Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft, V&A, London

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft (PREVIEW)

Craft has managed to pique the public’s curiosity for some time now.  Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft investigates this trend through the work of eight individuals, each offering the viewer a distinctly contemporary take on craft. Previous definitions of craft as the embodiment of comfort and familiarity are here cast aside. In their place stands work that relishes the spectacle brought about by compulsive production, unanticipated contexts and extremes of scale. Out of the Ordinary curator Laurie Britton Newell suggests that the exhibition “not only considers what craft is but also proposes what it may be.”

The exhibition is the first to occupy the newly designed Contemporary Space at the V&A, as well as representing the first in what is to become a series of triennial projects to be organised by the British Crafts Council and the V&A. The new exhibition space provides the perfect setting for Susan Collis’s work, described by Britton Newell as “the room we forgot to install”. The installation looks at first glance to contain the pedestrian objects of decorating: nails, dust cloths and the spatter of paint. Closer inspection reveals otherwise: nails and screws are made of precious materials, paint spatters are inlaid with mother-of-pearl and a dustsheet is covered in delicate embroidery.
This sense of translating the unremarkable into something quite the opposite persists throughout the exhibition. American artist Anne Wilson’s incarnation of Topologies, a landscape of lace fragments, is displayed on a seven metre long table. The work’s previous incarnations have included venues such as the 2002 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Wilson will also screen Errant Behaviours, an anthropomorphic animation that brings to life some of Topologies fabric fragments.

Craft has been creeping away from function for many years. This group of artists provide a conclusive punctuation to this trend. Contemporary craft is now concept. Naomi Filmer, a trained jeweller, deploys unlikely materials such as ice and chocolate to adorn the uncelebrated nooks and crannies of the body. Similarly, Annie Cattrell makes tangible events and experiences that tend to be defined by their illusiveness. Clouds, for example, are trapped inside glass. Yoshihiro Suda works in the other direction, making the transient permanent. His carved wooden flowers and weeds spill out beyond the defined space of this new white cube to suggest that nowhere is the world quite as it seems.

Concept and labour are also inextricably intertwined: Nigerian Olu Amoda uses found materials to weld large-scale works such as a map of Lagos that comments on the political instability and violence of the city. The work of Lu Shengzhong, from China, could be rapidly produced with laser cutting. But this industrial shortcut would not provide the positive and negative shapes his hand cut paper walls require. Executing work on a scale that is both remarkable and unsettling, his manual labour seems to suggest a larger commentary about the lives of individuals who identities are defined by machine-like labour.

Photographs of each artists’ studio by Philip Sayer are on display to contextualise this global gathering of talent. Artist Catherine Bertola provides one final take on the ordinary by providing the museum’s significant William Morris collection with a contemporary update rendered in dust – the bane of conservators and stately homes, but a curious if unanticipated beauty in its own right.

If you want to know contemporary craft, then you need to be willing to look for it.

Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft is at the Victoria and Albert Museum from the 13th of November 2007 through the 17th February 2008.

Modern Carpets & Textiles (winter 2007: 17)

home page: Susan Collis