Not so long ago I made a couple of objects one after another. Of the two things, one gave me more satisfaction during the making, and the other brings me more joy as a finished object. The piece of twisted metal, that I spied on the pavement and pocketed, was quickly filed and made into a wearable object. The other thing - a tool - was a serendipitous moment where I realised that a brass ‘ring’ (a strip of brass folded into a geometric shape) that I made in first year of my BA and which, every time I wore it caught on my clothes and was too sharp on my skin, would finally have a home, wedged into the crack in an old wooden handle. The handle was once part of the collection of the Museum of London, before they off-loaded a lot of old tools to the makers of Craft Central. It has its accession number in white ink on it. It has a rectangular hole for the shaft of a metal file, and it has a cracked and irregular top to it. I wasn’t really sure why I picked it up, it didn’t fit the files I also brought home that day. But, then a while later, I shook out the contents of the bag onto my desk and played around with them. I opened up my shoe box of bits, and let things happen. The brass object and the wooden handle are held together by a piece of forest green waxed linen thread, which I saved from a dress I bought to wear to a friend’s wedding. I liked the colour of the thread and the tag, so different from the usual white or grey. I like that each element has a story to it. There is something rural about the combination of the oxidised brass, the worn wood and the green thread. It looks like it could have been a real tool.
But then you hold it and you think – what on earth would this have been for? What problem was this solving? What problems does it present, is what I actually thought. I have created a tool with no purpose. It looks like a tool, and yet I’m not sure that it is. What does that mean? What happens when you make a tool with no application? If I gave the tool to someone, would they find a meaning for it? Or would it end up being something to look at, something to admire for its aesthetics, but not an implement of use? Is the intrinsic utility of tools a defining feature? I need to understand this. I feel elements of this wondering are at the heart of the Makers & Tools project. What is a tool that is created with no use in mind? Or if the original intent of the tool-maker is then subjected to the independent activity of another maker? What does the tool become then? If a tool is used for another purpose, is it still a tool? (I think I know the answer to this, it’s obvious, but it is worth asking anyway just to make sure I cover everything). A tool is something that helps somebody do something they want to do. It doesn’t matter what the ‘true’ purpose of the tool is, if someone finds a way to use it for themselves, then that’s enough.
So, I may have created a tool with no purpose, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. I could give it to someone and they would find a use for it. It would become a tool. Just sitting in my bag, that makes it useless (within the definition of a tool, not as an art object). Ok. I think I’m understanding part of this questioning, now. Tools become tools through use. If a hammer isn’t ever used it is no more a hammer than a mobile phone. It may look like a hammer, and fulfil all the aesthetic qualities of a hammer, but a hammer is by definition a tool used for hitting stuff, so if it doesn’t get used for that, it’s not really a hammer [are we straying into semantics or philosophy too much here? Is this even relevant to the project? I am not sure].
What I was starting to write about, and what I will quickly return to here, is the difference in the enjoyment I got during making and after making. I really enjoyed making the tool. I loved finding a nice way of combining the objects that felt natural, that looked right. I enjoyed the surprise of the ‘new’ tool at the end. But now that it exists, I am less happy with it. It is ok, it’s not beautiful and I’m not even sure I will use it. But the wire brooch, after a very quick play with it as a necklace on a thread, settled as a brooch and that felt right. It didn’t work as it was, it snagged on the fabric, so I filed the end. I tried it on and it impaled me, so I popped a silicon block onto the end. Job done. The object was made. The experience was absorbing but not as enjoyable as making the tool. However, the simplicity and ease of the object makes wearing it, and seeing it, very pleasurable. I love that this piece of metal I chanced upon is something I can wear now. This object has meaning for me. Would it work for someone else? What is the difference between joy in making and joy in contemplating? Does it matter?