Makers Collectively Exploring Sustainable Making

|MATTER| Earth, Materials + Making at the Barn. Photograph Helen Voce

Lar MacGregor, maker and exhibitor at |MATTER| Earth, Materials + Making gives an insight into the common themes explored in the exhibition and the impact of makers collectively working together to explore and develop sustainable making.

The history of an object
Found objects
Reclaimed/reused/recycled objects
Waste streams
What is precious?
Environmental responsibility
An expression of identity
Zero waste
Circular economies
‘Slow’ crafting
Sourcing locally
To nourish and protect
Ethical making
Pushing boundaries

Environmentally responsible sourcing of materials is a growing issue with increasing urgency for many professional makers. Keen to address sustainability in all aspects of their practice, makers often find it difficult to access the information they need to make informed decisions. Often, there is a tendency to remain within comfort zones removing the opportunities that come along with new techniques or methods of working. This project became the perfect platform to take a leap of faith within a
supportive setting.

The majority of makers hand make at a small scale, and so individually have a limited impact on the environment and their carbon reduction. However, it is in the spirit of collective responsibility that many makers are committed to changing their behaviours. So raising consumer awareness and encouraging the public to adapt their buying habits, as well as influencing governmental policy and funding strategies, is a key
priority for the Applied Art Scotland makers involved in this exhibition.

In 2015, the United Nations launched the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It called for a partnership between all countries to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues including poverty, hunger, and the climate crisis. At the heart of the 2030 Agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aim to build a better and more sustainable future for all.

It is quite sobering to read that recent statistics gathered by Zero Waste Scotland have highlighted that around 80% of our carbon footprint in Scotland, comes from consumption: from all the goods, materials and services which are produced, used and in the case of products, often thrown out after just one use.

So, imagine that an authentic life could be lived through making, using materials that are relatively guilt free, connecting passion for production and making with environmental sustainability and regenerative processes, at the heart of everything. Imagine also, that this authentic life could then go on to reduce the energy used in the collective making processes and facilitate the use of recyclable or biodegradable materials, rather than buying new. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provided a starting point for precisely that.

|MATTER| Earth, Materials + Making, began life as Closing the Loop, a
maker-led research group exploring gaps in current materials and knowledge. Investigating the application of sustainability tools and practices in the studio, in partnership with Creative Informatics, the twelve makers then embarked upon a supportive journey that evolved into so much more than anyone could have envisaged.

The research group formed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its work initially, had taken place exclusively online. With many of its members spread across the length and breadth of Scotland, this virtual platform enabled a diverse range of makers and disciplines to come together with ease. The main impacts for the twelve Scotland-based makers taking part, included:

Knowledge acquisition and exchange
Peer to peer support
Time saved by learning from one another
Development of case studies and ‘how to’ advice
Opportunities to share learning with one another and the wider sector
Exchange of good practice across making disciplines
Reassurance of working with like-minded practitioners

As a resource developed to bring together information about ethical making and to provide clear and practical ways for makers to engage with ethical making, Closing the Loop grew in strength and courage because of its members. Slowly, information about what ethical making meant, how to implement specific practices, where to source materials sustainably and fairly, and a supportive network in which to develop best practice, emerged.

The need to define the difference between art and craft has been an arduous and ultimately unnecessary task. They are dependent on each other and the line between the two is under constant change within creative communities. Pushing boundaries and blurring the line between what is and what is not authentic led to exciting discoveries about identity and ethics, and led to proposing a solutions focussed pursuit, which involved not only public discussion, but extensive mapping and documentation of the proposals in a making and craft context.

In the process of living, certain things create emotional ties and keep memories alive. Objects are found and then owned but they can be multiple iterations away from the origins of its original use. Even if it is not being used in line with its intended purpose, the nostalgia for its original function can still remain within it.

There were histories charted within the found object, diplomatic endeavours undertaken to ignite commitment to embrace zero waste in other makers. There were ecological considerations pondered over, and investigations made into donut economies. Emissaries and craft activists were spreading the word that slow making and sourcing locally, really could engender positive change throughout the world of making.

During an object’s ‘lifetime’ it could have represented and still represent, the history of an era, an idea, a culture, a country. By tracking the lifetime of the object within the story of its existence, it can unearth a whole new existence. Thinking about an object as a means to tell a story, connect people, capture moments, or to reflect change. It
can be possible to trace the history of when, where, how, and why that object came to be, or as to how the object can be valued, again.

Inevitably, exploring other makers waste streams and the general detritus that was salvaged along the way, led to questioning what was precious. Gold? Jewels? For this group of makers, everything was considered to be precious and of value; nothing was to be wasted or treat carelessly. Gabriel García Márquez, in One Hundred Years of Solitude said, ’Things have a life of their own. It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls.’ |MATTER| attempts to do exactly that.

|MATTER| Earth, Materials + Making exhibition is on at the Barn in Aberdeenshire until 11 November 2022. Open Thursday to Saturday 12-3pm. Closed Saturday 5 November 2022. Exhibiting makers are Allison Macleod, Carol Sinclair, Kirstin Samuel, Inge Panneels, Aubin Stewart, Lar MacGregor, Eleanor Symms, Ann Marie Shillito, Deirdre Nelson, Hannah Ayre, Stefanie Cheong and Yellow Broom.

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