Hands at work

Mathias Maurer

Julia stands in the joinery workshop. She has a plane in her hand and propels it in a flowing movement across the clamped board. She keeps feeling the surface with her hand as if she had eyes, senses where the wood is uneven, blows shavings from the surface, takes a deep breath, makes sure she is standing solidly and starts again. Julia is in class 8, is visually impaired and is making herself a CD cabinet.

Erik is building a folding canoe; he does the research, reflects, compares and checks, draws up construction plans, sews, glues, tensions and screws. The finished boat is intended to carry him and his kit through the Norwegian fjords.

If we look at the hands of a person we see more than a practical tool of the human body. The creations of the hands appears more than merely knowing what to do with these limbs. The skilled hand moves as if by magic, be it the play of the violin virtuoso or knitting a jumper. Hands at work achieve things, create facts which influence the future. As if the whole human being were concentrated in the hand, as if it harboured his or her destiny. Will the canoe be watertight, do the cabinet joints fit precisely, is the embroidery pattern exact?

That the discover of concepts which lead to knowledge is connected with understanding is obvious. This, as we see, cannot be done without empathy and the deployment of our will. And whether what we have thought up in this way is also really fit for purpose is shown unerringly by the work of our hands.