Women in Sustainability portrait of Rina Bernabei

Rina Bernabei on craft, feminism and sustainability

  •   18 September 2020

Rina Bernabei is an industrial designer and partner in the design practice bernabeifreeman, an academic at UNSW and a craftsperson. Her work and research have been pushing the boundaries of craft and manufacturing for almost two decades. What we found most interesting about Rina’s work is its connection to the feminine crafts and how this may be influencing a sustainable relationship to the way she designs. So we asked her what she felt about this.

“My approach to design has always stemmed from traditional crafts, particularly feminine crafts, knitting, sewing, and needlework. I love seeing how I can make a connection between craft and the machine. The Lace Light looked at the intersection between traditional crocheted lace-work and machine pressed metal, Stitch Light took this a step further with the user also being involved in the final product and at the moment I’ve turned my interest to ceramics and 3D printing.”

“Women’s crafts have always existed on the sidelines and even though I have spent my career challenging this and their relationship to what is considered ‘serious’ design and manufacturing, it seems that stigma still exists. In my most recent work in ceramics I have been fortunate enough to work with Kyushu University in Japan and their ceramics department with the 3D ceramic printing processes. Interestingly this stigma of the crafts doesn’t exist here, it seems to be a western phenomenon. In Japan small scale production relates to a highly considered approach to design and craft embodying pride and respect for the process and the material, resulting in no waste and beautiful objects.”

“The ‘machine’ and mass production in western culture is seen to be dominant, strong and powerful the ‘hand’ and small-scale production, fragile, passive, even ineffectual to the machine. However traditional crafts also have strong emotional ties that are not often apparent or as long-lasting for mass manufactured counterparts. We associate many crafts with the home, they have strong connections for us and we value these objects often higher than others. A patched jumper handknitted by your grandmother, a pin cushion made by your five-year-old daughter, a wobbly side-table built by your father… Have stories to tell beyond the object itself and so we value these objects more highly.”

“This is where I feel my work and the work of others working in craft related design, many of them women, is resonating more and more strongly with concepts of sustainability and to consumers. I think the role of designers is to reveal the hidden values of products, to form strong connections between the consumer and the product, so they are looked after, repaired, passed on and continued to be loved, reducing mass consumption and waste. I feel this can be achieved through the life experiences of crafting, pulling together the ‘machine’ with the ‘hand’, not only legitimising these predominantly feminine skills, but most importantly, adding an emotional value beyond the economic importance of growth and mass production.”

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