Here’s a task: design an exhibit that’s actually three exhibits in one, relying solely on images of the featured objects supplied in a PowerPoint file—objects that won’t arrive for months. Such was the challenge of Art of Craft, a rich, binational survey of contemporary craft presented with the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad that opens tonight. Exhibit designers Kirsti Wakelin and Darren Carcary of Vancouver-based Resolve Design opted for a simple, spare concept that belies both the complexity of the 173 objects on view and the themes each gallery incorporates in layer, upon layer, upon layer. The range of materials is staggering, too, covering ceramics, textiles, glass, wood, and metal, among others.
If there is a central thesis to Art of Craft says Wakelin, it’s that the world of craft is incredibly broad and doesn’t have a boundary. “Most craft is fine art but the word ‘craft’ has typically referred to the technical ability of doing or making. That’s changing.”
The first gallery or show-within-a-show, entitled Unity and Diversity, is a national survey of works that were recently shown at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in Korea. The 75 pieces were selected out of 1,400 submissions to six juries coordinated by provincial and territorial craft councils overseen by the Canadian Crafts Federation.
Unity and Diversity represents a more traditional or classic approach to craft, but there’s a lightness here, too, and a common rejection of nostalgia. Many of the artisans question old ideas about Canadian identity, motifs, and history, while others challenge preconceived notions about the materials themselves: Springtime by Nova Scotian Dawn MacNutt looks as though it were made from wicker. In fact, it’s painted bronze-cast wire—and weighs a tonne. The nine ceramic figures of the work fine lines by Margaret Matsuyama (pictured left) are a comment on what she sees as a Canadian tendency to broadly categorize “diversity” while overlooking individual differences. “Diversity in multicultural Canada is often broadly defined by categories that overlook complex, subtle differences of identity.”
The second gallery turns its attention to crafts produced on the West Coast. By Hand/B.C. and Yukon was also a juried show, but when it reached MOV it hadn’t been formally curated. Carcary and Wakelin organized the objects by medium and added a multimedia section that focuses on an area they find fascinating: process. They shot and produced a series of two-minute films of Vancouver-based artisans Peter Kiss, Barbara Heller, Jinny Whitehead, and Barbara Cohen—all with pieces on display here—to capture studio life and the intimacies of the creative process. “By seeing what’s involved in the making of an object, you develop a greater appreciation for the skill involved,” says Carcary. “Each artisan creates a tangible object on film, but their approaches are so totally different.” For some, the materials determine the final outcome; for others, they’re just a means to an end.
The third gallery, entitled simply Craft from the Republic of Korea, offers a representation of objects used or found in the Korean home. It’s more thematically concise than the Canadian galleries, but the exacting attention to form and materials is the same. Some of the pieces have a distinct Pacific North quality to them, too (Bae Se Hwa’s incredible white birch lanterns, Easylight-01, would be right at home at the B.C. Wood Co-op; ditto Kim Kyung lae’s Branch Chair, a high-backed piece made from ash, maple, and ebony woods with a seat fashioned from cord).
Wakelin and Carcary are themselves involved with Vancouver’s craft scene, participating in a regular craft night or “crafternoon” that brings together anywhere from a handful to 15 friends to create anything and everything from knitting to collages to stop-motion photography. The idea inspired the Museum’s DIY@MOV craft night coming up on January 21, and Wakelin will be leading one of the sessions. (More on all that later.)
There’s a lot of ground covered in Art of Craft—and far more to cover still. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at contemporary craft in Vancouver and how various practices are evolving. However you spend your time in the exhibit, be sure to pause near the entrance to watch the projection of close-shot photographs of some of the works featured inside. The discipline and skill used to achieve such extraordinary detail is precisely what Art of Craft is about.
Image caption material, from top to bottom:
Selection from The Meditation of Order by Eliza Au.
fine lines by Margaret Matsuyama
Gallery wall featured in By Hand/B.C. and Yukon gallery
Sanctuary by Noelle Hamlyn Snell