Monday, 11 October 2010

Twee are the World

Please understand. We don't want no trouble.

We just want the right to be different. That's all.

Liner notes to Pulp’s Different Class, 1995

Melbourne played host to its inaugural Finders Keepers markets this weekend, with hundreds of people descending on a Docklands pier to check out stalls crammed with homemade clothes, jewellery, cards, home decorations and other kooky knick-knacks. In a celebration of the craft of craft, shoppers milled the converted warehouse to the sounds of angelic voiced singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars and xylophones.

Despite what I’m about to say, I think the Finders Keepers markets are a great thing. Set up to showcase the work of emerging designers and artists from around Australia and New Zealand, they bring together creative people who care about art and design, who seek more than financial reward from their craft, who value the handmade over the mass produced, and being an individual over blending into the crowd. My problem (and I will state categorically, it is my problem) is why did everything seem so, well, samey?

Crafty folks have been happily knitting one and pearling one in contented nerdy obscurity for decades. A ragtag mob of (mostly female) cross-stitch enthusiasts, sewing machine owners, Fimo manipulators and people who make those odd stuffed knitted dolls that always show up at school fetes and op shops. I come from a family of such people, their walls adorned with framed cross-stitch creations of their own hand depicting (for example) the alphabet alongside a cute woodland cottage. There is not a child born to this family that has not been clad in hand-knitted swaddling clothes. I myself have enjoyed many a pair of delightfully impractical woollen socks. It kept Grandma happy, it keeps my aunty happy and it keeps my cousins happy.

The craft scene as represented at Finders Keepers is a little different. It is post-modern and knowingly retro. It is two parts Anne Taintor, one part Fanny Craddock, a dash of Alice from the United States of Tara and (this is where I come in I guess) a spoonful of Morrissey. It takes the skills honed at nanna’s knee and seeks to cutesy them up. Gone are the useless woollen dolls, replaced by… useless woollen cupcakes. Goodbye cross-stitch pictures of doe-eyed Huckleberry Finn type children, hello woollen recreations of the cover of Belle and Sebastian’s Tigermilk.

This nu-craft was thrust into the limelight almost as soon as the global financial wobble became a full-blown crisis. The future was homemade. Recycle. Grow Your Own. Make Your Own. Craft (as I was reminded by a badge I saw yesterday) is the new black. Knitters (I was told by another) ain’t quitters… This is all well and good really. Rampant mass commercialism is evil. People should think for themselves. Using your brain and your hands is wonderful. Recycling is the future. Vegetables are rock and roll. What isn’t clear is why, when you have so many clever, interesting and artistic people all beavering away, do so many of them make the same thing? Here’s a quick run down of the totems of nu-craft on display several times over at Finders Keepers…

  • Buttons as badges and brooches and earrings and basically anything. Especially buttons with material on
  • Birds – predominantly of the owl variety (which is a shame because I do like an owl, despite the fact that they are not what they seem) though equally popular were birds in cages with variations on door open/door closed. Oh the symbolism.
  • Impractical Jewellery – especially earrings made out of found objects that look nice on a table on a velvet cushion but are not conducive to hanging comfortably from your lobes
  • Things made out of old children's books – ‘Fanny and Dick were amazed to see how many things they could be exploited for.’
  • Rabbits - cuwte lickle snuffle bunnies. On adults.
  • Butterflies – oh yes. Butterflies. Fly my pretties. Next stop, unicorns.
  • BIG patterns – their name is prints. And they is funky. And they is everywhere.
  • Big Glasses – I expressed my angst about this alarming trend for enormous glasses last year. Did anyone listen? No. Many gigantic pairs spotted wandering around Docklands with little tiny people in cardigans underneath them.
  • Antlers – mostly deer related (lots of fake hunting trophy heads) though a few creative souls had gotten all Island of Dr Moreau and started welding antlers to anything in sight
  • Silhouettes – see most of the items in this list but without the filly-in middle bits
  • Laser Cut everything – literally anything on earth that a laser can cut a shape into or cut something out of. See silhouettes. I did. Several times.
  • Big things on chains - assorted random large items hung between two ends of a chain to be worn like an ineffectual breastplate
  • Old Cameras - a shame this one, because I quite like the aesthetic and the symbolism of an old camera. Still that doesn’t mean I want to see t-shirts, jewellery, purses, cushions and wallpaper of old Pentaxes and Polaroids everywhere I go. Stop. You’re spoiling it now.

In case you think I’m being mean, I’ll reiterate that lots of the items on offer were splendid. Beautifully made, intricately detailed, lovingly imagined. I also get that all tribes have their trends. Punks, Goths, Mods, Emo Kids, Rude Boys (and Girls), football fans, bikers – there’s always something gangs build their identity around. The difference with this kind of art is that the unifying point is philosophical. It’s not based on a look or a person or a thing, but an idea - an appreciation of the personal.

Of course I can craft precisely nothing (though I am good at growing potatoes) so really have no right to criticise what people choose to make and sell. Perhaps I’d be less bothered if Finders Keepers had been billed as a celebration of (and place to buy) all things cute and mid-20th century retro, but as a ‘showcase for emerging designers and artists’ I don’t think that was the point. In the end I came away from Finders Keepers with the distinct feeling that too much of a good thing is still too much. In the art world nothing kills an original and personal idea like a backdrop of sameness, which - unless it’s just about the money - surely defeats the purpose.

For more about the Finders Keepers markets click here or visit


Oily said...

Try this one for emerging designers:
Fewer antlers, less cuteness, same amount of laser cutting, more innovation, more expensive.

Mint Custard said...

Yes, but do they have this kind of indispensible must-have?