CRAFTSMANSHIP. One word with so much hidden inside. It requires an amount of concentration, patience, and devotion to the creative process. It takes time, energy, and demands high-level skills. That’s what you could have in mind when this word pops into your head, don’t you? Well, not surprising indeed as each one of us has more or less the same associations and images of this word.
But what it is really? Maybe it allows us to have mistakes and it’s all about the idea of making imperfections that later on could help the craft become great and important?
For seeking the answer I suggest we move for a while to Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, and explore the exhibition “Collective Art.” Curator Piboon Amornjiraporn (director at Plural designs, Bangkok Metropolitan Area, Thailand) took the challenge of showing a variety of craft objects to examine the term itself. The concept is to stay focused on the core link between old craft objects and newly made ones. It invites us to see beyond stereotypical images and shows some surprising items that controversially could be called “craft.” Intrigued enough? Then feel free to follow me.
It wouldn’t be fair enough speaking of craftsmanship not to look back on traditional heritage and not to take into account what ancestors left behind. That would be definitely all objects that are now called “craft folk art” and not even question the craft part in them. Those objects were highly useful but still remained unique in the way craftsmen made them. So the first hall of the exhibition welcomes you with Thai traditional craft objects. Among them you may see and enjoy:
NORTHERN STYLE STICKY RICE CONTAINER was used for carrying steamed rice. Made from bamboo it has flower motifs on the top which is traditionally a mark of northern lands.
WOODEN BETAL NUT BOX. Doesn’t it look like a perfect treasure box? It is divided into two parts. As you can see in the photo the inner part has different partitions to keep betal nuts, a mild psychoactive fruit that many Southeast Asians chew. But what strikes most about this artwork is intricate carved wood motifs. They were seen only in Ayutthaya province and were a rare sign of wealth.
A shining Burmese WATER CONTAINER keeps water cold under the burning sun of Thailand. Craftsmen passed that special technique of creating such containers out of Burma clay down from generation to generation.
Here we go next and moving forward to the second hall which is surprisingly full of shelves and different objects on them.
Wait, wait..What is that?
I can recognize among a variety of objects a pair of sneakers (SNEAKERS!?), a figure of a strange wooden bunny, an absolutely strange lamp and a series of sharp knives not far from it. Why is all of this stuff here? A museum trainee, who passed by and saw my confusion, gladly gave me a quick tour. She clarified a lot — mystery solved.
These are the results of a cutorial experiment. People from different backgrounds, professions (same nationality but not the same region) were asked to find any object in their house that may be called craft in their own interpretation of the term. No limitation, just their perception of it.
Let’s have a look at top five most surprising ones, shall we?
- COCONUT SCRAPER (something that could be so handy in Thailand, believe me as coconuts are everywhere and so delicious!)
- MAHOUT’S KNIFE is a vital thing to have for forest or jungle elephant riders. This particular one is handmade from solid iron by blacksmiths in Ban Kham Daeng, Lampang. It is believed that once elephants see this type of knife they sense the power of man and obey. In real life even nowadays the knife is largely used in jungle areas: for fencing, digging, cutting and even cooking.
- LAMP. You wouldn’t voluntarily agree to place one on your bed table, would you? I sincerely doubt that. So have a look at what Sebastien Tayao, art historian and university lecturer, said explaying his choice of craft object: “It doesn’t look complete, but it feels handmade and alive. When I see this piece, I know which store it came from. I remember where it was shown in the store. I think crafts relate to memory and time as well.”
- HAND LOOM. I would call it my favourite object in the room. Just look at that beautiful machine which produces small samples of new design textile from tested materials (like water hyacinth fibre). It belongs to “Ayodhay” brand and highly appreciated there as it is used every single time to have a real picture of new designs.
- STENCIL BLOCK. This object, as you have probably already correctly guessed, was chosen by a street artist – Rukkit Kuanhawate and according to his own words in this object “there are vertical and horizontal lines, and curves which can be used to produce different words in English and Thai. It has become my personal design which looks rather minimal in terms of shape and form.” How about that sort of craft? Surprising, huh?
I suppose you remember and still half puzzled that I mentioned a pair of sneakers right above, don’t you? So, as a matter of fact, after a chat with my guide I may surely share that it’s one of the best objects for visitors as it stands for the idea that craft for a simple man can be in a simple ordinary thing:
“My lifestyle used to be so different from what I do now, I didn’t have my routine. Now when I have my shop I have to wake up early and leave my home at the same time. Now I have my routine, which is to sit on the stairs and tie my shoes. This is my craft and a reminder for me to start the day well.”
(Panupong Apinyaku, founder of Khagee Cafe)
Fairly enough you wouldn’t probably travel overseas to northern Thailand deliberately to enjoy the exhibition but I guess the main purpose of it is far more than impulse anyone to visit it – it is to make you ask a question to get to the core of this term “craftsmanship.”
So here is a final question and food for thought.
WHAT IS CRAFT TO YOU?
video edit credit: Anna Karla Almeida