Why Making Matters: Curating in the Digital Space
Designers Morven Mulgrew and Stefanie Ying Lin Cheong discuss making and curating in the digital space with Instagram shopping channel Quality Craft Vision
Quality Craft Vision is an Instagram TV shopping channel that sits somewhere between stand-up comedy and a high-speed craft fair where audiences watch live and text in to purchase products ranging from jewellery by Freya I.M to limited edition clay buttons by artist Laura Aldridge. Developed by designers Morven Mulgrew and Stefanie Ying Lin Cheong, this funny, irreverent and inclusive marketplace pokes fun at capitalist memes while simultaneously acknowledging the economic realities of e-commerce and craft.
It feels fresh and fun as well as nostalgic for the energy of programmes like The Adam & Joe Show and Shooting Stars. Quality Craft Vision captured the attention of locked-down audiences in November and December and was even featured by the BBC. We meet the duo behind the concept to ask them about their craft television debut and the importance of making. Meet Stefanie Ying Lin Cheong – a jewellery designer and maker, and Morven Mulgrew – a ceramicist.
Local Heroes: I really empathise with the curatorial urge to create an event physically, even if the audience is viewing online. How did you come together to create QCV?
Mulgrew: Stef and I met last year at a craft fair. I love meeting people and I used to run a street food wagon which was an absolute disaster financially, but I loved the patter with passers-by and I always did Christmas craft markets; first with leather things and then later on with ceramic type stuff. Stef suggested a shopping channel and I have ALWAYS wanted to do that. I actually love this format, especially how they have to go on and on about something. I find it relaxing to watch and I really rate the presenters, it’s total graft. So anyway it kind of started as a joke on WhatsApp! And then we just thought, let’s actually give it a bash.
Cheong: It came from a place of missing the interaction you get at a market. I love chatting and meeting new faces as well as other makers – that’s what I have really missed since the cancellation of in-person events. As a maker you often work on your own, so markets are a good space to surround yourself with others. I see them almost as an extension of my practice; perhaps even treating them like an exhibition. In the craft sector there aren't many opportunities to exhibit your work in a gallery setting so in a way a market can be like a mini-exhibition as well as an opportunity to sell. It’s also a deadline to work towards, a chance to stop and look at what I’ve made and a place to get some response to it. So QCV was born out of a playful response to missing out on all those things in 2020.
View this post on Instagram
You work really well as a duo which is entertaining but how did you tackle the practical side of actually selling products too?
Mulgrew: Yes, well we are selling our own stuff too, and the format makes it really interactive and fun; the commenting and texting element means that it has a similar flow between the customer and seller as a real market. We were really keen to not have an online shop but have it live and keep the texting element to maintain the shopping channel feel!
Cheong: Because it is actually live, it adds to the excitement – things are selling out whereas at a market people tend to ponder a little more. I knew Morven would be ace at taking on the presenter role. I’m definitely a ‘let’s give it a go and just work out how to get it done’ type of person and Morven has the same drive so that's why we work so well together. I don’t know many people who could do that performative activity – she is so good at being positive about the works and really funny at the same time, it’s mostly off the cuff and unrehearsed. I’m happy to be in the background keeping it going in other ways.
What’s been the most enjoyable and surprising part of organising and 'performing' QCV?
Mulgrew: It was obviously really important to have the presenter and also the ‘live phone bank’ as part of the performance so there was a circular communication between the Instagram audience who were texting in and feeding that back to me so that I could tell our customers if things were selling out. This really supported the idea that it was a live event and I think added to the fun of it all. What I loved about it was that we had to throw it together, we didn't charge people to do it and we took quite a small commission, and so it was fun and relatively low pressure. Also, we both brought different artists and designers into the mix and liked the element of surprise and spontaneity that came into the curation of it.
Cheong: People actually tuning in, texting us and buying! It’s been great to have those interactions. It ran really smoothly and the things that didn’t work so well just added to the charm. We did discuss some of the skits and planned some of the fun in advance, and again, all done via impromptu conversation via texts – that way when an idea came to mind we could share it in the moment. It's actually been really good for my mental health! I love the energy the whole thing has brought me.
I particularly liked that it took place physically at the Barras Art and Design (BAaD). What was it like producing your own set and taking your Insta skills to the next level?
Cheong: The set was all brought together the morning of the event at BAaD with things found around the space and Morven's studio. Making do with no budget – I love that type of challenge – being resourceful and with minimal waste. I have a love-hate relationship with social media – probably like most. I have learned not to be precious about what to put out as there was very little time. I had never done any Insta lives before this but I loved the energy and instant response and engagement.
Mulgrew: Personally, I loved it. I LOVE performing and I rehearsed various silly wee skits to do on camera. I felt really in control of the chaos and I enjoyed the live nature of it. I felt comfortable in that environment. And also I was SO pleased the internet connection held up! My husband Joe did the filming and reading of the comments so actually in the live show he was probably the most director-y person on set as he was choosing what to show on camera and feeding back to me.
Is there something about the act of making and experimentation that is fulfilling or restorative?
Mulgrew: After my mum died my pottery was a very pivotal part of my grieving and healing and still is very precious to me. So I understand a kind of therapeutic response to making work. I try to always embrace failure in my work itself but sometimes that's hard to do. With pottery, I think the kiln is a partner in the work so you kind of have to let go of control. I’m super controlling and I can box myself into corners sometimes so I like that the kiln takes some of that controlling nature away from me.
Cheong: It’s all part of the experience. You learn loads from each piece that didn’t work, things can always be improved. Although sometimes mistakes become better than the actual piece of work. Trial and error and design by accident. It’s all a part of the creative process. I think it’s just about testing and trying things out to get that idea made!
Why does making matter to you?
Cheong: During the first lockdown I didn’t make anything for three months; I felt like a piece of me was missing. I think before that I just took it for granted. It’s a place for play and experimentation. Being dyslexic I often can’t easily express what I want through words. Being a maker you have the ability to just make what you want and use those things to communicate in other ways that often are easier for me to share.
Mulgrew: I find it almost impossible to explain why I like making. I just do, I love working with materials and I have a problem-solving approach to lots of material and building questions. With my ceramics work, I find it both energising and soothing and ultimately good for my brain to make work. I trained in sculpture but I like making a wee soapdish that someone can buy and keep in their house; the more democratic nature of making stuff to sell.
I trained as a shoemaker but they were so expensive to make; only rich people could afford them, so I try to make things with a price which reflects the labour that’s gone into them but also can be sold for not too much. I get a kick out of using my brain to work out ways to do that. I consider my work to be interdisciplinary, performance or design or art, it's all just creating something that wasn't there before.