Essay - Understanding the Crafted Object by Debbie Pryor
Debbie Pryor Gallery Curator at Craft
Previous positions have included Producer, Contemporary Programs, Powerhouse Museum Sydney and Gallery Manager, JamFactory Contemporary Craft & Design Adelaide.Contributors
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Contemporary craft is currently experiencing a resurgence, which is both a blessing and a curse. To consider that the industry is entering such a resurgence is to suggest that craft is currently in trend and was previously redundant. Is craft a commodity that is driven by the audience (buyers, viewers, galleries, retailers) or is it an industry that is fuelled by its makers who spend years dedicated to mastering their craft regardless of currency or popularity?
The exhibition Leaders showing at Craft Victoria looks at nine contemporary emerging, mid-career and established Victorian artists employing craft skills in the creation of their work. The exhibition observes the constructed distinction between visual art and craft; showing the work within the context of a craft gallery denotes the work as craft despite the fact that not all artists consider themselves placed within the industry. Leaders is not an exhibition presenting makers who are simply 'leaders in their field', but instead presents makers who are leading their own path. The way in which they have learnt crafted techniques, the way they think about their craft, the inherent use of materials and processes, acknowledgement of makers before them, material experimentation; are all under investigation. The term ‘craft’ has broadened in the past 20 years, and while this is an exciting, transformative time for the expanding craft industry, it is crucial that legacy and understanding are not diluted in the process. It is important to consider the modern interpretation of the crafted object, and to consider the now we must consider then. For this reason museum collections are and always have been an invaluable resource; for inspiration, education and for understanding the social climate of a certain era. What does contemporary craft signify? Is being a leader within the field of craft specifically bound to process, skill and tradition? Or does contemporary craft allow for experimentation and deviation into other industries? The return to handcrafted objects in a time where handcrafting is no longer a necessity, for some it is a desire to connect with a material in an era full of ephemeral connections, it is a vehicle for communication, for social change, for social acceptance and ultimately self expression.
“Where is the border? I wondered, until some years later I stopped looking for the border and enjoyed the uncertainty.” Alison Britton, introduction essay to Seeing Things. Collected Writing on Art, Craft, Design.
By many craft is still viewed as conservative, a place where conceptual basis is secondary to materials and processes, without doubt those within the craft industry negate this notion and with the resurgence comes a new breed of makers and thinkers who reinforce the practice of balancing meaning and informed making within a successful practice.
The exhibition features artists at different stages of their careers, spanning diverse materials and application methods. Some well-established makers who have unquestionably mastered their craft while arduously experimenting with their materials and processes throughout the years; others in earlier stages whose work defies categorisation, using refined craft processes with an employment not typical within the language of craft yet a labour and skill anchoring them to the category. Inherent in each artists work, and indeed within craft itself, is labour. In addition to the intellectual labour within each works’ conceptual standing, each artist investigates and researches those conceptual concerns through the labour of the hand. When discussing their work (within their artist statements or conversations such as those filmed for Craft in Context) many of the artists discuss the labour of making, the processes and skills they have refined, developing their own signature language with the material while creating an understanding of the history of the material, its previous uses and applications. Accumulation of understanding does not only exist in the works outcome, but most importantly in the detail of the process, the technique and the skill.
Debbie Pryor, Gallery Curator at Craft
Alison Britton, 2013, Seeing Things; Collected Writing on Art, Craft and Design, pp9. Occasional Papers UK