The Maker's Brief


Guild Unlimited

works | history | future

The following is the brief given to Guild Unlimited artists

If there were guilds today, who would they contain?

An exhibition is planned to open in Melbourne October 2001 and then tour nationally and overseas. The exhibition will consist of works from a range of media which relate to guilds.
The initial challenge is to identify a group and become familiar with their shared experience. The group should contain individuals who participate in a common work practice but have no formal association. We encourage initial research to gauge potential interest in ceremonial objects. You might be surprised at how 'craft' can be used as a passport into another world.


iIn medieval times, guilds were formed to represent the common interests of those in shared work practices, such as coopers and surgeons. Apart from mutual interests, guilds also promoted ceremonial activities, such as holidays of their patron saint, initiations, testimonials and even burials.
As the free market expanded, guilds were seen increasingly as impediments to economic growth. Trade in commodities and services became more fluid outside the control of closed shops. "Workers" were represented by trade unions and professional qualifications managed by universities.
With the various craft revivals in the 1890s and 1970s, craft guilds were developed such as the Guild of St George and the Victorian Embroiderer's Guild. They were no longer associated with paid work, but with lifestyle.


Today, the role of trade unions is declining. Nowadays, it is possible for a single worker to intersect with a number of occupational groups. One person might combine an artistic practice with waiting in a cafe and office reception. Running between these responsibilities can be quite isolating. There is potential to develop guild identities that reflect shared work practices that are common today, but lack formal associations. We could start with cappuccino pullers, DJs, hackers, web site designers, network administrators, call operators, photocopier technicians and publicists. Where would you go from here?

Already there are many informal guilds developing online, such as the HTML Guild and the Open Source Movement. The Internet is quite conducive to guild-building because of the ease of communication. However, the computer screen is a cold medium offering only temporary bonds of association. Objects that represent these occupations offer a more tangible link. The history of guilds provides us with models: emblems, shields, trophies, badges, ritual objects, round tables, tapestries, paintings etc. What would be a 21st century take on guild objects?


Suggested stages of development are:

  • Identify informal work group suitable for guild status
  • Develop understanding of the group's 'inside knowledge' and tricks of the trade
  • Sketch guild symbols, such as emblem, patron saint (or patron 'star') and motto
  • Put together proposal for series of objects (suitable for touring)


Proposals should contain a preliminary sketch, approximately 200 words and three slides of existing work. The text should specify the target group and the kinds of objects to be designed for them. As the exhibition is designed to tour, objects should be easily packed, robust and require simple installation.

"Together with mutual aid, the 'honour' of the craft defined the purpose for which guilds existed. There was a sense of pride in the 'misterium artis', in the special technique and skill known only to oneself and one's colleagues, and in the excellence of the finished article. Artefacts must be 'loyal'. to be a skilled craftsman was to occupy and fulfil a recognized role, an officium (lit. duty), with its own dignity. In this way professions began to acquire something of the status of vocations."
Antony Black Guilds and Civil Society in European Political Thought: from the Twelfth Century to the Present London: Methuen, 1984, p. 14