Robyn Daw's contribution to the debate

Our experience of craft has already been revolutionised by the net. Access to information about crafts has improved, and will continue to do so. More information is available about particular works, and about the artists who make them, links can be made to other artists, and sites can connect you with like minded people; the possibilities are seemingly endless to find out more about a particular topic. As technology improves, so does our ability to find, decipher, read, and ingest this information. It cannot help but have an impact on what we make and how we make it.

Already many artists, knowing that exhibitions of their work will travel to only a few venues around the country, pay particular attention to the photography of their work in order for the catalogue to convey its image. After all, it will be the catalogue that remains in circulation long after the exhibition has ceased. The experience of the work, on view in a gallery, often becomes less important than the image in the catalogue. Our experience, when we look at the catalogue, is virtual: the object that we hold in our hand is the book, not the craftwork. Our experience, when we look at virtual craft on the net, is similar, but the image has more flexibility: it can be dynamic, not static. It can show more of your work than a single photo, it can contain images, cv, an artist's statement, video; it can be promotional, an order form and a gallery all in one web page, designed to your specifications.

So what is the fuss about virtual media? Is it a fear that a virtual craft object will replace craft? Or replace the nostalgic crafts? And I presume by this the author of the debate title meant those crafts that are embedded in the romantic notion of the intrepid artist alone in their garret, out of communication with the world at large (certainly with technology) still making hand made objects in spite of the miserable conditions and lack of heat. No thanks, bring on virtual craft, at least you can share the air conditioning that keeps the mainframes cool while designing or making your next exhibition!

There will always be a place for craft in the world—and craftspeople are generally in touch, not out of touch, with the use of any new medium that can assist in making work. Where the use of virtual media will impact however, is the way crafts are experienced, but again, I don't think it is a quantum leap from they way they are experienced in the main right now—the only difference being a computer screen with more capability that a static image on a page...but this perhaps touches on the other nostalgia: the romance of the artist's monograph that accompanies and qualifies the artist's output.

I'll just ask you to cast your minds back to the fifteenth century. Hand written texts and illuminated manuscripts were the sole purveyors of the written word. Along came Gutenberg, with his printing press, and bingo, increased access for all. Sure, the look was different, it was black and white on paper, not colour on parchment, produced by reformers and not clergy, but revolutionise the world, it did. Access was increased, more people found out about more information, and the power of the elite was diminished. The church no longer held the revered place as sole possessors of knowledge, and, with pamphlet in hand, the reformation took place with the will of the people.

Okay, so the crafts are not writing, and there are probably more similarities between written and printed text. But, to paraphrase William Gibson (who coined the name cyberspace back in the 80s), the street will find its own level. One can suggest something profound, as the US military achieved through Virtual Reality, but the street will remake it into Virtual workplaces, or home entertainment, or virtual craft in virtual galleries, or the Ngapartji centre for Multimedia.

I'll give you another example, plays, cinema and video: cinema superseded the live play (which runs the risk of appearing now, as David Hare said in the Weekend Australian 'as some folk craft that is now only of interest to a very small group of people'), and video would appear to have superseded the cinema. Judging by the queues at Video World on any night, more people would view videos than go to films, and I would suggest that more people would go to films that live plays. Convenience, expense and relevance to one's own experience make this inevitable, coupled with the ability to rewind, eat chips, stop the film and make coffee all have their advantages.

What I am talking about is not that the virtual 'object' will replace the craft object, any more than film will replace plays, but that a virtual medium has already superseded the nostalgic crafts we practise today, in terms of elite art practice (artist in a garret), through to the predominant way that we disseminate information about the work we do. Video and tv are much more popular, and reach a wider audience; the Internet is much easier to access (no publishers, no huge outlay, many people have access to computers-the way cafes, schools and libraries are going, to avoid them may soon be harder than you think). But popularity and ease of access might not be the aim of nostalgic craft practice, where a small elite audience may actually be preferred.

The possibility of using virtual media to produce craftwork is tantalising: you're in front of your computer, an image bank appears, click, select, download. Print onto paper, weave as cloth, etch onto glass, or re-create the three-dimensional form that you have just virtually handled in clay, acrylic or whatever you want. Feeling nostalgic? Or are the possibilities of production suddenly open: your design can be produced anywhere, anytime, and not just in your garret. Just as printing superseded the illuminated manuscript, videos are in many homes, and industrial knitwear is worn by more people than handknits, so the mass production of craft objects has potential to supersede the nostalgic crafts with their limited output to specialised audiences.

But wait, I look at my drink bottle, it has been created by an industrial design and technique. I look at my clothes, so have they. I look at my paper, it is industrial, so is the program that I used to write it. Am I the passive consumer of pre-determined information? Is the idea of choice preferable to engagement with creativity? And I think: what good are the crafts if they have not contributed to the potential of virtual craft, but have stayed in their garrets, musing about the good old days. A bit of aesthetic intervention on the part of the craft practitioners may make the difference between a polystyrene cup aesthetic and something that you would want to handle.

A moment of despair overtakes me: virtual craft will supersede the nostalgic crafts, that is undeniable, but unless artists and craftspeople contribute to the revolution in a way that brings meaning to virtual craft, whatever craft results may not be worth having.