All Hands On: Basketry
Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Berlin, DE
24.05.2022 - 26.05.2024

All Hands On: Basketry Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Berlin, DE 24.05.2022 - 26.05.2024

Hands-On-Station "Nachrichten verflechten" © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum Europäischer Kulturen / David von Becker

Basketry is one of mankind’s basic cultural techniques. Basketry and weaving have been practiced on every continent for thousands of years. In Europe, the craft of basketry boomed as a result of industrialization in the 19th century. In basketry, flexible materials are woven to produce a stable object, and contacts and connections are generated. The vertical stakes are interwoven using horizontal weavers. In the case of people, too, stories are interwoven. That is why we use expressions from basketry such as “s/he is a basket case” or “putting all your eggs in one basket” to describe people and their relationships. Today the internet, as a network of data, connects people from all over the world. As a handicraft and an embodied skill, basketry calls for great deftness and concentration, as well as a lot of practice. The hands feel, the eyes watch, and the brain is planning the next stage of work. This means that the activity can have a calming effect on people. That is why basketry is also used in ergotherapy.

When flexible and light materials are woven together, an astonishingly stable structure can be created. At the same time, the weave will also give a little. The perfect basket is just that: light, stable and yet flexible. It is ideal for transporting things while also protecting them. Woven objects also protect people. To this day, balloon baskets are always woven. The flexible weave allows the basket to gently cushion on landing. Hats, shoes and clothes are also woven all over the world. They protect the body from sun and rain, from heat and cold. Today, their utility is fading into the background. But they are appreciated all the more as design objects.

Basket weavers have considerable knowledge about the cultivation, harvesting and processing of the materials that they use to weave. They choose their materials according to their weaving technique and the final function of the woven object. The material often comes from their immediate environment. However, natural material does have its limits. New artificial materials are developed, therefore, to simplify the weaving and speed up production. Artificial materials such as loom, a wire wrapped in paper as a continuous thread, were created as early as 1900. This also meant that machines could produce simple braids. In the same period, colonial raw material such as rattan or sisal grew in importance. The exploitative conditions under which they were cultivated by the European colonial powers in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia or Tanzania are still not adequately addressed. They continue to be used today to make ropes, carpets and furniture.

When the craft of weaving is more specialized in a society, its basketry techniques will be more complex: Beaten or drawn work, fine braiding, coiling... The individual methods are reproducible. This means that people no longer weave intuitively, but purposefully. The chosen technique determines the shape and pattern of a basket: The coiling technique results in a round basket with a spiral pattern, chip work produces an angular basket with a chessboard pattern. You cannot switch between techniques halfway through a basket. The basic principles are always the same: Weaving techniques have a predetermined order and regularity. The individual steps are predictable and only limited by the length of the material. A distinction is made between active strands and passive stakes. The interplay of stakes and strands results in a variety of patterns, which make the different weaving techniques visible to everyone.

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Der geflochtene Garten, Olaf Holzapfel, 2022 © Jens Ziehe

Ansicht der Ausstellung „ALL HANDS ON: Flechten“ © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / David von Becker

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