Vom Schaufenster zum Wissensfenster – From Display Window to Knowledge Display

An exhibition on knowledge and collaboration in craft.

 

Werkraumhaus is a venue that showcases regional craft & trade. Supported by the members of Werkraum Bregenzerwald and their works, the opening exhibition of 2021 deals with knowledge and collaboration in craft. The idea for this theme is based on a dialogue workshop at the Werkraum, an event where craftspeople came together to exchange thoughts and develop ideas for activities. As a result, the knowledge deeply rooted in craft became the subject and field of action for this exhibition. We present and discuss objects developed and realized in newly formed collaborations between different crafts and trades. Making the processes of developing and implementing products transparent along with their social, cultural and ecological context creates a juxtaposition between craft and knowledge in one space.

 

Knowledge in craft encompasses explicit and implicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge is a silent or invisible form of knowledge (also described as hidden knowledge or tacit knowing in English), acquired through repeated action and observation. Explicit knowledge is the knowledge communicated through language.

 

William Morris, the godfather of design, arts and crafts, spoke of traditional skills in crafts as the art of unconscious intelligence.[1] It is a kind of knowledge inherently tied to action and – as opposed to explicit knowledge – very difficult to grasp. The often-quoted statement by philosopher and scientist Michael Polanyi:

 

“We can know more than we can tell.“

 

is, simply put, a reference to skill that is hard to verbalize.[2] How difficult it is to grasp knowledge embedded in a person or action was already known in ancient times. In an ancient Greek text on cooking, an author notes that written records were useless for cooking.[3] Viennese filmmaker and artist Peter Kubelka – who held his lecture “Der handgemachte Mensch“ (The Handmade Human) at Werkraum – is also sceptical of the written word.

 

„Ihr, der Sprache, werden Dinge zugetraut, die sie gar nicht leisten kann.“ [4]

(We trust language to do things that it is simply not capable of.)

 

Kubelka suggests introducing a new component to the verbal, the word, the world of words we live in, and that is becoming aware of the importance of the NONVERBAL, the UNSPOKEN, such as procedural memory. This means the fact that some things cannot be described with words but can indeed be done. Doing and speaking are two very different things. Speaking is also an action, but not everything said is also done. Kubelka develops his own approach to the world through making music, filming and cooking and observing processes in nature. Just like craftspeople do. It is indeed possible to know how to do something without knowing how to describe this knowledge. Precise observation and perception with all senses holds as much insight as thought.

 

How can we create awareness for this form of knowledge that is so much less recognized than theoretical or academic knowledge? Kubelka pleads for a simple language, as the Pre-Socratics are said to have spoken. Polanyi suggests placing expanded perception alongside human knowledge. Knowledge in craft is primarily tied to individuals and actions, he explains. In the process of learning certain actions, it makes intelligent use of the body and its tools. These include sensory perception, limbs and gestures. Knowledge embedded and embodied this way reacts to regulating principles without questioning them, Polanyi elaborates. This form of intelligence was just as important in science, for example when following or solving scientific challenges on the path to new discoveries. As a chemist, Polanyi was speaking from personal experience.

 

Workshops and construction sites are places of learning and knowledge

 

Like scientists in laboratories, craftspeople experiment, observe, react immediately to unforeseen circumstances or surprises and make space for chance in their workshops. Particularly when it comes to renovation work, there is a notable increase in knowledge, for example in how to have a positive ecological impact by using resources sustainably.

Leaning into new challenges in dialogue with others creates values and qualities that manifest in the product and its use. “Vom Schaufenster zum Wissensfenster” presents a total of 15 realized projects. Each one was designed and implemented by teams of two to four project partners from the fields of crafts, design or science. Teaming up partners who have not collaborated before produced a range of knowledge practices, from cultivating knowledge to knowledge documentation. Five different messages categorize these knowledge practices inherent to each project, while project texts present the hard facts that come alive in the actual exhibits.

[1] cf. Morris quoted by Almevik, Gunnar (2016): From Archive to Living Heritage, p. 82

[2] cf. Polanyi quoted ibid. p. 82

[3] cf. Breuß, Renate (2019): Das Maß im Kochen, p. 14

[4] Kubelka, Peter (2013): Der handgemachte Mensch (The Handmade Human), unpublished transcript