be present in contemporary society.”

UNITED & DIVERSE : A New Platform to Empower Craftsmanship

Bunon is a ready-to-wear fashion brand by designer Soumitra Mondal from Kolkata that was successfully launched in Japan before coming back to his homeland in 2019 at Lakmé Fashion Week (Mumbai)
Photos: thekindcraft.com

It is undeniable that finding new angles for craft trends is essential for understanding modern consumers. The gurus agree that in the future, the craft might be affected by data information or data science, and new platforms would be created so that craters, artisans and consumers can speak in the same language. Saengrawee Singhawiboon, Deputy Director of SACICT concluded that craft in the new economy is facing two main challenges.

“One challenge is how to make those platforms sustainable and how to add value to craftsmanship through storytelling. The second challenge is finding the ‘connectors’ who are not traditional crafters or new makers. Who are they and how much can they contribute, we need to find the answers today.”

The aesthetic of Scandinavian design is beautifully realised through masterful Indian craftsmanship to create these Bowl table collection. Designed by Ayush Kasliwal for Danish brand; Mater, the pieces are made from sustainably harvested mango wood that is lathe turned by skilled craft community ‘Kharaadi’.
Photo: heals.com

At the end, we can conclude that in order to progress further, the craft industry need a ‘stage’ or a ‘space’ for local crafters to express their know-how and skills. Once the skills, the local ‘roots’, and history are perceived by designers, entrepreneurs and consumers, they will be acknowledged. The public, private and social sectors also need to encourage crafters to be proud of what they do, so they want to pass their skills on to the next generation. Right now, it is taking baby steps, but it is happening. New dynamics in the craft world has been transformed into more elaborate craft products that combine technology with Thai identity.

At the end of the day, we don’t think that Thai craft will disappear. The question is how we can develop and step up to be the leader in Southeast Asia.

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Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr is a leading Thai contemporary artist who works mainly in the textile medium. A graduate in textile design from the