Recently I have spent a lot of time thinking about the value of making. And by extension how we teach, learn, use and categorise different making processes and outcomes. This spans from traditional making skills through to mechanically automated production. Trying to identify the similarities and differences both in experience and outcomes. However, despite all of this thinking, ‘making’ remains a fairly ambiguous term to me. It still has an intangible quality despite the physicality of the output.
This has become important to me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because as part of my residency in the V&A Research Institute (VARI), I am trying to understand what embodied knowledge is and where and how it manifests. And even, more frustratingly, why some forms tend to disappear? These are all important questions when considering traditional making skills, which like dexterity, and a human connection to our material surroundings, seem to be in decline. There could be many reasons for this. Development of immersive digital technologies are producing their own set of emerging skillsets, which diverges and merges with our idea of traditional crafts. This, in turn, changes the dialogue of how we teach, protect and display the arts. Sharing of skill through the teaching of making practice, however, is still the most significant method of transferring knowledge and protecting skill and craft.
All of these problems seem to be pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle that I have gotten myself mixed up in.
I joined VARI in June 2018 as their Educational Resident in the ‘Encounters on the Shop Floor’ project, which is an odd but exciting role. I’ve taken it upon myself to examine how public spaces, like the V&A, can continue to interject into education, with the aim of preserving making as a discrete process within learning. I’m trying to do this on many levels and adapting and evaluating as I progress. Much of my energy is being channeled through workshops offered both within and outside of the Museum. I am working with external partners, such as Arts Emergency, Materiom and Building BloQs engaging making communities and students to design learning. I intend it to magnify the voice of the student and encourage wider audience engagement in seeing making as a valid route to demonstrating understanding and knowledge.
I am doing this on both large and small scales. On the slightly larger scale I’m looking at pedagogical practices in the classrooms, and manipulating assessment outcomes so that students get to experience more making practices in non-STEM/STEAM subjects. On the smaller scale I am talking to individual makers about demonstrating the processes of their making, both in museum workshops and online. Most importantly for me, however, is the interaction with the students. It would be easy to continue with the usual trope of assuming that students are impartial consumers of education, but I don’t think that this is wise. If we want to preserve making and arts education then we must ask our students and young people to be involved in the imaging, planning, and evaluation of public spaces and services. I expect 90% of what I plan to fail. But I’m ok with that.
Images by Oliver Wellington (Insta @ollie.wellington)