The Power of Making

In November 2011 I visited The Power of Making exhibition at the V&A.

The exhibition is divided into five categories:

  • Types of making
  • Learning a skill
  • In the zone
  • Making a new knowledge
  • Thinking by making

The objects in each category share particular attributes, whether they be techniques, materials, appearance or their makers’ motivations.

To me, the objects could have been grouped in any manner of ways. The focus of the exhibition was making and essentially the objects were grouped in a format to allow it to be shown as an exhibition.

Without being aware of the five categories within the exhibition, you could view it as a kind of wunderkammer.  Even the event brochure states, “there is no set path to follow”.  The order in which you view the items does not add to the experience of viewing them.

Some of the objects on display were unusual uses of techniques, processes that would normally be used for a more typical purpose e.g. Damian O’Sullivan’s ceramic eye patch or Susie MacMurray’s widow dress (made from leather and 100,000 dressmaker’s needles).  Neither of these items is practical in the common sense, however the techniques have been employed to produce something that is meaningful in a different way.

Ceramic eye patch

“Ceramic Eye Patch” by Damian O’Sullivan

Widow dress

“Widow Dress” by Susie MacMurray

 “What and how we make defines who we
are, and communicates who we want to be.”
Daniel Charny, Guest Curator, V&A

Perhaps how you use the technique says more about you as a designer than the technique itself?  Daniel Charny’s statement combines the “what” and the “how” of making; it implies one is not significant without the other.

Conversely, there are objects on display that have used traditional techniques in the way they have predominantly been used e.g. Sandra Backlund’s knitted dress.  Knitting has traditionally been used to create clothing.  By putting the object in an exhibition does that make it art or is it an everyday object?

Knitted dress

“Knitted Dress” by Sandra Backlund

If my motifs are influenced by the detail of everyday objects around us, are my designs art?  Do they need to be distorted, shown in a different environment or “displayed” to make them more than an everyday object?

Daniel Charny, Guest Curator of the exhibition commented, “…making is something everyone can do.  The knowledge of how to make – both everyday objects and highly-skilled creations – is one of humanity’s most precious resources.”

If this is considered to be correct, then whether you create from or for an everyday object or for a completely whimsical purpose, it is the making and creating that is the true focus.


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