In 2011, the V&A and Crafts Council celebrated the role of making in our lives by presenting Power of Making, an eclectic selection of over 100 exquisitely crafted objects, ranging from a life-size crochet bear to a ceramic eye patch, a fine metal flute to dry stone walling. The exhibition was a cabinet of curiosities showing works by both amateurs and leading makers from around the world to present a snapshot of making in our time.
Objects featured in Power of Making
E-shoe (high heeled shoe guitar)
Sandra Backlund knitted dress
Power of Making videos
These videos explore the themes of making and include some of the artists featured in the exhibition discussing the processes of making. Many were filmed in the Tinkerspace a participatory demonstration space within the exhibition itself.
Power of Making introduction video
Jacquy Pfeiffer of The French Pastry School discusses his sugar sculpture created in the V&A kitchen for the exhibition.
Matt Denton discusses Hexapod robots.
Joanne Ayre discusses ceramics.
Postlerferguson discuss the 'Make for London' project.
Dejan Mitrovic discusses Kideville
Daniel Charny, guest curator
Making is the most powerful way that we solve problems, express ideas and shape our world. What and how we make defines who we are, and communicates who we want to be.
For many people, making is critical for survival. For others, it is a chosen vocation: a way of thinking, inventing and innovating. And for some it is simply a delight to be able to shape a material and say 'I made that'. The power of making is that it fulfills each of these human needs and desires.
Those whose craft and ingenuity reach the very highest levels can create amazing things. But making is something everyone can do. The knowledge of how to make – both everyday objects and highly-skilled creations – is one of humanity's most precious resources.
Types of making
Makers use numerous different skills and techniques to shape their materials. All these techniques may be considered as falling into one of just three types.
Adding techniques connect, layer or combine materials. They include welding, soldering, veneering, weaving, embroidery and painting.
Subtracting techniques remove materials. They include cutting, carving, engraving, drilling and grinding.
Transforming techniques alter materials themselves. They include throwing clay, blowing glass, forging metal, and baking. The transformed states may be temporary or permanent. Irreversible transformations occur in processes like vacuum forming, stereolithography and casting.
Every object in this exhibition has been made by adding, subtracting or transforming material, or by combining these processes.
Learning a skill
Too many people never get a chance to experience the highest levels of making. Most can make something, at least at an amateur level, and many reach a professional standard. But there are many layers of expertise beyond that. It may take years to attain complete mastery.
At every stage in the learning process, a maker's relationship to materials and tools changes dramatically. What may at first have been frustrating becomes pleasurable. Makers start to think through their materials and skills, almost unconsciously. Once they learn how to use and care for a tool, makers might start modifying it, or even invent a new tool to replace it. In all these ways, learning a skill is a way of opening up future possibilities and challenges.
In the zone
Advanced skills may take a long time to learn, but the feeling of being 'in the zone' can be experienced by anyone – from a four-year-old to a master artisan. When you are absorbed in making, things happen that you didn't plan. The experience is intuitive, like sport, and it can be meditative, like music.
This sensation of effortless flow is a reward in its own right, but it is also a situation of intense learning. Makers who are immersed in what they are doing build on existing skills and discover new ones. Innovations in making happen, more often than not, when they are least expected.
Making new knowledge
All knowledge about making was once new. Someone, sometime, had to formulate it. But there is a big difference between established, 'traditional' forms of making and those which are innovative. Both are crucially important, and both can be expressive, but they serve different purposes.
Traditional ways of making have accumulated over generations. They are passed down from person to person, often through apprenticeships, and learned through repetition. Innovative making is less rehearsed, and may be less reliable. But it is more exploratory, with the potential to open up dramatic new directions. This can involve redirecting existing skills, or creating new ones from scratch.
All knowledge, even the most traditional, can be new for any individual. But some knowledge is new in the world. This exhibition celebrates both these types of discovery.
Thinking by making
Many people think that craft is a matter of executing a preconceived form or idea, something that already exists in the mind or on paper. Yet making is also an active way of thinking, something which can be carried out with no particular goal in mind. In fact, this is a situation where innovation is very likely to occur.
Even when making is experimental and open-ended, it observes rules. Craft always involves parameters, imposed by materials, tools, scale and the physical body of the maker. Sometimes in making, things go wrong. An unskilled maker, hitting the limits of their ability, might just stop. An expert, though, will find a way through the problem, constantly unfolding new possibilities within the process.
This content was originally written in association with 'Power of Making', a V&A and Crafts Council exhibition on display at the V&A South Kensington from 6 September 2011 - 2 January 2012.