Otto von Busch

Interview with Otto von Busch – On Crafting Publics

This article was originally published in the first issue of ‘counter craft’.
I recently spoke with Otto von Busch, Assistant Professor of Integrative Fashion at Parsons the New School for Design. Much of Otto’s research “explores how fashion can be used for empowerment, self-development and personal growth instead of being a phenomenon of top-down decrees and collective anxiety.” His projects, which he groups with his research under the name >self_passage< “try to bend the power of fashion to achieve a positive personal and social condition with which the Every person is free to grow to his/her full potential by means of engaged fashion practices.”

During our conversation, we explored how his research can apply specifically to the Occupy movement. What I find the most interesting about Otto’s work, is that he’s constantly trying to break down codes, the paths we inhabit and applying it directly to his practice in fashion and making. “…I think a lot about what resistance is today. If we are not going to the streets to demonstrate, convince other people or the media that our cause is right, how do we build other strategies,other points of departure for work? Occupy Wall Street tries to address banking, democracy – how can we as crafters address that? How can we as crafters make a discussion culture where we discuss as we work?”

Craft has a long history of resistance, the best example of this resistance came out of the Industrial Revolution with William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement. Industrialization and consumerism have had such a huge impact on our society and part of craft’s role today has become a resistance to a culture that constantly sells itself to us. As Otto puts it,“perhaps our only meaningful activity today is somehow related to consumption – if that’s watching TV and therefore commercials or buying a ticket to the cinema, everything is somehow funneled through the narrow field of consumerism. I think craft tries to find other ways of discussing what is meaningful time.”

Occupy has received a lot of criticism from those who feel that the occupiers have had their chance to have their say – they can vote with their money or with their elective vote. To that, Otto responds, “…that is such a limited view of what democracy is because democracy is freedom of speech, freedom of assembly all these sort of things that creates the public discussion. I think that there is something really corrupt when we all start to think that it is only the act of voting that is the democracy. So an activist becomes one who has a social agenda that acts outside the narrowly legitimized scope of what democracy is.”

Otto then talked more in depth about the importance of crafting in a public space. It’s “powerful to see how your act actually connects to form publics. You know John Dewey and his discussion about publics – that there is this general public – but of course every issue creates a small public. Activism address THE public. How do we create small publics around every issue, around ourselves that then generates new influences? And that’s where I really think craft is a connective tool. How does your craft connect to other people to form a little public? And how does that act initiate discourse and disseminate, cultivate skills among your immediate environment?”

I think these are all important questions that we need to explore for ourselves if we are interested in craftivism. I found this discussion to be quite inspiring and I hope you do too. To explore more of Otto’s work visit: http://www.selfpassage.org