Coordinated by Ezio Manzini and Nick Bell, Culture of Resilience (CoR) was a cultural experiment that could be encapsulated by the following: take the community of academics of a large and prestigious university of art and design. Launch a discussion on a socially relevant topic, in this case resilience and register its results, in terms of ideas, projects and mutual exchange.
What emerged were ‘multiple visions’ of resilience, a complex set of narratives, values, ideas and projects that critically reflect on the socio-technical systems in which they are embedded.
The two year research project closed with a sharing event:
Weaving People and Places: How art and design is collaborating to (re)build communities-in-place
During the two years of the CoR project Ezio observed that, consciously or not, art and design brings people together in special ways, instigating social assemblies that foster new social connections and collaborations.
Ezio therefore, encouraged all contributors to Weaving People and Places to give a short account of a specific Moment of Encounter. These are the very special moments in which new collaborative encounters were produced, moments in which two or more persons meet and do something together in a given place.
For my five minute presentation, yes five minutes, I gave and account of the development of jigs for the production of market stalls for #TransActing. No, not the dance, the tool-like thing as evidence of a special moment of encounter.
Convened by Critical Practice on Saturday, 11th July 2015 #TransActing: A Market of Values was a bustling pop-up street market that featured artists, designers, donorpreneurs, publishers, civil-society groups, academics, ecologists, activists and others who creatively explore existing structures of evaluation and actively produce new ones.
During the production of the market, a working-group formed around the production of the ‘market stalls’ that were to compose the physical infrastructure for #TransActing.
To embody our interest in resilient evaluative practices, the working group aimed to recycled materials from what would be the de-installed 2015 degree show at Chelsea College of Arts. In previous years a suite of refuse-skips collected unwanted artworks, trashed exhibition making materials, timber, boards, unloved things, furniture, etc. We aspired to re-purpose what would be otherwise ‘waste’.
While collaborating with Andreas Lang of PublicWorks, he introduced us to the autoprogettazione furniture series of Enzo Mari from 1974.
The series uses standard timber sections to produce a range of tables, chairs, beds and bookshelves. The plans, with dimensions and cutting log for the furniture, were also freely published in a premonition of a Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) ethic, and a gesture towards a cultural and material commons.
I thought of the stalls as the base of the distributive market, the platform that enabled and coordinated different evaluative communities, and also an exhibitionary space, a space to share with others.
It became obvious that we would need a simple means of coordinating all the complex elements of the construction process; jigs. The jigs arose through the intersection of various vectors, these included the need to produce many stalls in a small time-scale, not knowing with any confidence who and how many people would volunteer to help, our need to make use of recycled wood in different sections and lengths, the black hole that was the skill base of the volunteers, a limited resource budget, and so on.
In previous development workshops for the stalls, we had learnt a lot and refined our designs (based on a Mari table) to basically three types; bench, table, stall, each one produced from a selection of five standard components, requiring the assembly and fixing of approximately nine elements for each component.
We salvaged a variety of boards, fixed them as tops on improvised work tables, and on them made one-to-one drawings of each of the five components; the three different leg heights, and two lengths of truss.
We then set about screwing scrap wood to the drawings, to act as guides, braces and stops to aid the location of the elements necessary to fabricate the components. These were of varying depths, as some elements were laid flat, others butted, and some crossed over. We had five jigs.
Once assembled, we put two of the jigs to work. Pre-cut elements were laid in, screwed together, turned over, additional elements added, screwed, and finally the component prised out.
We made a trial assembly of a 'table' stall form the three necessary components – two legs and a cross-truss, to make sure that the measurements and tolerances of the jigs were sufficient to enable a stall to be made.
A few tweaks and they worked, they worked very well, and were, by consensus, approved.
The jigs and their makers had enabled a group of people to make the first stall, these people via the jigs, now had the knowledge to instruct others. They became working-group coordinators capable of inducting new members to the jigs, the elements and processes necessary to make components, and to assemble them into any of the three stall types.
We began to classify our waste materials into section-types, we removed screws and nails, with a chop-saw set about pre-cutting elements, stockpiling them, and putting the jigs to work. The jigs had in their assembly, in turn, began to assemble individuals into groups and coordinated their actions, they formed working-groups and rich collaborative encounters.
I could see that the jig was a tool, but also as a kind of protocol, like the tacit protocols – mission statements, aims and objectives, constitutions, rules, employment guidelines, terms and conditions, etc, that facilitate and organise any network, group or community.
Critical Practice for example, uses Guidelines for Open Organisations as protocols to self-organise and coordinate the cluster’s activities.
Protocols emerge whenever there is a deliberate organisation of interactions between people, Guidelines for Open Organisations for example encourage all decisions, processes and production to be accessible and transparent.
The jigs were equally 'open', simple to use, accessible and able to organise – try putting an over-long length of timber into a jig, or screwing elements together in the wrong sequence. The jigs were physical protocols which produced assemblies from disparate individuals, materials and coordinated their interactions into collaborative communities.
The jigs were relational machines.
It was the jigs that proved key to producing the volume of stalls necessary for the market – nearly sixty, we ordered some additional timber section, 65 tarpaulins and mountains of screws. We organised a common tool bank from our collective tool kits, and signed-up for daily working groups during the construction period.
Some people who volunteered to build the stalls were able to commit to the whole construction period, others a lunch-hour daily, some a morning, others a few afternoons and some just joined in as they passed by because it looked fun.
Some people were carpenters, others confident in their craft skills, others un-confident, and some thought they knew nothing. Some people understood the design and logic of the stall-construction, others nothing of the market, or the stalls or our intention.
Yet the simple jigs, like the Guidelines for Open Organisations, easily accommodated all these differences and made every contribution - in terms of time, attention, skills, care, desire, etc, no matter how small, productive.
The jig formed friendships, coalesced solidarities, enabled skills to be shared, instructed and triggered fun. Adam Smith would have been surprised.
#TransActing was a huge success, the market hosted skillshares, economists, a freegan juice-bar, an organ donation bank, a divestment campaign, a permaculture stall, a free art school, expert and enthusiast knowledge, an Artists Union and other diverse communities of evaluation.
Publics roamed between stalls – about a thousand persons during the afternoon - engaging in reciprocal, intimate, simultaneous and distributed exchanges, multiple currencies circulated, few of them monetary.
For me, again, this temporary community and their interactions were enabled by the generative power of the jigs.
Whilst the values of competitive markets dominate contemporary life, including art and its education, other values can and do coexist. #TransActing nurtured and celebrated these values in a spectacular one-day event.
During the production process, we discussed reusing the stalls for other things after #TransActing.
Too often in ‘art’ projects the incredible labour necessary for upcycling and producing things for exhibition results in little more than a temporary spectacle and, moreover, one destined for skips or landfills. To be true to the values we valued, we made provision for the stalls’ afterlife.
By sawing off the tarpaulin roof support, and sawing-down some of the longer legs, the stalls were transformed into tables.
For several months many were dotted the Rootstein Hopkins Parade Ground providing much-needed public seating and tables for working, lunching and socialising. Other stalls found new homes in studios and offices around the Chelsea campus, several went to an anti-gentrification project in Deptford, some to a community garden, and others to a mobile kitchen.
See more photos of the stall making process, and the event.
Central St Martins
1 Granary Building