Since 2019, Stockholm has been transformed into a bustling craft hub every October. Artists, craftspeople, shops, artist-run spaces, and galleries across the Swedish capital open their doors to craft curious public and professionals. Building on a deeply rooted history and tradition yet continuously introducing the new emerging trailblazers of the field – we couldn’t imagine a better place to launch the Undisciplined podcast than here – in Stockholm. On the occasion of the fourth edition of the Stockholm Craft Week, Undisciplined invited a group of international and local curators to take part in a week-long programme instigating critical and inspiring conversations about the craft.
In this episode, you will hear a live recording of a panel discussion that took place at IASPIS–The Swedish Arts and Grant Committee–which kicked off the eventful week. Speaking on the topic of collective crafting, inclusivity, and institutional change are the guest curators Amanda Pinatih, Sarah Darro, Maria Ragnestam, and Zoe Black.
Maria Ragnestam: The problem maybe it’s also in the Sami society with this colonialistic history that we have that the language isn’t always there for even the Sami people. Like, they speak Swedish only or they don’t have that language. And it’s over eight or five acknowledged Sami languages. They are different languages. It’s not like a dialect. And so it’s also this, like, even though we’re trying to give it back, like, let’s say Duodji, it’s still in only one language. It’s like simplifying it again somehow. So I think you need to start somewhere. Of course, but I mean, it’s also good to be aware that this is just like scratching the surface. And also, like, I see a lot of people trying to go back and trying to claim these different words, but after a while it’s like ‘Ah, I couldn’t even be bothered, I’ll just write it in Swedish’. Because instead of talking about what they want to talk about, the conversation goes somewhere else.
Veronika Muráriková: Yeah. Anything to add?
Sarah Darro: Yes. I do think it’s interesting also that kind of terminology and the way that we talk about work in this field, the terms that we’re using help us track the trajectory of where the field is. Because even just going through the American craft archives, the way that we talk about craft has shifted so drastically. It was called handicraft. And then as soon as the studio craft movement came about, it started to be these kinds of hybrid terms, like weaving, sculpture, like, all of these kinds of, like, it’s too slippery to pinpoint. So we’re kind of making these hybrid terms and then suddenly this more expansive kind of like, object term kind of came about. And we have all these exhibitions by Paul Smith that are like, Object As… What is the object? So I think it’s interesting to think about what time period that we’re looking at, how we’re talking about the work too.
VM: Thank you. I’m also thinking that all of you are involved in projects with local or diaspora communities, and all of you are part of these projects either as an institutional body or representing an institutional body or as part of artist-led projects. And what I would be interested in finding out or asking you today is how do you establish, like, a noninvasive relationship with local communities?
Amanda Pinatih: Yeah. So how did I end up in Dharavi? That’s one good question. My partner went to Dharavi for another project, and he came back and he said, there’s so much there. So Dharavi is a homegrown neighbourhood in Mumbai. If anyone watched Slumdog Millionaire, you’re probably familiar with the space. We call it a homegrown neighbourhood because it’s really made by the people that live there. It’s three square kilometers and one million inhabitants and they have everything from schools to police stations, sewage systems, and a lot of gyms. But I didn’t have a museum yet, so we were like, this is a great place to figure out what a museum also could be. Not a super fancy building with a huge collection that waits for people to come to them, but a museum that goes to people and sees if they can work with them. Of course, we had all these plans when we were in the Netherlands, like, oh, we can maybe build some sort of a camper van and we drive through Dharavi. And then we arrived and we’re like, that’s not going to fit. And we saw all these people selling their goods on push cards. So we asked if we could buy a pushcart and made a structure on top of it that would fold out. And it was a museum. And then we just started talking with all these different communities, because it’s one neighbourhood, but there’s all these different communities, like the Potters. They live in Cumberbatta, which means Potter. So we asked them, what would you like to make and what would you like to show? And they were like ‘Give us your drawings, we can make whatever you want’. I’m like, well, that’s actually not the idea. We really want to create something with you. And that was, of course, sort of the first step where they were like, ‘Oh, why would we?’ And then we just started talking to them. And basically, what you do when you talk to people in Dharavi, you just have chai tea together. Everyone drinks chai tea and they all do it in their own way. You have it from a glass or a cup or even from a saucer, but it’s almost like a sport that you don’t spill any of the tea because it’s quite precious. So we were like we were just chatting and then we came up with the idea to just make 100 different chai tea cups. So that was our first exhibition, and then our second exhibition was a cricket tournament, because we were like, this is the biggest thing that is happening in Dharavi. It’s cricket. And the rules are completely bent. Because if you would in a normal game, you would hit the ball out of the field, you would have all the points, but in Dharavi, you lose because you lost the ball and maybe you have injured someone or broken something. So, yeah, we asked a local carpenter to make cricket bets from reclaimed wood and we asked five teams to compete with each other. And the only rules that we added to their rules was, you have to use all the things that we made. And it was a blast. So I think what I learned from that is that a museum can be anything. And working with communities, although you are an outsider, if you are there with just an open mind and you give space to them, like, this is your platform, then it’s a lot of fun. And I was only there for one month, but the project ran for one year and then a monsoon came in and no one had space to keep this quite big structure. So we said, okay, we will just give it to the community whoever wants to have it. And then first it became a library, a mobile library, which was really fun and the last thing I heard it’s a mobile ironing station. So it’s changing its purpose and we really like that actually. So a museum can also be an ironing station.
Zoe Black: I can speak from an institutional point of view and I think from what we’ve found over the past seven years, object space has been trying to kind of realign the programming decisions that we make to ensure that we’re actively and respectfully showing the making practices of all of Aotearoa. In the past it was very what you would expect from a traditional craft gallery. So we’ve been trying to shift things, but for things to happen and for things to work, it needs to be the entire organisation on board with these sorts of projects and developing communities. And that goes from the board level, the decision making level, all the way through to the front of house staff. And that decision needs to be fully embedded in absolutely everything that you do. But further than that, it needs to ensure that there are indigenous people on staff and not just one, which is often the case. An organisation may decide that they want to be respectful and be inclusive for indigenous makers, but may have one representative on staff and that doesn’t actively and systematically change things. It needs to be a much wider and a firm decision that the organisation as an entirety is going to change things and that relates to language, the way that things are communicated, but also ensuring that access is available to those communities. I think the other fundamental thing is that you need to invest huge amounts of time to do it properly and to ensure that relationships last beyond the end of the project. If you’re engaging with the community and you’re creating an exhibition together or you’re creating a publication, once that project is finished, you don’t finish that relationship at all. And those sorts of changes in the way that you’re opening up your space and your organisation to different groups need to be fully formed much further than the end of the project.
VM: Yeah, that was one of my questions as well, like how after the project is done, like what is left behind, what is the residue and how do you care for it? What role do we play also in that? Like how do we still make sure the space is either active as for example in Dharavi or it was beneficial and it still brings some kind of benefit to the community?
ZB: What is really important in Aotearoa is funding and to make sure that once the project finishes you still are able to contribute in some way. And that could be employing somebody as part time staff member or creating more opportunities and bringing in those people who have offered incredible experience and knowledge into further projects down the line, but also ensuring that you’re maybe offering the work or the outcomes of the projects to different projects. So, for example, we’ve been doing a long term project with a Niuean weaving pair of artists, a grandmother and her grandson, and they create weaving projects together. And we did an exhibition and then we decided it would be really important to fund a publication that was written by Niuean Weavers because there was literally nothing written from the perspective of an Niuean artist on weaving practice. And then their work has gone into three other exhibitions because we’ve been trying to really sustain that relationship and make sure that their work is seen by more and more people.
MR: I can only agree with this that you’re talking about because I think it’s super important that you continue the work afterwards. I think that in Sweden we have a bit of a structural problem. When you’re doing your application for funding, it’s often like, what is the innovation of this project and how is this new and how this never happened before? And I always feel like, well, where does the knowledge go that we actually built up and now you’re scrapping that going on to the next. So it gets to me, like, a systematic error of how we perceive the things that we actually build up because we can’t sustain it because you can’t get more funding for it. But also to be a little bit like I think that more institutions should be, like, feeling like, oh, but we can’t do this, we need help. And actually seeing themselves when they need help and asking for that help because you often try to do good things, but it doesn’t really go the whole way because you actually did what you thought someone wanted, but you didn’t ask them, what do you need? How can we do this together? How can we invite the community to work with you? And so I think that that is one of the most important things in the beginning to start with that to let go a little bit of the power and also really remember that one way of doing things doesn’t apply to all because I would say like ask five Sami people how they want to be mentioned and they will give you five different answers. So listen to the people you have in front of you and just be humbled that you maybe didn’t know everything, even though you thought that that is also like something that I think is often forgotten in the rush of checking the box. Oh, we did that, now we worked with those. But instead thinking, what do we want to get out of this in the long term?
SD: I think there’s something interesting, too, about what you’re talking about, like the kind of infrastructure of the museum and, like, the exhibition building project and how that is sometimes and oftentimes incompatible with Indigenous wisdom and knowledge practices. And we were working on a few exhibitions with Eastern Band Cherokee in North Carolina and even the kind of curatorial decision making processes needed to be kind of adapted. Not this kind of hegemonic like, these are the best objects we kind of had to hand over and kind of change the infrastructure of what the curating itself looked like.
VM: Because we are now about to curate an exhibition… It was the whiteness, please remind me once again, The Whiteness of Glass. So how do you even approach that kind of sensitive topic?
SD: Well, this exhibition is really interesting because it’s been developed and organised by a collective called Related Tactics. And they wouldn’t say that this is curatorial practice, but they’ve really created a very interesting creative framework and parameter for this project. So it started with demographic data, and then they invited three series of artists to respond to this data about just the stark inequity of the field and how there are no people of colour and positions of power in the glass field. And so there’s this kind of abstracted kind of response to data, then there’s artist instructions and then there’s glass objects. And that varies widely between resolved objects and just like, residue of the studio and shards and ashes and drawings and sweat, literal sweat. So I think something that has been really interesting working with this collective within an institution is that much of the work is grounded in institutional critique, including the critiques that apply to our own institution. Right? So we’re mounting this exhibition, and there’s some interesting kind of conversations about is this institutional text or do we not have institutional text? Do we just turn over the space? How can we contextualise this pretty esoteric and intense project for our audiences, which are mostly tourists, things like that. But it’s probably been the most exciting project I’ve worked on in a long time.
AP: I mean, our institution, of course, has the same issues as all the other institutions. And the Stedelijk Museum always has been like a very wide institution, and it doesn’t reflect society in the Netherlands at all. You might know the Netherlands had a really long colonial history, and there’s still a lot of coloniality going on in the Netherlands. The last colony that they gave up was Suriname, only 1975. So of course, if you want to break down these sort of white walls, what are you going to do? And it starts with the staff. So we got a new director in 2019, still a white man, but he managed to get the staff in a different shape. So he hired me with diasporic roots from Indonesia. My colleague with diasporic roots from Suriname. So in that sense, it starts there absolutely with all these new perspectives. And in that sense, I’m now also curating an exhibition where I work with diaspora communities. So this I’m doing together with a curator of contemporary art. And we came up with an open call. And the open call is called Guna-guna: Design, Contemporary Art and Diasporic Magic because Guna-guna is this sort of silent force that came from Indonesia to the Netherlands. Dutch people are quite afraid of it. We know how to use it. It could be a curse. But I can also make you fall in love with me if I want to. But this is actually a very transgeographical thing. So it was an open call, and we got 770 proposals. And with an international jury, we now selected 24 projects. But we also now have the same not per se issues or problems, but we are an audience and an artist driven museum. So we have an audience that needs to comprehend what they see because otherwise we’ll hear back from them. But we also want to give all the space to the artists and designers to tell their story and how they want to see it, because we’re working with an artist (Hatutamelen–James Noya, Ed.), and he’s from the Malacca, and he’s a self trained artist, and he’s making a Salawaku, which is a shield. So he actually wants to protect his people from this Guna-guna from this force. And mostly the Salawaku shields, they can be found in anthropological museums or ethnographic museums, actually. And also they were always written about in a European way. And he’s like, yeah, but some things people just don’t need to know. Like, the audience of the museum doesn’t really need to know what I’m trying to do with this shield. So we are trying to give him that freedom that he’s just going to write his own text and we’re not going to edit. And let’s see what the critics say about this. Yeah, that’s the space I think you need to give and perspective you need to bring in.
VM: And maybe also perhaps a little experimentation with the format, even if it’s like an institution, government institution. I want to take a little advantage of having you all here since you’re from very different regions and parts of the world, and I’ll be interested in how you perceive–maybe I don’t know how long you have all stayed here–but you (Zoe Black) have been around in Norway as well for some time. How do you perceive this difference in the European craft scene and perhaps what is happening in New Zealand?
ZB: I think the main thing that I noticed when I got here is the funding that everybody has here is amazing. And that was super exciting to see the value and the honour that’s given to craft and craft artists and making here, which is super exciting and very aspirational to see, I have to say. We’ve been doing a lot of work with Sami communities and looking at Duodji and other ways of creative expression and it was a bit sad, I must say, when we went to the National Museum in Oslo to not see any Duodji on display and we were asking where is Sami representation and there was very little. So for me that was a hard thing to digest because I believe that a National Museum should reflect every part of the land that it’s sitting in. But it’s super exciting to see everything that’s happening here. And the scope of work that’s being produced is really fantastic and it does give us a lot of encouragement to keep going with craft practice as we see it back in Aotearoa.
VM: Anything you would like to add to?
SD: Yeah, well, I’ve been reflecting on this a bit. I mean, I got here this morning, but I was thinking there’s so much rigour and support and professionalism in the field and scholar. There’s all of this kind of funding, financial support. There’s also just this rigorous and widespread amount of criticism in the field which I think is lacking in the American craft scene. I also think the American craft scene is always having an identity crisis and it’s often embedded within these fine art programs. And even to study crafts, there are very few programs where you can have a dedicated program to study crafts and they keep disappearing. So I think that is a really big difference. But something that I noticed in the work and just interviewing and doing studio visits with artists here and then European artists who have come to the States is and this sounds so cliche, but there’s so much land and space in the US. And also this kind of like freewheeling, some often problematic vibe that also comes with American making sometimes. Let’s just gobble up as many resources as we need to fund this to fuel this giant kiln. But I also think that the scale of the work is really monumental. And many artists that I’ve talked to who have come to places like Archie Bray or Pilchuk, they’re like, I’m able to make this monumental work that I’m not able to do in Europe.
VM: Thank you. Well, we’re nearing the end right now, so I would just be curious if there are any questions from the audience and I hope we find at least one.
I think it’s so great. Also, I wanted to take an opportunity to ask you just a bit of a practical question in terms of like, we are all here creative people and on our every level. Like, some of us are artists, some of us are publishing and we work with people of colour, we work with underrepresented communities. And perhaps there is a way you could or we could start thinking about like a kind of a checklist of what you said, right? Like something that could be just practical and just to make sure that things like what we already said, so staff other things. And so even if you do like an artist-run project and if it’s small or if you just make a publication, what are the things to be aware of and just so we can start making change not just as big institutions but also in small projects and stuff like this. So that would be really great to know.
MR: Yeah, my god, it’s a super hard question but I would say yeah, of course collaboration is the best way to go, I would say. And start there and start doing it because I see a lot of this like yeah, we did this in collaboration but actually you never even sat down together because it’s a very high wave of like, we’re going to do this collectively and we’re going to do this together. But there are rarely like projects that are really collectively done where you actually learn from each other and see and I see the same thing. I see a lot of collective work or collaborations between Duodjas and artists. But it’s also like sometimes I’m like I just want to step in and be like the language because I can hear them going like this. And the Duodji is of course, people like everyone, but they, like, give what they think that the artist wants to. The artist is like it’s just like if they would have really sat down and did the project from the beginning together, then maybe it would have looked different if they took the time to establish some kind of ground work together. So I think that is, and that’s hard to say because even though the funding is good, I think maybe we’re spoiled but it’s still like it’s never enough funding to take that time but to actually make time to do the collaborations. Yeah, I think that is, that is one of the things on the checklist. I don’t know, someone else, anybody else?
AP: In the Netherlands when you want to apply for funding there is a fair practice code and the fair practice code says something about inclusivity of your project. And actually on the one hand you would think, oh, that’s a positive thing, but on the other hand you get tokenism a lot. Sometimes I’m just asked for something and I’m like, but why are you asking me? Because I’m not the right person for this. So sometimes checklists can also be a dangerous thing, I think. So yeah, collaboration and giving space I think is most important.
ZB: I would definitely say throw a checklist away. Also throw your ego away and your expectations and then you can truly enter and do something together. If you decide on the format and the time frame of a project before you start, it’s never going to work out. You need probably two or three times the amount of time that you would expect to really, truly understand each other and as you say, language and your understanding of where each other is coming from. You can’t get that unless you sit down, you have lots of cups of tea together and you really listen. And for those things to happen, I think you can’t go in with any idea of what it is you’re going to come out with at the end. But if you’re able, if you have the luxury of that time and space and funding to do that, then magic always happens and it’s the best.
SD: Yeah, I think there’s been some really great institutional introspection about the kind of systems and barriers of entry that are in place. How do we make this as equitable and open and accessible as possible? Like applications, no application fee, making sure that we’re promoting it far and wide to channels that we don’t usually do. But I also think that perspective makes it seem like the institution is the magnet and everyone’s just going to come to us. But I think the number one thing that I’ve learned through these projects is that there needs to be this intentional gesture reaching out to communities that we are interested in working with and like a genuine reach out and listen and invitation. And it’s not just people aren’t just going to appear. The communities we want to reach are not just going to come.
AP: Because they’ve been there without us as well. There’s this whole young generation and they don’t really need the museum, they don’t need this table. They will create their own table to sit at if we really want to work with them.
MR: But I also think the opposite, at least. I think that we’re going back to something where more and more young people claim their languages if they’re like and they’re going to the museums and finding out the thing that you saw also, like the representation isn’t there. I think it works both ways because I also think that it’s like something that is now turning up, like demanding more from it. And I think that could also be an interesting way of pushing forward.
VM: Definitely. Any more questions?
Audience 2: Hey. I don’t have this fully configured in my head, but after hearing everyone’s definitions of craft and it’s so tied to the everyday or having myself worked with Indigenous people, saying it’s just what we do, and I kind of see all your jobs as this is a way of translation or this mediation between people that understand intrinsically what craft is then going to government or academic institutions which move very slowly. How do you see that conversation shaping in the institutional level of how they understand your definitions of craft? And are you hopeful in that? Or do you see that kind of divide almost stretching and it almost seems like you’re learning multiple languages and translating them or switching between them?
MR: I would say for me, because I’m coming from an art background, anything goes because you have a free packet, say whatever. But to really talk about things, I think that we’re far from there to feel that we’re meeting up in, like… My partner is a Duodji and he just got an order. It was so funny. It was during the pandemic and someone asked him, like, yeah, we’re opening this new restaurant. Can you do like 50 of these? And I don’t know the Swedish word, but what do you drink from? And can you do like, some knives for the meat? And he was like, yeah, how many do you want? He was like, 50 of the knives. And he was like, yeah, that would take me around 20 years. Still want it? And it would be around like half a million. Still want it? So it’s also the understanding that it’s not something that you like–at least with the Duodji–I think that it’s not something that you do on demand. It’s also connected to nature and where you’re at. And we’re far from there, I would say, to meet up in that sense. And I think that it’s only like, with every other thing that you need. When I go into a room with only politicians and I know that I need to get them to understand I talk in another way, you need to do that, then you need to start somewhere. But it’s also to be nagy, to be that voice. And it’s our job to be that one.
VM: Anything to add? No? You just looked at me that way.
SD: Well, I mean, I can say working in institutions and in the US that have boards that have kind of some say over content, there is like an invested interest in these kinds of more glossified ways of conceptions of craft and ways of thinking about craft. And there is some resistance, especially from older generations. And I think it’s very real, at least in institutions I’ve been a part of.
VM: Okay, so last awkward moment of silence. Any more questions?
Audience 3: Yeah. I’m wondering, these processes that you are working with, diasporic communities, maybe collective processes, do you think that there is a risk that this is a current trend in the art world and that this trend is going to pass and like, in a few years, funding committees are going to be like, oh, no, not another collective project. No funding for you. Or how do you see the future working with these types of issues?
ZB: I think it’s our job to make that not happen, for it not to be a trend. And that’s kind of what I see as my responsibility as an indigenous person and as a curator. I think we all have seen that there has been a trend in the past few years for more representation particularly at international events to show indigenous making. But I see my responsibility to ensure that that does not lose flavour in the future. And I think the way that I see that we do that is to ensure that the way in which we translate exhibitions and understanding of these making practices really embeds it into the history that we are writing at the moment so that we can’t ignore it in the future. And that it is an integral part of how we understand making practices to be wherever we are from. And that goes with creating these lasting relationships and making sure that the artists that we’re working with, the people that we’re working with, are brought along in the future. And it’s going to be part of everyday understanding in a few years.
MR: I can only agree but also like to feel it when you’re doing these collaborations. I think that today it’s so easy to forget the colonialism in Sweden that is still going on in Sapmi. We’re talking about it like it’s a historical feature. And it’s often when we’re talking about it, something has been done. We moved past and now we are here. And that is such a still feeling that the connection that we often make through art is still often not talked about when it comes to craft. Like how is this connected to what is going on right now here? I think that that is something I would really want to see more of so that it also gets connected in the same way. Like how does this affect the place that these objects are being made in? And also remembering all of us curatorial people working like showing one Sami would be the same as going and taking one Swedish artist and like now we’ve shown the Swedish art fields. Here you go. But it still works like that somehow, that you pick one Duodji and then you’re like yeah, we did it. Everyone knows now what it is. It’s like no, you haven’t even started because it didn’t connect it to what we do. There’s so much more that could unfold. So I think that is, as you say, our responsibility to keep up and also remember how it actually looks today in other parts and like the city areas.
AP: Yeah. Make sure it’s not only a checkbox. But also because of that trend, I guess I am now a curator at the Stedelijk. Otherwise I maybe wouldn’t be hired there. And I’m in now, so I’m not going to go anywhere. But maybe not I’m not going to say too long, but yeah. You have to be aware that as a curator, I also have collection responsibilities. That you are a gatekeeper or you can open the gates. And I think if you’re very aware of that, that we have that responsibility and that we make sure those gates are open for the people that we want to have them open for it will be a long term thing.
SD: And I think part of that is, like, dismantling what curating historically was. And it’s like recognising that everyone has blind spots and there’s like a limit to one’s expertise. So, like, bringing in people, bringing in other perspectives and other curators, I think is necessary.
VM: Well, thank you so much. The bad news is there is no more time. We could go on for way longer than this. I also really appreciate you all coming in here. Big thank you to all of you. Annika Björkman, again, IASPIS and Stockholm Craft Week, Current Obsession, Barklund & Company and Kulturrådet. Thank you to you all and have a great evening!