What makes making connecting?

Photo: Biennalen 2015, Connecting Childhood by Mette Maya Gregersen and Annemette Beck

We are all embodied beings, and hands are inherent to our embodiment. The capacity of our hands to act and interact with the material world, to form and transform the world, is no privilege of certain exceptional persons. It is part of our inborne human potential.

By Mikkel B. Tin, Professor of the philosophy of culture, Telemark University College, Norway
The hand, thus, offers a first answer to the initial question, ”What makes making connecting?”. Making connects because we share this fundamental experience of having hands, and of making things with our hands. Without our making hands, without handicraft, we would not be fully human and would hardly survive. The simpler the making, the more fundamentally can we share it; the more complex its encoding, the more it tends to split us in our cultural contexts. Any given cultural context differs from other cultural contexts, and it will never avoid historical change; therefore, whatever depends on cultural codes is both culturally and historically limited and thereby less likely to connect.

Practical knowledge
When making relies on practical knowledge rather than theories it does not in the same way fall victim of cultural prejudice and historical change. Since such making is anchored in a body that remains essentially constant no matter the time and space, and since the body will always be the primary reference of our experiential world, as stressed by the phenomenologists, practical knowledge remains communicable and understandable in spite of temporal and cultural distances. It connects. The practical skills of a weaver correspond to the outfit of the human body and the properties of the material to be woven; and weaving connects as long as it respects these basic preconditions as its rules. Even in cases of extreme virtuosity, we may measure the inventive solutions of the weaver only in so far as we have learned the rules, and this happens through the practical training and experience of our own weaving hands.

Photo: Iben Høj Photo credit: Dorte Krogh
Photo: Biennalen 2015, Web – not waste by Iben Høj
Photo credit: Dorte Krogh

The body-based cycles of everyday making
Craft and everyday life both belong to a cyclic rather than a linear temporality. They both rest on a bodily basis, while science and technology – and also much high art – have freed themselves from this bond. Science is communicated in books and developed, not from scratch but from the most advanced and successful insights of previous research. Also art in the academies seems compelled to prove its quality by constant transgressions. Unlike the goldsmith, who must learn how to hammer and cut, weld and polish like his predecessor a thousand years ago, a chemist will base his research on the insights gained and published yesterday by his colleagues. The development of chemistry is linear and will never revert to its outdated stages, and neither will art; whereas crafts, as long as they are linked to hands, will move in the body-based cycles of their everyday making, their use and their wear. And even if crafts constantly innovate like all other human endeavours, they may – and do – take up formal or technical solutions of the past without thereby compromising their relevance.

Handicraft appears more private than public
A crafted object reflects the potentials of the body and it also refers to the needs of the body: as long as a crafted object deserves to be called so it will in some way refer to functionality and reflect on its own making. This explains the intrinsic link between crafted objects and everyday life, and why handicraft appears more private than public: handicraft has a life cycle that begins and ends in everyday practice. Our familiarity with the rules of the ordinary enables us to estimate the extraordinary in an artful making, and thus to understand what an artful object intends to communicate when challenging the rules – be it on the aesthetical level, the technical level, or the functional level, perhaps even conceptual level. But it is thanks to our embodiment that we share the common framework in which such objects acquire and reveal their primary meaning.

Photo: Ane Henriksen Photo credit: Dorte Krogh
Photo: Biennalen 2015, Business Sky by Ane Henriksen Photo credit: Dorte Krogh

Making is Connecting
The word making, however, refers to the creative process rather than to its product. And this making process confirms me in my being at a very fundamental level. In a polemics with Descartes and the body-mind dualism that has dominated Western thinking for centuries, Edmund Husserl replaces the cartesian ”I think, thus I am” by an ”I can”. The ”I can” sums up the many ways in which I can act and interact bodily with the material and inter-subjective world, long before I can think it. It is at this very fundamental level that making connects. Through our making we realize an inborne creative potential that distinguishes each single of us as subject at the same time as it connects us all in the inter-subjective community of human beings.