I find myself circling two issues, handmade and embodied meaning.
Of the first, one must begin by asking why bother at all. After all one can buy a machine made chain at a fraction of the cost of one made by hand and it would function just as efficiently and look nice as well.
The answer, I believe, lays not so much in the concept of handmade vs. machine made and a cataloging of how the chains are the same or different but rather in the percept. The mental impression or understanding gained through touch and sight.
This sense impression is perhaps most evident when making the chain. For example, a chain is begun usually by making multiple links with their ends not yet connected. The next step is to take about half of those links and connect the ends fusing them shut. Having completed that, one would take two of the fused links and connect them together with a third, fusing it to form a triplet. Another link and you connect two triplets, and so on and so on for the length you wish.
My point is not that all this activity is done by sensory impressions. My point is that once you begin this process thinking slips away, you get into a rhythm, time fades from your conscious, and you are simply experiencing the moment through your senses. Experiencing the making process is one reason why I bother.
But it doesnâ€™t end there. This sense impression remains latent in the chain after it leaves the studio, available to the tactilely and visually observant audience. The chain serves first as a testament to the sincerity of labor and the commitment to craft. Are the links of even proportion, is the surface of even texture, are the joints cleanly constructed, is the solution not only well executed but also well conceived, perhaps even elegant.
This is the “handmade ness” of it. An object, a chain in this case acts as a record of the making process and by extension of the maker, of the human touch. In a world where often an object is first touched as it is placed on a store shelf, this touch of the hand as I call it, offers a human presence in the objects around us.
The argument isn’t new. Many will recognize it as the argument of the Arts and Crafts Movement at the turn of the last century. It is yet another part of why I bother.
We are left then with embodied meaning. A concept borrowed from Arthur Danto, whose thesis is that art is embodied meaning.
My own interest tends toward referential meaning. By this I am suggesting that a shape or a design device can be used to reference an idea or historical convention.
I find ornament a delightful place to play with referential meaning. Ornament is a category of human making with a history as old if not older than that of painting and sculpture. The opportunity to interact with this history and reference mankind’s use of patterns and motifs and their historical meanings is one element of my interest. What is equally attractive is the sense that ornament inhabits that murky space between representation and object making and is the natural home of metaphor and symbolism.
Embodied meaning becomes then a second layer, added on top of the meaning of handmade. It offers the opportunity to work with concept as well as percept.