Category Archives: Exhibition

Checking it out at Multiples

Victorian makers follow a pattern

Humphrey Poland is a legendary Melbourne builder and designer. His approach to building draws heavily on a craft sensibility to  materials, particularly in the use of recycled timbers that have their own story to tell.

Poland was previously a founding partner in the Flying Trapeze Café theatre restaurant in the early 70’s and later worked with the Comedy Café. His current interests include photography and bee-keeping. Today his main workshop is in Moyhu, a small town in the King Valley near Wangaratta.

To coincide with the Great Victorian Bike Ride, Poland curated an exhibition titled Multiples which brought to Mohyu an established and upcoming generation of artists. Much of the work related to wooden patterns that were found in the nearby Valve Foundry.

Here are some words I put together for the opening:

I feel a bit of a fraud speaking to you to this evening. Growing up in the new suburbs of Perth, I had little experience of the industrial world, the remnants of which we see here. I took my world of dreams to Melbourne more than forty years ago, when I saw them realised in the fabled light show of Hugh McSpedden to the music of Spectrum. These dreams came to earth finally at the Meat Market Craft centre, where as writer in residence I felt a craft camaraderie, tapping out sentences alongside jewellers hammering out metal surfaces or woodworkers carving out flourishes.

Yesterday I found a word to describe writing about what you don’t do: ultracrepidarianism. It comes from the tale of Pliny, where a cobbler has the temerity to cast judgement on a painting by the artist Apelles. In anger, the artist declaims, ‘Sutor ne ultra crepidan – Cobbler stick to your last!’

Allow me to stick to this last for a minute. While we tend to think of craft skill as something that is internalised in our bodies, there are some trades where the tricks are embodied in unique templates, like the last for many a shoe. There are stories of cobblers who destroyed their lasts in a bonfire rather than leave them to strangers.

In the post-industrial age of robots and 3d printers, we find ourselves surrounded by the leftovers of the mechanical age. Some believe that these are precious keys to design that need to be preserved. The company Lasting Impressions in Davenport collected abandoned matrices from printing presses as a kind of typographic DNA that one day may need to be resuscitated, Jurassic style.

Others find a new use for these remnants as art, like the sculptor Nicholas Jones who carves abandoned books into unique forms with a surgeon’s scalpel.

What seems special about this exhibition Multiples, is that not only have some artists recovered old wooden patterns used in foundries, but they have taken the logic of production in the creating of work. There are John Comeadows’ fantastic sculptures making the most of the primary colours of the original patterns. Humphrey Poland’s cards use the classic outline of the Christmas tree to produce an unending series of scenes. And Hugh McSpedden’s lightshow casts these shapes into forms that cover the world. Colin Musto has re-framed his technical drawings as works of art. Bill Walker documents the following results in our world that have been shaped by the same pattern.

And it’s heartening to see them also shaping the next generation to follow too. Stuart Sinclair, Joshua Lewis, Malcolm Laurence.

This is a generation that have dedicated themselves to making our world a more livable place. They have left their stamp.

Let’s hope that when god produced them, she didn’t break the mould.

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Looking through the blind spot

My interdisciplinary arts practice aims to investigate the ‘blind spot’ between nature and existence. Exploring the tension between perception and visibility, my work brings into focus the unseen, overlooked and unforeseeable.

My latest installation project, Blind Spot, Linden Innovators 1: +16 May – +22 June 2014, has been a daring attempt to map out a large three dimensional hole in space. A complex and multifaceted anti-form that is as optically impossible to describe as the space inside an atom. Blind Spot describes one of the most significant environmental discoveries of our age- the Ozone Hole. Like an iceberg looming in space, it is a dark wonder of the natural world, a landmark that cannot be found on any atlas or world map. Its appearance in our atmosphere every spring is a haunting reminder of how we close we come to pushing our environment beyond the point of regeneration. Finding a means to visually and conceptually fathom otherwise unperceivable aspects of nature, the work aims to delineate the blind spot in perception that fails to make the connection between existence and the systems within nature that support it.

Within my arts practice I reinterpret traditional craft based materials and techniques, working with new technologies to find innovative ways to respond to the themes the work addresses. Observing nature filtered through imagery from NASA’s Earth Observing Satellite Data Centre, Earth’s life support systems become visible. This expanded perspective offers a techno-romantic glimpse into the ‘blind spot’ between nature and existence.

Blind Spot is a continuation of my ongoing research. Its trajectory can be seen from my previous series, Life Support Systems, funded by the City of Melbourne Arts Project Grants. Life Support Systems uses NASA’s space suit helmet glass to create a series of three atmospheric weather maps charting shifting weather conditions in the atmosphere over Antarctica that have global implications. The maps are hung sequentially and read from left to right. The unfolding narrative of shifting weather is described in short texts below each work that evolve from history of monitoring Earth’s atmosphere to +today’s attitudes towards Climate Change: the forecast for +tomorrow. The aim of the series was to examine how the forecast for +tomorrow’s weather is reliant on our perception of our environment +today. The work does this by being fabricated from a material that was originally used as a part of the life support system of a space suit and drawing a parallel with its natural counterpart, the Ozone Layer.

Visually we first became aware of the role the Ozone Layer plays in sustaining our environment in the 1950’s Space Race’s iconographic images of the Earth. In these dazzling images Astronauts floated above the Earth tethered to spaceships, the only thing keeping them alive was the fragile life support system of their space suit. One of the most prominent features of the space suit was the luminescent dichroic glass visor that aesthetically resembled a giant mirror or ‘all seeing eye’. This lens reflected thefirst view of the Earth as a tiny fragment in an ecosystem of universal proportions from which no part is immune from the changes of its counterparts. This ignited global research to strive for an expanded awareness of our environment. From this research the Ozone Hole was discovered and +today’s current ecological conundrum revealed.

Today there is a tenuous relationship between the fragility of our environment and its ability to regenerate. The success or failure of this lies in learning how to make the concerns of these invisible aspects of our life support system on Earth visible so that the unforeseeable consequences never eventuate.

Blind spot has been funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and will be exhibited in Melbourne 2014 and Sydney 2015. It is at Linden Gallery until 22 June 2014. See jasminetargett.blogspot.com.

Craft Aotearoa launches in Wellington

Launch of Craft Aotearoa at NZ Academy of Arts

Launch of Craft Aotearoa at NZ Academy of Arts

Twenty years after the closure of the Crafts Council of New Zealand, a new national organisation has been founded to advocate for the country’s crafts. Craft Aotearoa was heralded by a large crowd at the New Zealand Academy of the Arts on 6 September 2012. It coincided with the opening of Kete, an exhibition of work from participating New Zealand craft galleries and accompanying forum.

Craft Aotearoa is led by Jenna Philpott, who conceived the idea after spending time with Craft UK, when she saw the positive impact of having a national craft organisation. The names ‘Craft Aotearoa’ and ‘Kete’ have a distinctly bicultural meaning. This was welcomed by Toi Maori, who joined in as partners in both the exhibition and talks. Warren Feeney, director of the NZ Academy, coordinated the four day event.

Keri-Mei Zagrobelna at her work in Kete, the craft fair at Wellington

Keri-Mei Zagrobelna at her work in Kete, the craft fair at Wellington

The range of galleries was impressive. Highlights included the carved Corian tiki by Rangi Kepi, Matthew McIntyre Wilson’s woven copper kete, the resilient Christchurch gallery The National, the edgy work from Whiteriea’s jewellery students, Anna Miles Gallery, Masterworks, the ceramics of Mia Hamilton and the inventive products coming from F3 Design in Christchurch. Indeed, there was a lot of talk about Christchurch at Kete, as residents battle on into the second year without reconstruction. Despite these challenges, a new powerful spirit of creativity seems to have been forged amongst those who remain.

 

Reuben Friend, curator at City Gallery, (extreme right) showing a mallet by Lionel Grant, housed in a specially made box by Tim Wigamore (on extreme left). He made the point that the taonga (cultural power) was as much in the box as in what it contained - a statement some strongly disagreed with.

Reuben Friend, curator at City Gallery, (extreme right) showing a mallet by Lionel Grant, housed in a specially made box by Tim Wigamore (on extreme left). He made the point that the taonga (cultural power) was as much in the box as in what it contained - a statement some strongly disagreed with.

The Toi Maori forum was particularly interesting. Mention was made of the Maori designs that Rangi Kipa made for underwear to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. While this was seen by some as degrading, Rangi defended his work on the basis of implicit acceptance by his elders. The forum demonstrated that there is no one position when it comes to the relation between tradition and opportunity in Maori design practice.

Mia Hamilton's ceramic wall jewellery

Mia Hamilton's ceramic wall jewellery

It will be fascinating to see where Craft Aotearoa goes from here. Clearly ObjectSpace in Auckland represents the front stage of craft and design, exhibiting cutting edge work. But there does seem space for an inclusive organisation that can offer a broad spectrum of artists with a common story. The craft fair Kete was particularly promising and it would be great to see it grow in coming years – perhaps even with some Australian representation.

As an Australian, the whole weekend was a captivating experience. It was refreshing to witness such commitment to a constructing a national story through things.

I only hope that we won’t have to wait another 20 years before we can come together to celebrate Australian craft like this. While the Federal funding for Craft Australia was meant to be channelled into a national craft strategy, the first year has been taken up with the cost of winding down the organisation. As yet, there has been no public consultation about what the next three years will bring.

With the support of crowd-funding, Australia has been able to maintain its global link through the Australasian Craft Network, which will be recognised at the upcoming World Crafts Council General Assembly in Chennai next month. Now with Craft Aotearoa as a partner, there’s the potential for a strong regional network that can demonstrate the importance of craft as a lingua franca in our part of the world.

The Unknown Craftsperson in Unexpected Pleasures

The Fine Line section of Unexpected Pleasures

The Fine Line section of Unexpected Pleasures

Unexpected Pleasures is an extraordinary achievement. Curator Susan Cohn has gathered together more than 200 key works reflecting the international scene of contemporary jewellery. This mass of work is surprisingly digestible. Rather than arrange them by country or historical movement, she has offered a taxonomic system that maps the creative energies at play in individual pieces.

These ‘idea clusters’ are quite different to the more reductive classifications that might otherwise be found in museums, based on materials or techniques. For instance, ‘Logical solutions’ attends to the creative dimension of componentry in jewellery works. The propositional nature of such groupings engages the visitor more actively than those based on academic criteria.

There’s much more that can be said about the exhibition as a whole, but I would like to respond to one of the specific challenges laid in the section titled A Fine Line. This closed installation at the centre of the gallery functions as the ‘navel’ of the exhibition, identifying the ‘origins of contemporary jewellery today’ in Art, Design, Fashion and Craft.

Practically, this is an opportunity to feature iconic works, such as Annie Alberts’ ‘Necklace’ made from paper clips that prefigures more experimental work to come. More generally, this contextualisation locates contemporary jewellery in a broader kinship system of creative arts.

This is by no means a neutral context. There is a clear value system at work in the way these origins are presented. While works by artists such as Alexander Calder are celebrated, Art as a framework for jewellery creates a remove between the artist and the work. Artists are seen to create jewellery as mostly a secondary concern, akin to merchandising. This distance from making applies to Design as well, though the designer is more comfortable the process of production:

A designer with the ability to create effective jewellery has the sensibility to understand industrial objects with a certain sophistication.

Fashion includes elements of art, design and craft, but it has the additional capacity to engage with sub-cultures in which individuals adapt clothing to create their own identities.

The final origin, Craft, is presented as ‘problematic’. The text argues that it is better to avoid the word in order to overcome ‘ultimately futile questions about the allegedly nostalgic connotations of craft.’ Parallel to fashion, this origin is presented as ‘vernacular self-expression in the anthropological sense.’ There’s a certain unresolved tension here between making and empowerment that prompts further consideration.

Unknown artist, Rirratjingu active 1990s, armband 1993, made from feathers

Unknown artist, Rirratjingu active 1990s, armband 1993, made from feathers

In the book accompanying the exhibition, craft is illustrated with a Bella Herdsman’s pendant from Birkina Faso (1976) and a photo of an ash-covered Dinka elder (1976) wearing a necklace of Dutch beads and smoking an elaborate silver pipe. In the exhibition itself, craft is represented by an armband from Arnhem Land (1993). We see craft through these works as something distant from Western culture.

While the craft section does state that making is relevant to contemporary jewellery, it is positioned in the exhibition as something performed by those ‘other’ to our culture. There are precedents for this. Primitivism has been a key influence in contemporary jewellery, particularly in our corner of the world with Peter Tully and Warwick Freeman. But this primitivism has been mediated by the artists themselves, rather presented as museum pieces.

So what’s happening in this return to ethnography in contemporary jewellery? Maybe it’s progressive. This return could be seen as part of a wider concern to give indigenous arts themselves a platform. Rather than have white artists represent non-Western cultures, it is better to give a voice to those who belong to those same cultures, as in the emergence of a new generation of Aboriginal and Maori jewellers. However, the works identified as ‘craft’ in Unexpected Pleasures are anonymous, so there is little opportunity to enfranchise non-Western artists.

The other side of this is the implied detachment of contemporary jewellery from craft. I think there are two currents at play here. The first is the exhibition’s resolutely cosmopolitan approach. While there are some references to place, such as the Dutch collar of Paul Derrez, contemporary jewellery is represented here as a relatively placeless activity. It is perhaps a sign of maturity that it, like other disciplines such as science or architecture, is presented as an autonomous profession which prizes originality above political correctness. The framework of Craft is at odds with this specialisation. It tends to be more location specific, reflecting traditional skills and local materials. Craft’s implied responsibility to place has potential to compromise creative freedom.

This is a different case for Craft than the one which Robert Baines would make in criticism of the exhibition. Baines champions the discipline of skill and tradition in contemporary jewellery. I would argue that skill does have a link to place. The logic of outsourcing in late capitalism has helped us overlook this.

The second current is the exhibition’s attempt to celebrate the wearer. This is critical to an exhibition which has the capacity, in an unparalleled way, to open up the closed circle of contemporary jewellery to the broader public. Unexpected Pleasures is cast initially to fit the National Gallery of Victoria, which has never before offered a survey exhibition of contemporary jewellery. Craft in this context provides a more internal framework of skill and mastery best understood by the makers themselves. It thus has potential to alienate the broader public.

At the other pole, the exhibition must satisfy the interests of the London Design Museum. A natural framework for Design is to consider contemporary jewellery in terms of its role in everyday life. How does jewellery affect the way people behave in the street? Certainly, the works in Unexpected Pleasures can be read in terms of user experience, such as the framing neckpieces of Gijs Bekker and Otto Künzli. But could this go further? The majority of works are still made primarily for exhibit rather than use. We don’t see work than has been subject to the additional discipline (or compromise) of the market.

Ironically, the one contemporary jeweller who seems to embrace this element of design most fully is Susan Cohn herself. The necessary absence of her work in Unexpected Pleasures is one of the few weak points.

Unexpected Pleasures is likely to prove a seminal moment in contemporary jewellery. It shifts the focus away from the subjective experience of the maker to the desires of the wearer. While this seems a necessary move, it leaves making itself in an uncertain place. Its association with indigenous culture is perhaps a holding position, acknowledging the presence of Craft while separating it from mainstream practice.

This lack of resolution opens the potential for a counter move. The alternative is more about treasures than pleasures—jewellery as a means to forge new and recovered collectivities.

The Joyaviva project – ‘live’ jewellery that changes your world

Joyaviva has recently opened at RMIT Gallery, Melbourne. So begins a journey across the Pacific, to explore how the power of jewellery might be renewed for contemporary challenges.

21 jewellers from Australia, New Zealand and Chile draw from their cultures to create objects that can change our lives. Others will join from Bolivia and Mexico when Joyaviva is in Latin America, and the stories will grow as more people host the charms.

Objects in Joyaviva were created for issues relevant to the jeweller’s world, including recent earthquakes, road deaths, school exams, fertility, managerialism or sheer exuberant sociability. The exhibition combines the charms themselves with documentation of their use, including diaries, photos, videos and drawings.

To find out more, go to www.joyaviva.net, where you will find ways of tracking the journey.

Artists:

  • Australia: Roseanne Bartley, Melissa Cameron & Jill Hermans, Caz Guiney, Jin ah Jo, Blanche Tilden, Alice Whish
  • New Zealand: Jacqui Chan, Ilse-Marie Erl, Sarah Read, Gina Ropiha, Areta Wilkinson, Matthew Wilson, Kathryn Yeats
  • Chile: Guillermina Atunez, Francisco Ceppi, Analya Cespedes, Carolina Hornauer, Massiel Mariel, Angela Cura Mendez, Valentina Rosenthal, WALKA STUDIO

The exhibition is at RMIT Gallery until 24 March. Make a wish…

MONA–the Museum of Old and New Art (and craft)

The new MONA in Hobart provides an interesting perspective on the place of craft in contemporary art museums. This $80m museum hosts a collection of contemporary art worth around $100m. It is certainly the high end of culture, though the collector’s generosity has welcomed the public to view it for free.

One of the distinct elements of MONA is the way is eschews curatorial objectivity. The personality of its collector is evident throughout.

The walls are completely free of text or labels. Instead, visitors carry around iPod devices that pick up your location and offer information about nearby art works. Digging down, visitors can learn more. One button offers ‘art speak’ by a curatorial expert and the other titled ‘gonzo’ offers purely idiosyncratic takes, often by the collector, David Walsh, himself. For instance, the Clacoa work by Wim Delvoye features Walsh’s speculation that humans are merely hosts for microbes and will eventually be replaced by machines such as these. Sometimes audio is also available, featuring Walsh’s maniacal laugh as he draws inspiration from the work in question. They have to be a highlight of the museum.

David Walsh occupies a complex position, at once both distant from normality and a popular hero. There are two other figures who he can be compared with.

Glenn Gould was a revered pianist known particularly for his interpretation of Bach. Like Walsh, he is know to have a kind of Asperger’s (a mild version of autism) associated with great feats of mental construction, partly enabled by their disconnection from the world of normal human feelings. Gould’s Asperger’s is not only evident in the obsessive control over the recording process, but also the stray humming that accompanies the piano. Most of us are conditioned to screen out the personal stream of consciousness within from the public performance without. Similarly, MONA is marked not only by its complete control by the collector, but also his unedited free associations on the works.

There is something quite refreshing about this. Our state museums have become so beholden to government interests and marketing, that individual vision rarely surfaces. Though it may seem dictatorial to privilege one person’s vision at MONA, it helps that it is so perverse. A bad leader can be good for democracy.

In this, Walsh also resembles the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Like Zuckerberg, Walsh has made his career from algorithms regarding human behaviour. As famously portrayed in the film Social Network, Zuckerberg is also an ‘arsehole’ whose success seems premised on his nerdy quest for revenge against the girl who rejected him. Yet, it is Zuckerberg’s very fallibility that frees the millions of Facebook members from the implied duty to follow a leader. It’s hard to imagine Facebook being as successful if Bill Gates was its founder.

While there is no reason to believe that Walsh has a similar ignoble background, he is hardly a self-consciously upright philanthropist. Accordingly, Walsh’s taste does not come across as authoritative, and more often prompts disagreement. The iPods cater for such responses by offering each visitor the opportunity register their ‘love’ or ‘hate’ a work (there is a rumour that if too many people ‘love’ a work, Walsh will take it away to storage).

The other refreshing part of MONA is the eclecticism of works on display. The collection started as a museum of antiquities, so it is peppered with exquisite works of classical craft, such as a glowing Egyptian faience bowel. To enhance the museum experience, Walsh commissioned a number of local designer-makers such as Pippa Dickson to make unique benches; though their aesthetic license leads them to be mistaken for works of art themselves. And there are a number of a craft works from a variety of media, naturally including Melbourne jeweller-taxidermist Julia deVille.

Walsh has no political ties to craft. He is clearly not trying to be representative of art media. The only element that seems to guide his selection is personal appeal. So given this context, it is reassuring to see that craft quite naturally finds a place among contemporary art. Walsh’s freedom releases him from the hierarchy that besets many state museums that associate craft with amateurism as opposed to the genius of the lone artist.

The MONA experience is huge. The architecture is revelatory. It takes at least two days to see the collection on display. In all this, craft is a relatively incidental feature. But if you put together all the craft works on display, you would have a respectable exhibition in itself. That alone is a reason worth visiting MONA.

The world needs your luck

Southern Charms: New Power Jewellery across the Pacific

Call for Expressions of Interest

How do we make luck where it is needed today?

Southern Charms is an exhibition of ‘power jewellery’ that demonstrates the relevance of objects to hopes and fears. It includes work designed by jewellers, designers and artists from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Bolivia.

The exhibition will open at RMIT Gallery in February 2012. You are invited to submit an EOI, due by 4 December 2010. Please download the EOI details from here (or Spanish version). For more information about the project, visit www.craftunbound.net/projects/southern-charms.