Sometimes the hardest part of making for an exhibition, or even an assignment or following a concept, is choosing the ideas that are pursued to fruition. For often there are more ideas than time to make them (I’ve written a little about this before).
One idea I was playing with for ‘Feast‘ was raising a bowl to replicate Nana’s trifle bowl – I love raising bowls! The only problem with this idea was that I was quite short on time and had no access to the necessary equipment. So I thought I’d get the skeleton of the bowl spun, then saw-pierce the design and fold some components in, or chase (yes, pretty labour-intensive!)…
Nana's trifle bowl (left) and spun bowl (right)
The above copper bowl was spun for me by Bob Thomas, a well-known Melbourne metal craftsman. I am happy with the bowl, but upon more looking and playing and thinking, I realised that I had other pieces I was more passionate about, and this idea didn’t get much further.
Metal spinning uses lathe-type machinery to rotate a symmetrical wooden shape, over which metal sheet is pushed. This is not something to do at home kids! There is a pretty cool short video of Bob doing his thing on YouTube here.
I have often struggled with the idea of ‘out-sourcing’ part of the making, but I understand that many artists do this in a variety of media. However, with this particular piece I later felt that what I planned to do to the bowl afterwards would not be substantial enough, to my mind, to make the piece enough of my own expression.
I see it in degrees: asking Bob to spin the metal bowl, and then for me to plate or engrave it and then pass it off as my own, is entirely unacceptable to me (and I imagine most other makers). Saw-piercing the bowl still doesn’t feel enough of ‘my own hand’. Perhaps more substantial ‘interruption’ of the bowl would be required for me to be happy with someone else’s handwork being a component of the piece, where their contribution to the work does not outweigh what I bring to the piece (unless it is a formal collaboration).
I have pretty conflicted ideas about out-sourcing in my own making. I’ve done it in the past with industrial processes like laser-cutting (my own design on large sheets of metal); however where I got a bit stuck this time is that I know how to raise, I was simply without access to a workshop to do the work myself. And it was an exhibition piece, not a production piece (where consideration of cost-efficiency for the end purchaser may be an influence).
What are your thoughts on out-sourcing? Do you out-source and what are your rules and boundaries?
The other matter this exercise brought to my attention was that Bob is likely to retire within a few years, though there are no obvious successor in Melbourne. Many of those skills practiced by single-practioner individuals, often in a workshop in their backyard, who are nearing their retirement are in danger of dying out. Where will these skills go? Do you know any other spinners? Another example a friend mentioned was the man who makes jewellers hallmarks (I don’t remember his name) – when he retires who will take over that work in Melbourne?
Previous post on ‘Feast‘ here…
Update (28th December): next post on ‘Feast‘ here…