Tal Fitzpatrick, There’s No Place Like Earth, 2020.

Craft and Climate

Lisa Cahill

Makers think deeply about their practice and its impact on the world around them.

Sydney Craft Week festivals have coalesced events around a specific theme addressing the impact on the broader cultural and social context within which makers make.

Themes have included: the value of the handmade in a digital age; a maker response to the pandemic through making change; the value of craft and craft skills; how practising a craft is mindful and beneficial for mental health; the value of play and experimentation; and this year, the climate emergency.

Climate has been at the forefront for everyone. Direct experience of recent flood disasters and the acrid smell of bushfire smoke etched in our memory from the Summer of 2020. The recent change of government with their focus on ending the ‘climate wars’ is a relief for many and, we hope, not too late to make the massive change needed to halt a warming planet before it is too late.

While artists and makers of all types have been using their work to voice their opinions about all sorts of issues for a very long time, it was Betsy Greer who coined the word ‘craftivism’ in 2003. She says it is ‘a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper’. In the 20 years since, craft has been associated with protests on major issues of note.
A recent example being the crocheted pink pussyhats created in large numbers by women involved in the 2017 Women’s March in the United States. Climate has been a huge focus for craftivism in recent times also. Margaret Werthiem’s The Crochet Coral Reef was part of the Venice Biennale in 2019. In the UK the Canary Craftivists sent handmade gifts encouraging members of parliament to think carefully about their climate commitments in the lead up to the UN Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.

Closer to home there were many examples of craftivism in the 2022 Sydney Biennale, Rivus. Here at Australian Design Centre we presented the Transformative Repair project focussing on transforming broken design objects and we looked at future experiments for utilising the bio-plastic waste from the 3D printing process.

Another great example is the work of craftivist Dr Tal Fitzpatrick. Tal completed a practice-led PhD with the Centre for Cultural Partnerships at the Victoria College of the Arts in 2018. Her thesis, titled Craftivism as DIY Citizenship: The Practice of Making Change, explored how artists, makers and activists deploy craft as a strategy for engaging in the everyday practice
of democracy.

I invited Tal to respond to some questions about her work. For me, her answers and her work are a great illustration of what Betsy Greer was thinking about when she gave us the word craftivism.

Lisa Cahill: How did your interest in craftivism develop?

Tal Fitzpatrick: The day I first stumbled on Betsy Greer's book 'Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism' was the day I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up! Craftivism brings together my seemingly broad and somewhat disconnected areas of interest (socially engaged art, cultural development, activism and craft) into a single practice through which I can act on my values and create meaningful work.

LC: Do you have a work that you have made that speaks to your craftivism for environmental action?

TF: I have created multiple works that speak to the issue of the climate crisis, including in collaboration with climate justice groups such as the Pacific Climate Warriors (https://talfitzpatrick. com/next-wave-2020). These works tend to be textile banners that can be used to start conversations about the need for action, additionally I also integrate the values of sustainability into my work as best I can by choosing to reuse and upcycle fabric and by using my craft skills to mend thus prolonging the life of textiles and clothing.

LC: How can makers take positive action to help redress climate change?

TF: The practical skills we have as makers, crafters, artists and tinkerers provide us with a plethora of ways to reduce our own environmental footprint. Personally I focus on the reduction of textile waste by collecting and upcycling fabric in my textile artwork and by altering/mending my clothes (and those of my family and friends) rather than replacing them. However, I believe we need to focus on finding ways to use our skills to motivate our political and industry leaders to take action as there is a limit to how much we can achieve as individuals - we need to advocate for a serious commitment to climate justice at a national and global level to truly avoid the worst of what is ahead of us; This is why I create work that looks to empower individuals to voice their concerns creatively and encourages greater political engagement.

Throughout the Sydney Craft Week Festival there are exhibitions and events that demonstrate craftivism in relation to our shared desire for action on climate change. Makers make but also lead the way through their gentle art of protest.

Images (l-r): Rarangaa Taai Aika Ana Roko, #JustRecovery 2020. Mural by Buff Diss. Photo: Ella Sowinska (2020) at Brunswick Mechanics Institute. Tal Fitzpatrick, There’s No Place Like Earth, 2020. Photo: Courtesy the Artist.