Handmade in a Digital Age

Advances in manufacturing and technology have reduced our reliance on handmade artisanship in the 21st Century. But instead of dying out, craft is growing from strength to strength, both as an antidote to a fast digital lifestyle and as a practice that can integrate new technologies in increasingly creative ways. 

There is something meditative about making, perhaps because the activity is absorbing in a way that many activities are not. The connectedness experienced when working with your hands can serve as an antidote to the fast pace and endless distractions of modern life – did you know that a large proportion of people check their phones 150 times a day? As a result, crafts are experiencing a resurgence, giving people the chance to work with their hands again.

Professor Jessica Hemmings from the Academy of Design & Crafts (HDK) at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, who is speaking at UNSW Art and Design, and Barometer Gallery during Sydney Craft Week, says: “Our online lives are rotting our ability to concentrate. I think that so many of the problems that face society today are going to require concerted concentration to even begin to address.” For Hemmings, craft teaches skills that are not taught online, including patience, concentration and the discipline to keep focused on one task for long enough to get some real thinking done.

Sydney maker Catriona Pollard agrees. She believes that craft helps us to slow down and quieten the mind. “People are looking for arts and craft practices that reconnect them with slower, traditional creative experiences,” she says. For Pollard, who will be running the Sculptural Random Weave workshop during Sydney Craft Week, technology can help with this connectivity – she sees social media as a technology that has had a largely positive impact on craft practice. “The connections and networks that social media platforms create has transformed the craft industry – not only by creating a sense of community around the maker, but connecting them to buyers.”

More and more crafts practitioners are also seeing the possibilities that technology has as a tool in the creation of their work, integrating the digital with the hand-made in increasingly creative ways. The work of Professor Melissa Knothe Tate, which is showing in the Biotextilogy: The Cellular Catwalk exhibition at the Australian Design Centre during Sydney Craft Week, explores the parallels between biotechnology and textile design. Her scaled-up textiles mimic he natural cellular weaves of living tissues. Biotextilogy presents these multifunctional textiles and smart materials inspired by nature.

This year’s Sydney Craft Week provides a snapshot of the state of craft right now, a burgeoning, exciting field where handmade is evolving alongside, and sometimes despite, our digital age.

Left: Voyager, 2016, Catriona Pollard, Bangalow Palm Inflorescence.

Right: Melissa Knothe Tait. Photo: Nick Cubbin/UNSW. 2017.

Words: Penny Craswell