Thursday, 27 September 2012

Of buried textiles and boardrooms

I’ve never seen archaeology presenter Neil Oliver look so fascinated. He was presented, in episode 3 of the BBC’s ‘Vikings’ the other night, with a Viking woollen mitten around 1,000 years old: his eyes lit up with appreciation. Viking women were highly proficient in textile production of all kinds, but only recently have the heights of their achievements come to light. After reading Judith Jesch’s fascinating article about Viking women’s lives, I went surfing to find out more about the Oseberg ship burial of a high status Viking woman.

They say time flies when you’re enjoying yourself, and steeped in Anne Stine Ingstad’s article about the incredible preservation of the Oseberg ship textiles, its 30 pages slipped by before I knew it! It’s clear that Viking women were not only able to marry beauty with utility in their textile crafts but were also held in high regard for their skills, wherever they were based. Anne Stine Ingstad’s article reminds us of the precision, the organisation (of what today we’d the ‘supply chain’) and the decisiveness needed to create such high quality woven articles.

Precision, organisation, decisiveness are not new terms in the female lexicon. Yet at the moment there seems to be a plethora of women’s networking organisations and conferences emerging - and gaining members and delegates – as if these words were new to our realm of experience. I have to admit that I find programmes like Hilary Devey’s ‘Women at the top’ just a tiny bit embarrassing. The notion that women are ‘being held back’ just doesn’t seem to fit with the business women I know today, whatever their line of country.

It’s well accepted that gender diversity in the workplace makes for better business. I can therefore understand the ethos behind campaigns like Women 1st, which is aiming to increase the ratio of women board members in the hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism sector (from roughly 6% today), thus ensuring better representation for the 60% female workforce. I also totally agree there are still bastions where greater female representation would create a genuinely better working environment and future.

The new UK organisation of Women on Boards, launched in London earlier this week, is seeking greater female representation on company boards, aiming to achieve a mix that includes at least 40% women. There’s also the slightly lower targeting 30% Club, supported by some pretty major companies. The number of women on boards does need to be improved though in my view by merit rather than by quota.

I’m certainly not ‘anti-men’ either. It’s just that women bring a different perspective to business management that can beneficially run alongside the male mindset. Women are mental ‘weavers’, capable of bringing together many threads and make them work as a whole. At the same time we’re able to look ahead at the bigger picture, tracking down the resources needed to achieve continuing good results. We simply want to be recognised, as were Viking women a thousand years ago, for the different but equally valuable contribution we offer. Here’s wishing you a week of opportunities to weave your own positive future.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Old soundscapes and new business landscapes

I was away with the day job last week but was interested to hear on the radio the ‘sonic tribute’ to the closing of Bush House in central London, the home of the BBC World Service for so long. It was eerily fascinating – almost like being inside the mind of the composer – or perhaps I should say compiler.  With soundscapes now featuring regularly in art galleries it set me thinking about the interconnectedness of arts, crafts and other disciplines. 

They say as one door shuts, another one opens, and the closing of Bush House was linked to a piece of better news for all of us in the original Doctor Who generation:  the re-opening of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in response to the advance of the digital age in music and art. The Radiophonic Workshop will doubtless return to being a leader in using electronic technology to push forward innovation in music.  In the same way today saw a fascinating crossing of cultures in the Crafts Council’s Assemble 2012 event. 

Alas I wasn’t able to go, but from the resulting Tweets it seems to have opened the doors to a vibrant cross-fertilisation of ideas.  Talks ranging from ‘The Craft of Surgery’ and ‘Embroidered Engineering’ to ‘Biomaterials and Future Making’ have given participants from many disciplines an opportunity to step out together along new and innovative paths. 

At the same time, the Crafts Council is examining collaboration as a means of creating monetary value for makers, through its brief but pointed exhibition ‘Exploring Craft and Luxury’.  It’s on for the next few days at the Design Junction as part of the London Design Festival.  Monetary value is not usually the starting point for craft makers.  But would it really hamper our creativity if we took a step back and thought first about markets and creating a viable promotional niche? 

Like artists and photographers (including those capturing stunning images for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012),  we makers start with ideas, colours, inspiration and materials, and work hopefully towards selling our work.  We don’t have to cross the divide totally and look solely at the monetary aspects, but matching a little more commercial sensibility to our creativity might enable more of us to continue doing the things we love, even in a recessionary economic environment. 

The occupations of those in the FTSE’s 2012 list of ‘100 Women to Watch’ in business, compiled with Cranfield University, demonstrate women’s abilities to look ahead, foresee risks, manage complex finances, communicate views and meanings, and to extract the best from themselves and from others. Craftswoman or businesswoman, those talents are within all of us. Here’s wishing you a week in which you can use all of them to their full potential.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Horizon, Hockney and the Hippocampus

“It’s blue.”  “No it’s grey but with some blue in the grey.”  “Well to my mind it’s definitely blue.”  Re-painting the garden table last weekend highlighted just how differently my other half and I see colours.  And as if to underline the problem along came the news this week that men and women really do process colour information differently in the brain.  Women apparently see more detail in colours, whilst men are better seeing small detail in moving objects.  Interestingly, research available out there in internet land seems also to suggest that language and colour are linked in the brain.  Perhaps if you’re a linguist you get an even better view of the spectrum! 

The polymath Stephen Fry chose to launch his new series of Fry’s English Delight with a programme on the language of colour a few weeks ago.  David Hockney, being interviewed by Stephen Fry, suggested that we see colours through our memories.  I can understand what he means.  The vivid yellow and chocolate black of a seemingly giant sunflower head, seen against a South-of-France blue sky is certainly deeply embedded in my psyche from travels with my family in childhood. 

Holding these powerful yet very individual stimuli to account when trying to reach agreement over a paint colour card is thus very likely to generate differences of opinion.  No two people’s experiences in life are exactly the same.  About a year ago, the BBC Horizon series dedicated a programme to the science of colour perception, from cultural, medical and psychological perspectives.  Expressing what you see may well depend on the angle of light and its reflection where you live, and its consequent effects on the development of your local language. 

The programme-makers seemed to find it curious that a certain African tribe spoke of water as being ‘white’ as opposed to our notion of it being ‘blue’.  If you live in a parched land defined mainly by earth colours, you’re going to have a different view, not just of the palette of colours but of their significance too, compared, say to people featured in Michael Palin’s Himalaya series.  In those lands, snow melt water brings forth a mass flowering of many hues.  These colours are reflected in traditional dancing costumes, such as those in Basil Pao’s photography for the series.  In the same way Scottish fabrics often reflect the mosses and mountains, heaths and heathers in their landscape of origin.    

Neuroscience would have us all boiling our life experiences down to a chemical soup in the brain.  Yet because none of our lives are exactly the same – thank goodness – there will always be differences in perception and use of colour.  So let’s celebrate the individuality which brings us the Monets, Gaugins and Hockneys, and that brings us a world of symbolic patterns, textures and colours in our textiles.  Here’s wishing you a week coloured with interest and good fortune in your making.