Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Sitting & Looking

Sitting_Looking_exhibitionBY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Sitting & Looking

Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh
July 10 – September 4, 2010

This exhibition is the second of IC: Innovative Craft’s Maker/Curator series, which aims to explore the relationship between the two. Jewellery artist Adam Paxon was the first invited curator of the series, creating an intensive cycle of four ten-day exhibitions with jewellers and silversmiths Drummond Masterton, Charlotte de Syllas, Lina Peterson and David Poston during the spring of this year. Now furniture designers Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley have used their stunning tables and seating as the linchpin for an exhibition that invites us to consider the work of ten makers working across a range of media.

“Slowing down the viewing experience is part of our curatorial plan,” explain the pair. As long as it isn’t our Internet access, anything ‘slow’ seems to enjoy the stamp of cultural approval these days. The trick is doing it, rather than simply talking and reading about it. Here viewers are left to draw their own ‘slow’ conclusions. Rather than rely on typical curatorial formulas of shared genre, material or technique, the selected makers are brought together by what the curators term a “visceral choice” that responds to “that particular kind of creativity where the thinking and the doing are tightly entwined”. Rather than set out rules, they offer the simple explanation of selection based on that “hard to define but easy to recognise state that comes from the skilled interweaving of process, material, context and intention.”

My gallery visit began as many do with a harried dash to the venue. On arrival I faced a gathering of objects accompanied by no didactic text, a liberating omission that somehow provoked in me a sense of panic. The responsibility of ‘looking’ left me nervously searching for a framework with which to judge what I saw, proving just how often I unwittingly rely on such details to guide my opinions. In contrast, Partridge and Walmsley’s curatorial approach encourages the viewer to focus on the values of the maker. This may seem like an obvious priority but is often overshadowed by the superimposed (albeit often sympathetic) values of the curator, historian or critic speaking over the work displayed. No such danger here.

The curators own work is the seating for the show; quite literally supporting the pause that encourages viewers to linger. Sensitive observation, rather than any suggestion of the domestic, is apparent. For example, intimate distances are constructed for viewing the jewellery of David Poston and Nel Linssen. The comfortable ease of the late Vico Magistretti’s sofa is provided to contemplate Gordon Baldwin’s ceramics and Ann Sutton’s new explorations in paint. Table and chairs encourage a proximity for ‘reading’ Rupert Spira’s text covered ceramics that I might not have dared if standing near the work.

The only draw back to these choreographed sitting opportunities is that the majority of works on display benefit from viewing in the round. Sitting provides a pause, but it also confines perspective and can encourage idleness. Linssen’s paper jewellery, for instance, is displayed beneath Perspex boxes on a pair of oak cross benches. The arrangement encourages the viewer to be stationary, which establishes something of a contradiction for works such as his where the viewer’s shifting perspective is crucial to enjoying the pleats of changing colour. And while sitting and looking might be simple tasks, they are also alarmingly unfamiliar. I found myself feeling a bit neurotic: had I sat for long enough? Was I being observant, patient enough? Rather than simply an indication of my appalling attention span, I suspect that my feelings were also a result of the sheer unfamiliarity of the process this exhibition encourages.

The curators’ write “making things that communicate [is] right at the heart of what it means to be human”. Readers of a publication such as Crafts are likely to be sympathetic to this thinking. But what this exhibition does so well is provide a powerful reminder for those of us engaged with the peripheries of making (consumption and admiration, rather than production) that talking about slowing down to sit and look is very different to doing it.

Crafts Magazine (Sept./Oct. 2010: 70)