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We want to know that the human being was

there - FOKUS No.2, 2005

Murray Moss, owner of moss, one of New Yorks most Influential


design stores explains why we experience a revival, redefinition and
reinvention of craft.

By Kristian Kastoft

Murray Moss, former fashion entrepeneur opened moss in a small former


gallery space in Soho in 1994 with a determination to transform the public
perception of industrial product design. Today, moss offers one of the
world's most sophisticated selections of porcelain tableware, crystal and
cutlery, contextualized in presentation by association with furniture and
lighting from some of the greatest designers of the 20th century. The
furniture and objects offered at the 7000 square feet shop deliberately blur
the distinctions between production and craft, between industry and art,
and more recently, between industrial and decorative arts.

A strong compassion for objects, their context and how they are perceived is
immediately sensed when Danish Crafts meets the man behind the store for
a talk about craft and identity in a quiet place at the usually very noisy and
hectic fairground at AMBIENTE in Frankfurt. And to Murray Moss there is no
doubt that objects and designs are part of what we chose to communicate
about Our identity.

"Design trigger ideas in us, perceptions. And when we associate ourselves


with these new objects - or old objects - we're associating ourselves with
ideas. We're saying, this is what we believe - this is what we think of. I'm a
person. It's best to represent who I am by showing you what I'm wearing
and the chair I'm sitting on, because it speaks quicker and fuller than any
words I could give to you. That's how we define ourselves."

In New York the moss shop intentionally looks like a museum, with
everything locked behind glass or raised onto platforms. When the talk Is
about his store and the concept Murray Moss elegantly and in a modest way
tums the subject into a more philosoflcal discussion.

"I like to think of myself as more of a book-keeper than as of a design shop


purveyor, because we carry books, we keep them on our shelves, they are
objects even of themselves. But we value them not because of their form
and their colour and the materials they are made out of and the
craftsmanship of the bookbinding, but mostly we cherish them because they
are souvenirs of ideas, living ideas, that are valuable to us, and those ideas
are embodied In an object. And so we cherish the object, because it's a way
of holding on to those ideas, physically holding on to them. That's why I
think we love the Royal Copenhagen cup and saucer, and that's why I think
these objects are SO important and valuable to us. And In the same way on a
given day you will pick a certain book from the shelf. You made me pick a
certain cup and saucer. Why do we keep all these books, once we finish
reading them? They have no function again. We are done, we've read them.
We keep them, because they remind us, at a glance they stand in for all
that experience. A cup and saucer is a cheap way to have a recollection, a
human connection to all that that represents."

At a personal level Mr. Moss himself is attached to a variety of design and


craft, industrial and decorative arts. "The interesting part is to see it as a
whole. If you make a selection of certain objects and you put them together,
the whole is much greater than the part of it", he says.

At the moment, Halla Jongerius's wor1< is very important to him. Somehow it


speaks of things that are on his mind right now. But he also enjoys fragile
expensive breakable things.

And when speaking of the fragility of objects Mr. Moss touches the very core
of the importance of craft today. That objects can be a relief and a comfort
to us in our hectic and somewhat brutal every day life. And that objects are
not only carriers of identity but may be a catalyst for educating and
civilizing our behaviour even.
"It's because I feel the wond is so brutish and my life in the wond being a
modem, contemporary person, I am in a brutal world, and my behaviour is
modified. I become less brutish when I drink from a fragile glass, because
for one minute my behaviour has to be modified, so that I don't break this
fragile object. And I think this was always the reason behind these fragile
objects. It was to civilise us, to make us more elegant. To make us more
graceful.
And so I can come down from my brutal day by engaging myself physically
with a small object of great fragility. And the exercise I have to go through
in order to engage with that object, drink something from it or eat
something from it, that intimate action. I have to become a different person.
And it's cheap with that ability to do it. And a good thing. And that's why I
think there's a fashion again for those objects, because we need to come
down."

When speaking about craft Murray MosS has very strong ideas. According to
him the word craft is becoming much more Inclusive and the definition, the
connotation and the meaning of craft is changing.

"1 would imagine, most people think of craft as something made by hand...
almost like a folk art. But is craft also something made by a machine? Few
people would probably consider, for example a paperclip as a piece of craft,
but it is crafted. That is maybe why the so-called American Craft Museum
changed its name, because the old definition of it was too narrow. For what,
in fact, it has evolved to. I think craft is no longer seen as the opposite of
industry. That industry and craft have somehow had a truce, and that we
now have a new understanding, which is industrial craft."

Murray Moss continues:

"Maybe what Is happening Is that the word craft is being appropriated by a


lot more different people than it used to. Because it's now having a very
positive connotation. Because I think we want to associate ourselves with
making something. With a human being making something. If these objects
are tangible evidence of an Idea, a proposal from someone for a more
perfect moment, then that's coming from a human being. It's not a
formalistic proposal, it's not about a beautiful shape or a perfect ideal. It's
about an Idea of how to live, that comes from a human being as a result of
their personal experience. I think the empathy with an object comes from,
not the empathy with the object but empathy with who you perceive to have
been the maker of that objel;t, or who !;an have thought of that object. And
craft has been associated in my mind primarily with people who made the
actual object. I'm beginning to think of craft now as inclusive of those
people that thought of the idea of that object, that crafted that object."

Murray Moss believes that we are now living In a new peliod where the
previous predominant focus on technology has shifted into a focus where
craft has large potential. And that this development has been a rather
drastic and extreme development taking place only Within the past decade.

"There was a sort of love affair between a new generation of designers and
technology, capabilities and possibilitIes in material. So for example less in
wood, more In plastics, more in carbon fibres, more in resin. And factories
were following the interest of the designers and began to produce, as we all
know, much more plastic, much more new material. The technology and the
material was being embraced by the designers and that was leading uS into
these creative products. Things that were man made and almost nostalgic,
things that were materials that were historic, like wood, like glass, became
sort of less important in the market place. Because there was an excitement
about this new kid on the block, which was the commercial use of what had
been prior to that almost exclusively military use of materials like carbon
fibre. What has evolved since then is a kind of rediscovery, be!;ause now the
technology is accepted. And so, there is no longer the need to sort of
celebrate it, because it is just understood to be there. And so now it is
almost like the next generation of designers ten years later is so comfortable
with the technology that it Is no big deal. What is lacking, what is missing in
the diet, has been eVidence of the human hand, which has always been in
products since forever. But we went away from It for a little bit, and people
are feeling hungry again for some eVidence of the human being."

And the Industry is now embracing the Idea that an otlject would have
evidence of human hands. That it is no longer an ideal to have something be
considered beautiful because it Is beyond the capability of a human being.

"There Is a reversal from the Idea that something is beautiful because it's
made by a machine and could not possibly be made by a human. That was
Our machine-age ideal, which began in 1930s. We began to celebrate what
was objects that could not possibly have been made by a human and
therefore were somehow super products or more beautiful. Beyond our
capabilities. Bigger than us. And there's a tremendous reversal of that now.
Objects which in fact are not only of materials beyond us and of the new
,-- technologies, but also still come from a human being. Whether the human
being made the object or made the machine that makes the object, we want
to know that the human being was there."

As an example Murray Moss mentions Makkum - probably the oldest


porcelain company in the Netherlands - from the 16th century. At Makkum
they do hand painting, which would be craft. A designer proposed not to
abandon the handcraft, which they were thinking to do, because it was so
expensive, but simply to offer less!

" ... so you purchase'the product by the number of minutes of handwork.


They offer, for example, a coffee mug with 30 minutes of handwork! It is
true collaboration between a sort of industry and what had been a more
invisible craft, because it was unavailable. Those solutions or proposals are
being made by more and more people today. You have extreme examples
like Hella Jongerius working also with Makkum to cast a porcelain vase, but
then back to her studio to be hand embroidered."

There is a tendency of revival of craft, according to Murray Moss. Among


consumers in the industry and coming from the makers. But we are not
seeing a return to the traditional meaning of craft, Murray Moss emphazises.
It is a redefinition of the meaning where another generation of designers are
not satisfied with being either a crafts person or an Industrial designer.

"They are both. They are much more. And so they are insisting that we, the
industry that they work with and the consumer, change our ideas about
what craft and design is, because they are not interested in being one thing
or the other. They want all of it!"

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