AAG 2014 Tampa Conference, Day 3: Thoughts From The Bar

By Chris Gibson

A short blog post from the bar tonight, because we’re having our AUSCCER drinks – an annual tradition at the AAG conference where we put a token amount of money on the bar, and spend time as a research group with friends and collaborators from elsewhere. This post is standing between them, and me, so I’ll keep it brief.

It was my turn to present today, on a terrific panel organized by Laura Price and Harriet Hawkins (Royal Holloway) on Revisiting Production. It was a high powered lineup included Wendy Larner (Bristol), Dydia DeLyser (Louisiana State), Alistair Pinkerton (Royal Holloway) and Nicola Thomas (Exeter), tossing around ideas about the future of manufacturing, restoring and remaking ‘things’, statecraft and ‘making’, alternatives to masculine productivist imaginaries of large-scale industries and export orientation, and the performance of the neoliberal entrepreneurial subject.

I struggled with voice problems having caught a bug from my youngest daughter last week, which led to me losing my voice (and then, true to form, I prolonged the damage with too many glasses of wine and lively bar conversations this week). I had some fairly ‘big’ things to say on the panel about materials, industry, climate and human skills, and I think I managed to stitch them together coherently, albeit communicated feebly. There were nice points of connection with others’ talks: Wendy Larner on NZ women designers seeking to sustain careers outside of frames established by neoliberal policy-makers; Nicola Thomas’ fine-grained work with craft guilds seeking to re-legitimate ‘slow learning’ crafts in a policy landscape dominated by branding and creative Britain hype; Dydia DeLyser’s documentation of the vastly different geographies and socialities of restoration versus initial mass fabrication of commercially-sold ‘things’.

We discussed finding a space for emotion, passion and care amidst debates on the creative economy and the uncertain future of manufacturing, and told stories of a range of people and scenes from car restoring enthusiasts to knife makers and unemployed steel workers. Dydia’s photos of a personal project rebuilding an Art Deco Eastern European car over a period of 8 years (with help from members of an enthusiast scene of extraordinary mobility, scouring the world for rare parts and remnant materials) had everyone transfixed.

There is speculative talk of a some kind of collaborative network or even a project connecting interests on ‘making’ across Royal Holloway, Wollongong, Exeter, and elsewhere, and tomorrow a whole day of sessions on ‘geographies of making’ promises a huge swag of rich papers and discussion on the theme. But for now, with discussions around me meandering into career difficulties at prestigious vs lower tiered American universities (Christine and her fire colleague Stenton), being ‘trained’ to drink gin and tonics at the National University of Singapore in order to survive a PhD (Shaun from UOW ANCORS), and Adelaide’s fraught old family oligarchies (Chantel and Sue Luckman from UniSA), it’s time to sign off from the bar.

You can follow Professor Chris Gibson on Twitter @profcgibson.

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