Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hands on! A curator's dilemma

Beautiful porcelain by the very talented Mel Robson.

One of the streams of discussion I'd like to include in this blog concerns the place of craft in the art world and in contemporary culture. Occasionally I may write essays myself which examine issues of interest to me, about which I feel I have something to contribute. More often, I will be alerting readers to recent offerings of eminent craft writers.

This week I received a survey from Craft Victoria asking readers of Craft Almanac to consider a curator's dilemma. I thought I would post the scenario here on my blog to try to extend the reach of the survey and to see what response international artists have to this type of dilemma. I'm interested to see if the response and situation overseas parallels ours here in Australia.

The Scenario

You are the curator of a contemporary art museum with a passionate interest in contemporary craft. In the past, sadly, you have been unable to convince the director to present an exhibition in this medium. He thinks craft is nostalgic and inappropriate for a 'contemporary' institution. And there's a practical issue with the need to build special display furniture. Then one day, a proposal lands on your desk with a recommendation from the director.
'Hands on!' is an exhibition of leading designers from across the world who have developed objects with a 'handmade feel'. Reflecting strong interest in the tactile nature of objects, these designers have developed innovative manufacturing technologies that give objects the appearance of being made by hand. They enable random imperfections to emerge in the way forms are cast and surfaces are rendered. The objects include not only vessels such as vases but also objects not previously associated with the handmade such as computer casing.
The director writes: 'Seems a good international show, reflecting cutting edge technologies and subtly critiques the whole sentimentality of the handmade. And the exhibition comes with its own furniture in lovely white Corian.'
So how do you respond? Maybe it's a good opportunity to bring the issue of the handmade into the gallery. But does it imply that the actual use of hands in making is outmoded -- no longer a matter of enduring human expression but just a current fashion trend? What would you do?

This was my response:

In a situation that is so "anti-craft" this may be the only opportunity to raise the subject. I would want to be assured that I could write an essay to be included in the catalogue of the exhibition. In this way, I could propose a theoretical framework which set up a dialogue between this exhibition and genuine handmade objects - with a view to setting up an expectation with the public that REAL handcrafted objects would be seen in this gallery in the future. The essay would need to be very well researched and intellectually rigorous.

What would you do? I'd love you to post your response here in the comments section.

Responses to this survey can be tracked at Clog.

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