Where is the Craftsmanship? Wait, I Found it!

At a first glance, an object may appear to be unpretentious. However, when we focus and pay attention hidden details, we realise these so called ‘details’ weren’t hidden. Do we pay enough attention to everyday objects and their meanings?

Like any other young, fashion conscious woman, going on shopping trips with me can be quite vicious. Take last week for instance; I went to my local Westfield with my Mother to find the perfect winter coat. I had tried on at least fourteen coats before I narrowed my search to two. At this stage, my mother was about to cry from frustration because in her words I could not choose between “two very similar coats”.

To me, the coats were distinctively different. Why? Because they both had different aesthetical details that impacted the way I responded to them. One coat was casual, lightweight, unstructured, long and minimal. The other was bold, tailored, formal and elegant. In the end, I chose the second coat because to me it was a piece of art that explored bespoke tailoring and craftsmanship. My mother could not find these hidden details, to her the difference between them was that the coat I chose had another pocket until I pointed the difference. But to me it wasn’t an ‘everyday coat’, I found meaning behind it and I knew that when I put it on I attained the identity of a strong, youthful and confident young woman. Don’t fret everyone, I am still teaching my mother the meaning of poetic design.

What I learnt from that day was that just because an object is associated with a well-known brand or design company, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the object has a greater value or sense of craftsmanship. Craftsmanship involves labour and with labour there are skills. Objects can acquire a character and develop a history through the smallest of details. The slightest of changes, from a single silhouette of a sleeve, to a rigid edge of a coffee table, to the shape of a ballpoint pen can impact the characteristic, appeal and value to the viewer.

Susan Collis is a British artist/designer who questions our attention to detail. She studied at the College of Fine Arts in London, specialising in sculptural pieces and installations where her art focuses on labour, craftsmanship, quality and value. In her work, she has a way of exploring the finer arts through exquisite detail and a sense of fragility.

Collis is an artist who incorporates both industrial and handmade construction techniques into her process. Before commencing the production of her work, she develops a concrete conceptual framework. This enables the object to develop a personality whereby the viewer can find the meaning behind the construction. Collis’ forms a conceptual play on play, which hints the viewer to create an inquiry into her conceptual mind and question why we use and appreciate individual ordinary objects opposed to others.

In her exhibition ‘100% Cotton’, showcased at the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London, she explores the notion that labour is often overlooked when looking at designed everyday objects. When one looks at the details of her work, they find an appreciation for the craftsmanship, time and labour that goes into creating a ‘poetic object’ that was once previously classified as ordinary.

Susan Collis '100% Cotton' Pair of overalls featuring the trompe l'oeil' embroidery technique. (Collis, 2004)
Susan Collis ‘100% Cotton’
Pair of overalls featuring the trompe l’oeil’ embroidery technique.
(Collis, 2004)
Susan Collis Close up view of the embroidery techniques and subtitles. (Collis, 2004)
Susan Collis
Close up view of the embroidery techniques and subtitles.
(Collis, 2004)

In ‘100% cotton’, the typical painter’s uniform of overalls has been splattered with paint. But only through a second glance do you realise that these paint marks are traditional French embroidery techniques of trompe l’oeil. Not only is this embroidery technique a time-consuming and skilled craft, but it also has a strong connection to the historic Baroque period of artisanal craftsmanship. Through this tiny accent of detail, these overalls have attained a sense of opulence whereby they have been adorned. Susan further highlights how an object so ugly and messy can receive a beautiful aesthetical quality emphasised through the marks on the overalls being seen as accidental. These paint marks on the overalls are said to be accidentally positioned due to the environment in which the object would be placed. By leaving these marks in this place, the garment attains much more value and meaning rather than it being strategically being positioned. It allows the garment to develop a history, setting, character and personality, enhancing its poetic qualities.

Susan Collis’ work always features large amounts of often time-consuming and traditional labour intensive techniques to create entire objects or features. Her re-designed everyday objects are either etched, splattered and stained which have become her signature trademark for her installations. She tends to use materials that are associated with trade or valued for their decorative nature.

Collis’ is a designer who challenges and explores how craftsmanship and its processes can be transform ordinary objects into valued poetic bodies of work. This is only achieved through experimentation and examination of these objects. Each aspect of a single design impacts an objects personality affecting its new identity and meaning. As a young designer in my field, it is important to learn how details can change the finished object and if it has no meaning to you or someone else what is the point in designing?