LivingArts: Re-Imagining Postdigital Artisans

Across the cafe in which I am sitting, my eye snags on the title of an ironically situated 'laptop stand’ (read: a book underneath a laptop). I add Frame’s cultural pulse-point coffee table book, Postdigital Artisans, authored by Jonathan Openshaw, to the ‘Google-searches-for-later’ list in my notebook.

As a female shoemaker this side of the millennium, the title was my analogue equivalent of targeted clickbait. Irresistible. I imagined a critical, insightful engagement with contemporary makers, a population returning to and amending pre-industrial methods of making. I was excited to read a nuanced investigation into communities, motivations, and that which humans with bodies seek right now, as they find themselves implicit in a circumstance where making standards have frayed, and international trade deals and digital technologies have changed the landscape of every community and economy. The whys, and hows, and inspiring paths of other makers, making their way in the cultural upstream that I was certain this book contained, left me coveting my own copy.

I didn’t ask the stranger using Postdigital Artisans to move his MacBook aside so I could flip through the book underneath. I did go to a nearby bookstore to leaf through a copy. A cursory engagement left me disappointed. It offered a fairly simplistic compendium of physical objects created using digital technologies, presented at the pace and depth of a online media feed.

To me, the book presented an opportunity to talk about a lot of the things that are important in my practice, and in those of other artisans I know. In my fantasy edition, featuring the same on-point title, Postdigital Artisans situates itself as an opportunity to talk about the resurgence of traditional making coupled with the tools of a new age.

And then goes further.

It speaks about the relevancy and radicalism of making in our modern situation and its complexity, and socio-cultural implications. Imagined PD-A elucidates the ways contemporary makers engage in direct relationships with those they make for, and with. It offers an account of their social and economic participation in the communities they are a part of, both locally and through (often digital) networks with other artisans, and observes their models of production. Such models as are often localized and take into consideration sustainability, quality, and longevity. This insightful volume dialogues with these individuals who engage a physicality often neglected in (and often cultivated in reaction to) the modern workplace and whose skill sets are broad and traversing.  

As one among the postdigital legions, and the making community in addition, this engaged and critical way of providing for oneself and creating, is the intersectional point from which I would like to start speaking about my practice. Fine craft and making, postdigitally, are economically countercultural. They invert the cultural operative to consume endlessly and empower individuals to provide for themselves through cultivating skills of the past married with technological tools of the now.