Meet Your Maker

Meet Your Maker
January 29 – March 14, 2010
National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street, Edinburgh, Scotland

Organised in partnership with Craft Scotland, this exhibition uses a curious selection of makers to represent craft in Scotland today. Jewellery, silver-smithing, metal design, ceramics, glass and textiles all make an appearance and provide a list that looks, on paper, to represent craft in a variety of guises. But in reality the nine makers include no men and little documentation of work that suggests a need to get your hands dirty. As a result, craft comes across as clean, modestly sized, decorative and made by women.

Curatorial attention is instead given to how process can be revealed to the viewing public. The usual suspects (sketchbooks and pin boards) are on display. More effective are five-minute videos that record exhibitors discussing their work in the studio setting. Crucially, exhibitors themselves are also on hand, either speaking about their work or making. For example, Frances Priest generously invites the public to engage with her ceramics during pre-planned handling sessions. Leah Black invites viewers to “strike a pose” that she then cuts into a silhouette and adds to an ever-changing display. On the day I attended, Jilli Blackwood was sewing in the sunlit corner of the exhibition space. This provided an opportunity to ask questions, see Blackwood work and, importantly, touch the textiles she uses.

The downside to this variety of approaches is that the space suffers from exhibition design overkill. It also makes for inconsistency. For example, video recordings only accompany some of the exhibitors and there is a danger that the exhibitor you are most interested in hearing more about will be the one without a supporting video. This is a shame because the available video recordings reveal insightful dialogue about the inspiration behind the work. Priest speaks of her time working in Thailand and the influence a foreign visual culture has had on her practice. Libby Day, defends her use of CAD in the design and planning of work, explaining that the use of computers is “not cheating”. Stacey Bently discusses the boundaries that she feels her work breaks by using the technique of enamelling to create distressed rather than smooth surfaces.

Previous exhibitions have focused on bringing the processes that create craft to the viewer. For example, “Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft” at the Victoria and Albert used large-scale photographs of the studios of each maker in the exhibition. But these images became artworks in their own right, rather than insights into the process of making. This exhibition is dynamic, with the press release claiming the show is the “first ever ‘living exhibition’”. Surely works such as Joseph Beuys 1974 “action” I like America and America Likes Me at the René Block Gallery in New York are also understood as a living exhibition? The ambitious statement reveals the oversights craft at times makes within the broader world of visual culture. But, to be fair, the aspiration is also the exhibition’s strength. Exhibitors are present, making, speaking and responding to public interest. Little can replicate this human element and it is admirable that the funding and organisation have been put in place to allow this to happen.

Crafts Magazine (March-April 2010: 57-58)