22 October 2006

Shaping the Future of Craft - Day Two (am)

This second day in Houston started with an examination of critical writing in craft and began with a tour de force from Glen Adamson
(V &A) and Edward S Cooke (Yale) in a 'master and apprentice' two hander covering craft history from the 1950's. The pair examined four periods; 1950's, 1960's, 1980 - 2000 and the present in an inner and outer dialectical approach. In this historical overview it was clear that craft has lacked any political or broader social awareness in much of the work that has been produced which in part is being remedyied in some contemporary work for example a recent exhibit which displayed fine silverware juxtaposed with slave shackles under the title metalwork! The focus in the now and in the future was on crafts engagement with the discourse.

The main suggestion was that craft should be grounded in the discourse. What do we think about this? I personally feel that what is unique about craft is that it has been grounded in its materials and holistic/organic way of seeing the world. If we expand this to include the discourse how does this affect craft as we know it? Most craft practitioners to date have been content to effectively ignore the discourse and concentrate on their relationship with their materials. Do the benefits of being engaged with the discourse outweigh the disadvantages?

We were encouraged to consider the stakes both economically and politically; think about the divergences with art and think about deeper integration. Simon Starlings Turner winning Shed Boat Shed was presented as an example of craft processes being used to trace embeddedness in the economy. If one word were to be used to sum up a vision of the future of craft it would be hybridisation. Craft techniques or processes being mixed with aspects of other disciplines to create something new. One speaker suggested that young artists are no longer married to their materials. What do we feel about this?

Much of the Q & A concentrated on the pedagogical implications of what had been heard and whether we should be aiming to build the person or build a society and what role the market should play in shaping craft education. It was further suggested that there is in fact a huge discourse surrounding the crafts but we prefer not to acknowledge it.

Speakers in subsequent sessions had a hard job following this act. A further session on critical writing followed with erudite contributions from Tanya Harrod, Maria Porges and Susan Yelavich. Tanya highlighted examples of craft as a form of critque where the work itself is taking more of a archeological than historicist turn. She cited an example of hand made ceramics in Stoke that effectively comments on Wedgewood who have relcoated their operations out of the UK on economic grounds. Her overarching message was that the economy will have an impact on the quality of the critical discourse. Another key theme emerging from the other speakers in this session was the increased reflexivity apparent in more recent work produced where craft has become interested in itself and student work has become much more self conscious. Ultimately contributors in this session felt that what was needed was a greater sense of our connection to the wider world and an awareness of the issues in the world.

1 comment:

  1. The issues around crafts engaging the "discourse" are interesting, although sometimes it can seem too obvious, especially in student work. The history of connoisseurship shows us that a maker will always put something of their time and culture into the work, even if they are not trying so obviously to do so. A telling example is glass artist Josiah McElheny whose work was in at least 4 of the presentations. Of couse his work is extraordinary in it's skill and he does have some very good ideas. But the fact that he is engaging "modernism" gives all the pundits something to write about and has got him a review in Art in America and a forthcoming show at MOMA. I say good for Josiah, no sour grapes here at all. American ceramicist Betty Woodman is another extraordinary artist who has been honored with a major museum show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in N.Y.C., which is a wonderful and rare thing for an artist working in a craft medium, and who also engages the discourse and gives people something to write about ( see John Perreault's writings on Woodman). I'd like to think more about the discourse itself, I suppose, and about how the best makers engage and connect with the world and the culture.