Last weekend I participated in a 4 day long conference which focused on craft and the idea of the ‘handmade’. A Handmade Assembly is a community event in Sackville, NB that brings together artists, curators, and others makers from the region and elsewhere in Canada to lead discussions, facilitate workshops, initiate projects, open exhibitions and share in a common thread, the handmade.
It is organized collaboratively by the Owens Art Gallery and Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre with the support of the Fine Arts Department at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. I would say these are the 3 main visual art resources in the town.
The Assembly was created as a response to the significant number of artists who have in recent years been using materials and processes that are laborious, often intimate, and usually associated with traditional craft methods. Sackville s home to many makers with ties to the university and those without. With a steady flow of residencies, visiting artists and curators, the small town of 2500 (5000) with the University students, is teaming with activity. The Assembly is one of the larger events hosted yearly in Sackville. It aims to interpret the ‘handmade’ in the widest terms, embracing interdisciplinarity and wide-ranging critical inquiry.
This was the 7th year of the assembly, and it is interesting to see changes, or lack of changes, as I have attended the last 5 years. My highlights of the weekend were opening night roundtable discussion, Hazel Meyer’s artist talk, learning beading with Katherine Boyer and the various exhibitions and performances. Overall this event is so successful in the way it brings people together, so that we can learn and exchange ideas.
The opening night roundtable discussion was formatted so 4 artists each gave brief talks about their work or research. Followed with a discussion of what the Handmade Assembly is for. This discussion followed a pretty similar path to other year’s – how the handmade is valued differently than industrially made items, though not often in the same economical ways and the grey area of how we value time. Everything takes time to make, even industrially made objects, which can often have very similar end results ie. Doilies – hand crocheted vs. machine made vs. a doily made by and “artist”. We often find that the handmade ones are nicer, even though both a handmade one and machine made one serves the same purpose – to protect a table or other surface. While the one made by an artist is held above the other two, significantly in terms of price. These notions of value, and questions about why we make what we make in the way that we make it, are continually raised, and sometimes answered.
Another component of the Assembly is the Heart & Pocket Revue, a crafters market supported by artists and crafters from Sackville and around the region. There are always a variety of objects for sale, and I often have a table for my zines and prints, alongside people selling earings, bags, wallets… but this is definitely a different event. The attendees come to shop, which is fine, but there is this other layer of questioning the value of handmade items. How much are people actually willing to spend on a small print, when they could by something ‘useful’ like a totebag.
These questions of commerce and art seem inescapable to me as I do not want to soley make work that will sell. I am ok not really selling much at these events and truly I do it for the sense of community, but it is a hard to grapple with the lure of becoming internet famous to support myself financially.
Time seems to always be the overarching theme in realm of the Handmade. We need time to think, to make, to look, to absorb, to experience, to consider… but how do we value these different amounts and types of time? All of the workshops, talks, exhibitions, crafters products, etc. took time. I think all these types of time are valued in the Handmade Assembly, as it is a place where anyone can be heard in discussion, and everyone’s comments and ideas are valued.