Artist Maria Pask responds to a unique aspect of Loughborough University’s history
Elementary Activities is a project in which Maria Pask responded to academic research around value and labour. She discovered that in the 1930s the University, or Loughborough College as it then was, involved students in workshops, led by leading Arts and Crafts practitioners, that contributed to the physical development of the campus. They learnt a range of practical skills allowing them to produce items to a high standard and become part of the fabric of the university. Today, stained glass and furniture produced during this period is still much in evidence within the campus buildings.
Maria not only compiled images and texts from the university archive but also became interested in the relationship of this activity to the theory of educational ‘sloyd’ as articulated by Otto Aron Salomon, a Swedish educator and writer in which craft-based activity was taught as part of a holistic education in the same way that we teach physical education, not as if they are going to be great athletes but because it benefits the whole person to take some exercise.
The value attached to the process of making was further explored through a series of practical workshops in which current students were, over a number of weekends, invited to learn new skills. Experts in outdoor kiln making, wood fired ceramics, woodworking and furniture making were brought in to deliver workshops to students who then produced items to go back into the fabric of the university. These workshops celebrated the university’s history of self-sufficiency and also engendered some of the secondary benefits outlined within ‘educational sloyd’.
The theoretical framework for this activity was set by an earlier symposium which addressed how recent artistic practices interrogate the nature of labour whereby craft-based activities, such as printmaking and ceramics are placed in proximity to those Marx would have spoken of as ‘reproductive labour’ and also to what has more recently been defined as ‘affective’ labour. Print and pottery have been engaged with in recent times by artists interested in critiquing value production within the art system or involved in participatory, or community-based, work whereby they raise questions about the status or value of the objects produced through this work. The symposium included presentations by leading artists such as Ciara Phillips and Andrea Buettner whose practices explore the role of craft-based activities alongside key academics, Jenny Richards, Marina Vismidt, and Jess Baines.
Documentation of both the recent workshops, the archival material that Pask collected and an index of links around craft, value and educational ‘sloyd’ can be viewed at the website that brought the different elements of the project together elementaryactivities.org
Nick Slater is Director of Arts, Loughborough University Arts