One of the cool things that I get to do at times is speak about craftivism, and the various disciplines it intersects. Next month, I will be talking at 2 different venues in The Netherlands, both part of the CRISP Network (CReating Innovative Sustainability Pathways).
Whenever I start to think about craft’s connection to technology, I always return to Sadie Plant’s 1997 book, Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture. In this book, with solely words, Plant spins and weaves together our textile histories and the beginnings of technoculture in a most fascinating way that I haven’t come across since.
What’s most remarkable about this particular book is that it was written so early in what we consider the technological age, all the way back in 1997. Using the binary system of zeros and ones, Plant draws a likeness to the similar binaries of weaving’s warp and woof, which can then be easily turned into knitting’s knit and purl. Breaking the world down into two streams of consciousness almost as we find binaries throughout our world, despite our best intentions to convince ourselves that everything is multiplicitous and that what makes our world and its possibilities infinite, Plant argues that it’s even more stripped down that we think, that infinity can be found in the binary system itself.
Women are brought into the picture as the champions of technology through the story of Ada Lovelace and women’s experience of craft as both data sharing and data creation.
Quoting John Heathcote “who patented a lace-making machine just after Jacquard built his loom:”
It seems that “the women of prehistoric Europe gathered at one another’s houses to spin, sew, weave, and have fellowship.” Spinning yarns, fabricating fictions, fashioning fashions …: the textures of woven cloth functioned as means of communication and information storage long before anything was written down.” This is not only because, like writing and other visual arts, weaving is often “used to mark or announce information” and “a mnemonic device to record events and other data.” Textiles do communicate in terms of the images which appear on the right side of the cloth, but this is only the most superficial sense in which they process and store data. Because there is no difference between the weaving and the woven design, cloths persist as records of the processes which fed into their production: how many women worked on them, the techniques they used, the skills they employed.
I love how she makes the argument how the maker is inextricably connected to the product which which they make, how there is no separation, despite physical separation… echoing what happens in current technology as we send our crafted emails and projects and illustrations and photos out into the interwebs and they become disconnected from us, yet forever connected nonetheless.
The quote above continues:
The visible pattern is integral to the process which produced it; the program and the pattern are continuous. Information can be stored in the cloth by means of the meaningful messages and images which are later produced by the pen and the paintbrush, but data can also be woven in far more pragmatic and immediate ways. A piece of work so absorbing as a cloth is saturated with the thoughts of the people who produced it, each of whom can flash straight back to wherever they were thinking as they worked.
Effin’ blinding as well as brilliant. I wonder what Plant thinks (and Lovelace would think) of the world of craft being so shared and propagated and fomented by technology over the past decade? Because craft’s resurgence owes as much to intangible binaries (zeros, ones) as it does to physical binaries (warp, woof; knit, purl) as technology eradicated geographic distance and made it so easy for crafters to find each other instead of being relegated to obscurity? Would the craft resurgence happened were it not for the simultaneous growth of the internet? I’d like to think, as Plant writes, that the two are intwined together, both simple and impossible to separate.