The Alchemist is a copperplate engraving from 1558 by engraver Philips Gallé, based on a drawing by Peter Breugel the Elder. It depicts an alchemist devoted to gold research. His two assistants work in meaningless jobs. The wife shows an empty purse. Children play in a cupboard empty of food. In the upper right corner of the graphic, a disturbing vision of the future appears: the family is forced to leave home due to the lack of livelihood.
As craftsmen, we have noticed the similarity of the workshop presented in the picture to our workplaces: a huge multitude of things and apparent chaos. A craftsman is able to navigate efficiently in a maze of materials and tools. We found that the objects shown in the engraving were created using the same techniques we use. The basket is made of a gima weave, furniture is joined with a groove, fabrics are woven on a straight loom, tools are forged in a forge.
“For most of us, progress is not a theory, it is a fact,” wrote Neil Postman. The idea of progress was born in the eighteenth century with the development of science. It assumed, as John Bagnell Bury wrote, that “people slowly develop … in a specific and desired direction, and that this progress will continue indefinitely.” Desired direction – what does it mean? Overexploitation of natural goods? Unequal distribution of its benefits? Or maybe mass waste of resources combined with environmental devastation? In the twenty-first century, the direction of development, as well as continuous economic growth, is no longer obvious.
The alchemist believed that producing gold would bring him enlightenment, and that would bring happiness and prosperity to mankind. The alchemist’s utopia can be understood as a modern belief in scientific progress that makes the world happy, which translates into the standardisation and mass production of generally available goods. However, just as an alchemist, overwhelmed by his idea, fails to see the immediate, tangible consequences of his own actions, the adherents of progress do not want to see the impact of modern development on the environment or local communities for a long time. Great utopias often mean that small things are neglected, especially those that cannot be enlarged in scale, sped up and monetised. Craftsmanship is one of those things. We want to use it to find a balance between what is global and what is local; what is digital and what is physical.
The New Craft Poland association brings together representatives of various professions from all over Poland. We gained professions through our own research and experiments, far away from traditional guilds. The lack of classical craftsmanship education does not mean that we distance ourselves from tradition; on the contrary, we like to draw from it. However, we do it with greater freedom, maybe even nonchalance. We are inspired by the Polish tradition of rural craftsmanship, and at the same time we work with Swedish tools in Japanese technology. We are looking for local materials, we are happy to use recycled materials; however the most important thing remains the quality of the materials we work with. We create contemporary items using old techniques. We experiment like Breugl’s alchemist. However, we are not looking for gold, but for our own individual solutions. At the same time, we do not want to give up modern digital technology. Thanks to it, we conduct our workshops, gain knowledge, show and sell our works
Thanks to our physical work, and the materials used, original products are created. Made locally, respecting the materials used, often with the use of old techniques, they do not follow fashion. Our work is an effort based mainly on knowledge of the body. Moreover, it is difficult to convey, and takes many hours of practice. Efficient movement of a master can be impossible to repeat for his apprentice. There are styles, schools and fashions in craftsmanship, often started by excellent masters. Due to its multithreading nature, craft does not have one direction of development. Some crafts are in decline, others are reborn, and still others are born. There is no progress here, although there are changes.
We cut progress symbolically. Using a graphics program and the delete key. The white and grey checkered background means in the graphic world non-existence. We display items in the vacuum of a container like in a time capsule. What will survive and what will still be useful? What will the craftsmen of the future be able to recreate?
Participants: Paulina Adamska, Ende, Maciej Gąsienica Giewont, Piotr Jędras Alicja Kaczmarek, Karina Królak, Magdalena Kucharska, Magdalena Maślerz, Olga Milczyńska, Aleksander Oniszh, Marcin Skalski, Monika Skorupska, Tartaruga, Agnieszka Śniadewicz – Świca, Beata Wietrzyńska.
Display spot: Piotrkowska 217, Łódź
Dates: 17.09 -24.10.2020
Curator: Olga Milczyńska
Substantive consultation: Ewa Klekot
Exhibition organizer: Łódź Design Festival
Scenography: Katarzyna Stochalska
Graphic design: Wojciech Domagalski www.nazwarobocza.pl
Production: Stowarzyszenie Nów. Nowe Rzemiosło
Łódź Design Festival: Michał Piernikowski, Katarzyna Stochalska, Monika Osinkowska
Photos: Radek Zawadzki / Projekt Pracownie