Throughout the research an interest in the pursuit of ideas alongside the investigation of techniques resulted in open ended outcomes. This ambiguity was initially useful especially in terms of being able to experiment in free ways that gave room for chaos, experimentation, play and failure and allowed for sketch models where there were no right or wrong solutions.
As a consequence, during this explorative phase I became increasingly aware of the evocative aspects of the way that studio craft objects are made, and the seductive nature of these craft processes that serve only to prop up a hidebound attitude to creative practice. My investigation of the Laser cutting process offered me a succinct illustration of how digital technology is changing the making process, and how the harnessing of such methods of production led me to question the values that we place on materials and processes and the cultural associations that they hold. Through this deepening insight I became increasingly aware of criticism levelled at ‘Craft’ modes of practice where outcomes can often be considered to be nebulous. I concluded that much of craft production, regarded from the cultural position of the tradition of skill and high quality, offers little in terms of that which can be applied through functional form for useful human benefit.
Tim Parsons reveals there is a worrying schism between craft and the ideologies of art and design practices, ‘The touch of the hand of the maker so exalted in so many areas of the crafts, [is] yet now considered insignificant in neighbouring fields, where it was once seen as essential. It implies that craft is lagging behind in the diversity of its intellectual development.’5 This approach to the process of making has long been the dominant ideology to the detriment to all other aspects in the understanding of craft. The identity of craft is no longer clear once it leaves the familiar territory of specific material experimentation to working at a deeper conceptual level. This theoretical shift away from craftsmanship for its own sake is a reflection of a broader trend in society as skills disappear as part of our movement away from industrialisation towards information based economies.
I therefore took the view that craftspeople must recognise the relevance of the act of making has within culture today, working towards fresh thinking, imagination and experimentation. It became imperative to tap into the potential for work within the spheres of both ‘art’ and ‘life’ in order to produce aesthetic pieces that are also critical design objects for use. My proposition for work viewed that craft has begun increasingly to assert ‘concept’ as of equal importance to ‘material practice’. Conceptual craft bears a close relationship to art though expression of narrative, and to design through functional form. Through function the crafts move directly out of the sphere of ‘art’ and into ‘life’. Craft regarded from this new cultural position need not lose its tradition of skill and the well made thing, these can easily coexist as surplus value, but will enable it to regain a position of relevance through the production of objects that eloquently speak of our times.
I was eager to avoid the well-trodden path of studio craft production and with the final stage of the programme impending, it became fundamental to find a focus to drive this project forward towards delivering a solution to a perceived ‘real-life’ problem. Armed with this clear ‘conceptual craft’ ideology to develop new work, it was going to be necessary to take a step into new areas, to get out of my depth into a creative process that breaks from the expected and is connected to discovery. I began to form a premise whereby I aimed to produce objects that would stimulate, provoke and excite and to test them with people, to question how these objects provoke responses and shape memories.
Thus the goals were moving significantly from a free exploration forward into a process of reinterpreting the problem, this presented the opportunity to post rationalise earlier ideas. I carried out desktop research to develop my knowledge and evaluate the creative processes at play in this project in an attempt to formalise this methodology. I found that although the general consensus is that there is no convention for best practice in the design process there is some agreement and commonalities across processes used, that typically consist of four or five distinct phases. The Design Council Double Diamond is formed of the four distinct phases of Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver, giving a graphic illustration of the characteristics and ‘shape’ of this project and offered some clarification of the phase about to be entered. Unlike some other models, the Double Diamond places emphasis on the ‘Discover’ phase of the process, as the one that makes best use of a designer’s knowledge and skills. Referred to as the Fuzzy Front End (FFE), it is critical to the nature of the problem being addressed, which describes the early stages of this programme, where ideas have formed and a level of ambiguity surrounds outcomes. Study of best practice gave an understanding of the process that was now morphing into a phase focussed upon defining a specific aim, where problem and solution concepts are reframed and crucially, developed into a coherent design proposal.
In February 2010 I approached Clive Parkinson, Director Arts for Health at MMU and with his input my project advanced into a ‘real-life’ healthcare setting. Initially we talked about different groups we might work with and transitions in life and experiences that people might be going through. Through these conversations we decided to contact the Occupational Therapists at the Riverside Ward, Newholme Hospital in Bakewell, an assessment unit for patients experiencing Dementia. A series of negotiations led by Parkinson took place over a period of a few weeks, and I was fortunate to be offered a placement in a collaborative venture between Arts for Health at Manchester Metropolitan University, Derbyshire Primary Care Trust and Derbyshire Community Health Services. The outcome was the opportunity to develop my ideas in response to a health briefing concerning the wellbeing of patients experiencing Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
To bring some context, according to the Alzheimer’s Association website;
‘Dementia is a general term for a group of brain disorders, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 50 to 70 percent of all dementia cases. All types of dementia involve mental decline that impairs normal functioning that is severe enough to interfere with usual activities and daily life and affects more than one of the following core mental abilities; Recent Memory (the ability to learn and recall new information), Language (the ability to write or speak, or to understand written or spoken words), Visuospatial Function (the ability to understand and use symbols, maps, etc., and the brain’s ability to translate visual signs into a correct impression of where objects are in space) and Executive Function (the ability to plan, reason, solve problems, and focus on a task).
Today we know that Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and fatal brain disease. It destroys brain cells, interfering with memory, thinking, and behavior severely enough to affect a person’s work, hobbies, and social life. Alzheimer’s disease gets worse over time and is fatal. Currently there is no cure. But treatments for symptoms, combined with the right services and support, can make life better for the millions who live with Alzheimer’s disease. Most of what is known about Alzheimer’s disease has been learned in the last fifteen years, and an accelerating worldwide effort is under way to find better methods of treating the disease, delaying its onset, and preventing it from developing’.6
As the facilitator for this health briefing Arts for Health at Manchester Metropolitan University are the UK’s longest established Arts and Health organisation, one function of their role is acting as consultant to Derbyshire County Primary Care Trust. In a document produced by Arts for Health entitled Fully Engaged and Culturally Connected outlining the scope of the arts, health and well being within the county, the following points are raised with regard to Dementia.
‘Considering the growth of an ageing population in Derbyshire, the publication of the Department for Health’s, Living Well with Dementia: A National Dementia Strategy, offers us a crucial indication of the growing health and social crisis, and one that culture and the arts can play a huge part in humanising…
…The arts will increasingly be seen as both ways of communicating knowledge about dementia, addressing stigma and crucially, developing services to meet peoples changing needs. These are key steps in improving the quality of life for people with dementia and their carers.’7
Upon visiting Newholme Hospital my first point of contact at the ward was the Occupation Therapists Lorraine Turner and Laura Critchlow, who represented an untapped resource of people who were excited to become involved. They possessed a ‘can do’ approach and were enthusiastic about the possibilities to open up gateways for the engagement of the people that they are responsible for as they realise that there is still masses of potential in their lives. In the development of a clear scenario for work Clive Parkinson was keen to manage expectations of all parties, a placement protocol was drawn up as a working procedure for both myself and those employed by DCHS supporting my placement on Riverside Ward, Newholme Hospital.
In my first meeting with the care staff I introduced myself as a designer and maker of objects. I presented them with a prototype object, alluding to how I regarded the quality of making in these objects to be important. I explained that the objects demanded attention, and were resolved in a way that is going to be perceived as high quality, in order that they are not easily overlooked by the patients and caregivers. A small batch of twelve of experimental objects were produced these were demonstrated to the OT’s and I offered a proposal of how these objects may engage the patients and provoke responses between patients and their carers. We then began to discuss in detail how these objects could be utilised to support ‘reminiscence therapy’ with the aims to promote communication, self-identity and expression.
A series of visits were planned to the Riverside Ward that gave opportunities to test a number of devices to support therapies. Here my objects were to form an intervention that ultimately solved a problem in this real world setting and improved practice. By becoming more deeply informed through the expert insight of the OTs and other professional care staff it was clear this project should not become viewed as an isolated involvement but rather in the wider context of work ongoing on the ward, which attempts to provide regular creative activities that improve the patients experience on an everyday basis.
5.Parsons, T. ‘Value Judgement’ (2009) Crafts No 221. p42
6. Alzheimers association. What is Alzheimer’s.[Online] Available from http://www.alz.org
7. Parkinson, C and Garner, C, Fully Engaged and Culturally Connected. (2009)