Friday, December 7, 2007

Fabrications, Craft in the 21st Century

This symposium was held at the Victoria & Albert Museum on Friday 23rd November to coincide with the exhibition Out of the Ordinary.

Collaboration was one of the recurring themes of the day and how artists 'claimed' work that they had not fabricated, the concept was theirs but they had used the technical skills of others to fabricate the finished product. One example of this was Grater Divide by Mona Hatoum, this 6ft high screen was fabricated at Mike Smith Studios in mild steel, the steel was laser cut and then worked by hand.

It was noted that studio assistants go back a long way, Rembrant had 50 assistants so much of his later work was not by his own hand.

Another area that was covered by more than one speaker was curatorship and how works are displayed - the white room is not a neutral setting but it offers a safe haven in which to test theories in art. The amount of space around an object confers a degree of importance on that object and plinths elevate objects and brings in the tradition of placing sculpture, the logic of the monument. Craft objects are often placed on plinths because of their relatively small size. Hildur Bjarnadottir's Belgian Linen Crochet Cloth was placed on a plinth but the fact that it was allowed to drape over the sides referenced it's 'homely' origins but it was still elevated from the domestic activity.

I was interested in the comments by Sorrel Herschberg of the British Council on the way that many people prefer to call themselves Designers or Makers rather than Craftsmen. In the West craftsmen are still regarded as having a narrow vision and being restricted to one medium or field . Max Lamb has a compulsion to make but calls himself a Designer as that is what he trained as, He works in cast copper and pewter and is based in Cornwall where these metals were once locally produced which adds value to the story of how the items were made. Sorrel commented that design has a power relationship over craft, this is probably based on the more commercial nature of design which always has one eye on the market place.

Paper-cuts are 'in' at the moment and Professor CJ Lim, the keynote speaker, used this technique in some of his work. Kara Walker uses black paper silhouettes to comment on social problems and it is the basis of Paul Chan's video installation First Light (right) which was projected onto the floor at the Serpentine Gallery in 2006

Laurie Britton-Newell, who curated Out of the Ordinary, commenting on the current resurgence of interest in Craft said that people feel out of touch with the origins of things and that previous generations were more familiar with the making process.

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