Fran Allison is a New Zealand jeweller who interprets the ornamental traditions of her region within the context of her own cultural heritage.
Fran was born in New Zealand but graduated from Middlesex University and the Royal College of Art, London. She has shown her work in number of solo and group exhibitions including Assorted Titbits at the Dowse Art Museum and JOC (Jewellery Out of Context), which toured internationally. She currently lectures at Manukau Institue of Technology.
Her work for Welcome Signs is a Daisy Doily Chain, made from deconstructed crocheted white doilies collected from second hand shops. The daisy stems are made from lollipop sticks. According to Fran, ‘Each doily retains some trace of the women who lovingly crafted and used them.’
The daisy chain is one of the most common childhood encounters with the idea of jewellery. After romping through fields, children settle in a daisy patch and start making chains for each other by knotting their stems. Fran combines this game with the doily, which was one of the most common forms of needlework producing covers for household objects.
Living in the Pacific, Fran’s work also connects with the lei, the floral neck wreath used to honour guests. Fran’s Daisy Doily Chain creates a kind of lei for someone of European heritage (Pakeha) who is born in the Pacific.
Tegan Empson, Idol Moments, at Gallery 2, The JamFactory, Adelaide, 13 October – 29 November 2009
Reviewed for World Sculpture News by Christine Nicholls
Glass artist Tegan Empson’s solo exhibition, Idol Moments, on show in Adelaide’s prestigious JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design’s Gallery 2 in late 2009, deservedly garnered a good deal of public attention. The works that Empson included in Idol Moments are hand blown, sculpted and laminated ‘creatures’. Wheel-cut and sand-etched, with a surface-coated finish, these works evince a high level of technical skill and more than a smidgeon of sheer playfulness on the part of their youthful maker.
The glass works comprising Idol Moments included finely crafted glass rabbits, robots, and cats, all of which show influences of popular culture and contemporary media. To a very limited extent these charismatic, whimsical, quasi-anthropomorphic creations exemplify the ‘kawaii factor’ insofar as, on the surface at least, they appear to be childlike, vulnerable, harmlessly droll and emotionally needy. However Tegan Empsons’s glass ‘idols’ are more than simply ‘funny bunnies’ or ‘little cuties’. To some degree these works are infused with what at one level might be described as a ‘tiny-tots aesthetic’, but the sophisticated workmanship cleverly subverts such an understanding. The works that comprise Idol Moments are definitely not cloyingly cute in the ‘Hello Kitty’ mould, but neither are they mean and crafty. Rather, they are imbued with true innocence, purity and ingenuousness – categorically more Beatrix Potter than Bugs Bunny. Equally, the exhibition’s title, in part pun, partly bathetic juxtaposition, subtly undercuts the possibility of any uni-dimensional interpretation. There are levels of understanding Empson’s body of work, extending well beyond the superficial.
Importantly, the leavening influences of Empson’s irony and light-hearted, quirky humour peppered with just a dash of old-fashioned camp, combine to prod her audience into thinking about the readiness of many our contemporaries to create ‘idols’ out of inappropriate, mundane, unworthy, or commonplace figures or objects, indeed out of practically anything at all. Tegan Empson’s unassuming ‘critters’ challenge the very notion of idolatry by their gestural simplicity and their humility of bearing.
So, in titling this group of works Idol Moments, Empson gently mocks the emptiness and ridiculousness of our society’s blind worship and adoration of objects, people or animals that are, in many instances, unremarkable or ordinary. The title is also an invitation to her audience to step back, for just a little while, and reflect upon this bizarre contemporary social phenomenon.
While in Idol Moments the absurdity of contemporary society’s appetite for celebrity and commodity fetishism may be the focus of Tegan Empson’s wry sense of humour, in the end it is the artist who has the last laugh. Empson’s signature hand blown works are beautifully made and finished and for these reasons they draw well-justified admiration. In creating such elegant, extremely covetable glass artworks, which are currently in high demand, Empson is unintentionally perpetuating the very phenomenon that she critiques.
In a final ironic twist, Sir Elton John recently purchased two of Tegan Empson’s glass bunnies (‘Brown Bunny’ and ‘Grey Bunny’) from a Sydney gallery. A propos of Idol Moments, there seems to be a certain poetic justice in that.
The Tradition for Modern Times was an intense workshop to complete the Selling Yarns conference. Participants brought a range of skills and experiences, particularly from Indigenous and artisan craft centres. In first considering the kinds of objects that have value in life, there was a great emphasis on some knowledge or connection to those who make them.
The scenario proved very lively. An Australian Indigenous Design Company was attempting to develop a ‘world craft’ product with traditional Aymara weavers based in the Andes. This was to be sold through a local gift shop to an Australian family. It all began well when a poncho design was developed that featured a hood which appeared very fashionable. But when this failed to sell in the shop, the artisans realised that they had forgotten to ensure payment. Trust broke down between artisans and designers and a stand-off ensued. In the end, it was the consumers who managed to regain trust by developing a ‘sister school’ relationship with the Andean village. This then paved the way for a cultural exchange between the designers and artisans. On the basis of this restored confidence, they were able to develop a more fitted product that was eventually successful.
The workshop revealed many dimensions to the business of cross-cultural product development. In particular, it showed that consumer participation can often be very productive in strengthening these cultural ties.
This exploration has many more possibilities to explore, but these exercises seem wonderful opportunities to share expertise and forge new methodologies. We are certainly entering a phase of ‘world craft’ when new possibilities are critical for its future.