Valtasuhteet piiloutuvat Designmuseon näyttelyyn [Power relations hidden in a Design museum exhibition] (2020) Mari Vaara. The article is also available as a podcast which is nice. The text is a very harsh critique of the Secret Universe -exhibition and work of acclaimed designers Aamu Song & Johan Olin. Vaara introduces the concept of Mechanistic Cosmology, credited to Tim Ingold, which explains processes were thinking and doing are separated to advance modernism. She also identifies an interesting phenomenon “Handcraft Fetishization” (I should explore this more). She reminds readers that the entire concept of “handcrafts” is defined by its relationship to modern production methods. I think this is true: Crafts are not against Industrial methods, they coexist and many times are the same.

Vaara questions why the artists don’t call the craftspeople whom they collaborated with “workers” (käsityöläinen), they call them “craftmasters”. “Who gets to name, whom?” she asks. The relationships between the designers and the craftspeople they have commissioned work from is not transparent: “How is the money divided between them?” she asks. I think she is right, the agency of the craftspeople involved has been reduced to highlight the inventiveness of the designers. Also, defining people who make objects with their hands as “craftspeople” is a problematic. Particularly in the global context: In Finland I can choose to work with wood outside the industrial complex but my decision to work this way is backed by our local industrial grid.

I think Vaara’s critique is coarse. My interpretation is that the work of Song & Olin is not harmful because their work addresses crafts from a remote angle. A craftperson working to sell their stuff and labor is likely not affected by the exhibition or by Song & Olin in any way which would hinder they livelihood. I don’t think the museum exhibition has any relevance to craftspeople in Finland. The harmfulness of the modenist attitudes Vaara identified is a relevant observation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.