Friday, November 16, 2007

Urban Field Symposium

Urban Field was a series of exhibitions exploring the relationship of makers and their environment. Rurally based willow workers showed in urban London, makers from London and the rural south-west showed in the market town of Farnham and urban interior design was shown on the edge of Dartmoor at Bovey Tracey. The Symposium was an opportunity for reflection on the outcomes of these experiments.

Deirdre Figueiredo spoke about the work of Craftspace who build links between urban artists and audiences by involving them with crafts activities. A recent project was Transforming Crafts at Elsmere where they brought together Junko Mori an urban blacksmith working in cramped conditions in Manchester and Chris Stokes who runs a large forge in rural Oswestry. Their exchange of practice and dialog showed the breadth of techniques associated with blacksmithing in their collaborative work 'Bindweed' shown above.

Love Jonsson introduced the audience to the way Sweden had tried to integrate its crafts people into the international community by inviting overseas artists to work in Sweden. One of the eventual results of this was the Swedish group 'We Work in Fragile Material' exhibiting at Happy Campers in New York in 2006. Individually the members work in glass and ceramics (hence the group title) but for this exhibition they produced a giant fabric Troll, this was a representation of the way crafts people are seen as Trolls who live in the countryside and shun modern technology. The piece was an affirmation of the joy of making by hand and testament to the crafters ability to move across disciplines.
After lunch we were treated to a brilliantly illustrated talk on the 'subversive' knitting scene in USA by Sabrina Gschwandtner of the publication KnitKnit. Amongst other things she showed the work of the group Knitta who are known for their knitted graffiti, they regularly 'tag' areas of cities by wrapping objects with brightly coloured knitting. Trees, lampposts, railings, car antennae and door handles have been tagged from Los Angeles to Paris and the group regularly get requests to work in peoples hometowns or on specific objects such as bicycles.
She also explained the work of Microrevolt who are a knitting group trying to change attitudes by involving large numbers of people in small, passive, protests that grow to into huge movements that have loud voices.
The afternoon was rounded off with talks by Dr Ian Hunter and Celia Larner from Littoral Arts Trust, a Rochdale based crafts charity. Dr Hunter was keen to make us aware of the agricultural changes that are coming and how they will impact on our lives. Agricultural policies are in place that will change our landscape with willow taking over as a major crop for bio-fuel. This will produce an ideal opportunity for the crafts to re-engage with agriculture and for the core skills of willow work/basketry to lead the way by adding value to agricultural produce/waste. The work of urban basket maker Lee Dalby is firmly based on traditional methods but he also works in modern free-form structures.

Celia went on to tell us about her trip to 'Sheep is Life' the Navajo celebration of the sheep in USA. Whether through felt making or weaving the crafts women are adding value to very poor quality wool and their work is in high demand by both private collectors and museum curators.

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