Friday 7 March 2008

Collect and other animals

So, finally some thoughts on the rank evil that is Collect.
website here

I admitted that I didn’t get there this year, and I’ve a feeling I didn’t last year, or if I did it was spectacularly unmemorable. The most memorable year for me was when I stumbled in on the coat tails of the White Rabbit, who kept pulling a gold watch out of his waistcoat pocket and muttering, ‘my ears and whiskers, so much FLIM FLAM,’ before scampering off into the undergrowth to edit his parish council pottery review. I clearly remember finding myself in a room full of weird shaped china, with a large table, in the middle of which was a miniature celadon tea pot, over which was slumped a giant sized dormouse, with whom, apparently, I was to have ‘supervision’. Since the dormouse continued his slumbers, oblivious to the world, I slipped past and into another vast strange room, in which I found ‘Ratty’, sitting in a big chair on a stage, and on either side of him – actually he’d had his gender reassigned and was now she – on either side of HER, were a Badger, called Julian, an extraordinarily cantankerous fellow in a velvet smoking jacket, and a Toad, called Grayson, in a ludicrous flounced frock with bells and ribbons. They were discussing death, coffins, and sarcophagi. The more cantankerous Badger got, the more Ratty tried to intervene, and the more Toad just said ‘toot toot’, greatly to the amusement of the audience; apparently he had a very fine collection of very fast flash motorbikes, and just wanted to show them off. Badger and Toad both made clay pots in their spare time it seemed. Ratty talked and wrote about them, the pots, not B and T. Eventually Toad flounced off, climbed into primrose yellow car and, with one last ‘Toot Toot’, sped away. Ratty scuttled off and investigated the rest of the Collect sewer, and Badger growled at everyone and brushed up his velvet jacket. I went to look for the dormouse and his ‘supervision’ again, but was told he’d retreated to his tank with a group of other rodents to do some thinking. Apparently he had to rethink the entire 20th Century. No wonder the poor chap was comatose. I gloomily wandered out into the February sunshine and found my sister on the Temple bank, who nudged me awake, gave me good strong cup of tea, and said ‘Well whatsortofmug goes to Collect anyway?’
for a different take on collecting, consumption, and how to drink a mug of tea click here

Think Tank

Saturday, Januaray 27th, saw the Think Tank Party. Now I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it was a party of sorts. Perhaps more plotting than partying, more networking than thinking, but hey, they tried. And I tried too.

This too was staged at a venerable institution of planet C, commonly known as Contemporary Applied Arts, or the CAA. It lurks on the north side of Oxford St. in central London, and sells things, most of the time. That, at least, is its purpose, and as far as I know, it acquits itself admirably, or is doing so now after a bad patch, by all accounts.

One day, I promise, The C Word will delve into the sordid underbelly of the Craft’s political/social (?) economy, and find who exactly does fund who and who knows who, taught who, is propped up by who, and how the whole ghastly closed-shop edifice is constructed and maintained, and how the hegemonic practices, of ceramics in particular, are hedged in, protected, regularly clipped, and by whom. But that could take a while, and is a digression from our current concerns with the TANK.
link to website here

Think Tank, for those not in the know, was dreamed up about four years ago, in a small Austrian town called Gmunden, by one Gabi Dewald, who invited ‘some of the most committed thinkers in the field of applied art from right across Europe’ to ‘lay a theoretical foundation for the concept of the applied art in Europe today.’ My guess is we’re now about half way through Think Tank’s natural life span. They’ve produced four publications, three of which have accompanied exhibitions, which themselves respond to a concept, which is discussed in the seminar papers published in the books. The first of the three exhibitions, and therefore the title of the collected, published papers, was called ‘Languages’; the second was ‘Place(s)’; the third, ‘Gift’. The first of the publications was called ‘The Foundation,’ in which the contributors discussed their reasons for participating in Think Tank and what they considered the purpose of the beast to be. So, Gift was the exhibition hosted at the CAA, whose papers are now published in the book of the same name. Ok so far?

Word on the craft corridor is that the Tank members each chose a piece of work they like, and want to talk about in terms of the proscribed concept, pop it in their handbags, bring it to the exhibition space and lob it on a plinth. I imagine the process isn’t quite as cavalier as this, this is simply what my, probably rather unreliable, source told me, but the point is that the shows are curated by the members (nine writers from eight countries) and assembled in situ. In other words the curatorial process is predicated on the concept, almost as though the concept, ‘gift’ in this case, does the curating, or at least has the casting vote. Make no mistake, this has produced some wonderful shows. That said, the last two, Gift and Place(s), has had a cobbled together look. The first time, it felt like a welcome break from the preciousness of craft curating. The second time, it’s starting to look like a bad habit.

One of the most important things about these shows is the writing, which also appears in the gallery space with each of the objects exhibited. These are the thoughts of the individual who chose that piece in response to the concept. Place(s) and Gift both were shown at the CAA, and in both shows, the objects were set out on big white plinths with typed statements next to them. As I said it looked clunky but home made and interesting the first time. Now I want to see the writing look like it really is part of the show. I want to see it curated. I love what Think Tank does and I don’t want it to be part of miserable little note left in a survey of craft centred art practices. So, I’m hoping for a LOT MORE punch in the next show. It still has the small-but-perfectly-formed-objects look to it, but that may just be what the Thinkers like. No disrespect intended to the makers here, the ‘look’ is what happens when you put them all together. I’d like to see all this seminar-ing and laying of theoretical foundations to have some real weight which is made visible, and indeed material, in the exhibitions themselves.

Craft Rocks, Linda Florence, and Spectacular Craft

Friday Feb 8th 2008 continued:
The next Big Thing was Craft Rocks. One could be forgiven for thinking that the otherwise unpromising title must have a least a hint of irony, but as far as I could tell, none was present. That said, there was strong whiff of high camp drifting through the cast gallery. This turned out to be icing sugar, which had been lovingly set out in imitation of gracefully pattered floor tiles. This, the dance and icing sugar were the idea and work of Linda Florence. The stately rooms of the V&A were slowly being turned into a sugar dust-bowl as three pairs of magnificent ballroom dancers where waltzing, tangoing, and two-stepping this way and that across the ‘tiles’, creating voluminous clouds of sugar as they went. Mesmerising though it was, the audience got steadily sweeter and stickier and the sugar dust settled in our hair and eyebrows and in the fold of our clothing and rose in mighty billowing waves to settle on high balconies, paintings, statues, in distant curlicues and on the cheeks of cherubs. Wonderful stuff at best, but I’m still worried about the cleaning bill.

Craft was being splendidly rejuvenated in the Temple of the Applied Arts. ‘Out of the Ordinary,’ subtitled, ‘Spectacular Craft,’ also surpassed its excruciatingly clunky titles with an exhibition, ‘of eight contemporary artists who place craft at the heart of their practice.’
pictures here
What is truly astonishing about this is that it was a collaboration, in name at least, between The Temple and The Politburo (aka the Crafts Council). In reality it seems to have been the work of about 20 people as well as the eight artists, most of whom have little or no connection with the Politburo. The first thing to note was the absence of the loathsome plinth. Gone too the pious silence that clings like a virus to most displays of the ‘beautifully crafted’ item. Here was a screaming cascade of lacerated red paper, tumbling exuberantly, extravagantly from open books, whose cut pages generated the torrent. More viciously cut paper dolls filled box frames; the caught, caged versions of escaping paper, which filled a corner from ceiling to floor. There is so much more that could be said about this show, and perhaps someone else will write it, but I will just mention the exhibition design. The room was divided into sections using giant cast plaster blocks on which some exhibits were mounted, perfect for Susan Collis’s gold screws and brown diamond drawing pins, for example. What joy it was to see a show dedicated to craft practices, properly, thoughtfully exhibited. Curators, Take Note!!!

Anders Ruhwald at 6pm studio

Friday 8th Feb. 2008 – Anders Ruhwald at 6pm studio
I woke up on Wednesday, and ‘Oh, bugger,’ I thought, ‘I’ve missed it again,’ I thought and again ‘Oh BUGGER,’ as I realised that this was the last 'Collect' at the V&A that had drifted slowly past me. Oh well it was a busy week for the Craft Circuit, and how often can one say that?
I did get to 'Collect' once, twice in fact, but I’ll come back to that.
Right now, it’s time for a bit of hard-core craft analysis/gossip.
First we’ll take a trip to South London, to Tulse Hill in fact, to the throbbing heart of happening ceramics, the studio of Edmund de Waal, where the first outing, (23rd -27th Jan. 2008), of the 6pm workspace was strutting its stuff with giant worm-like creatures propped up on sticks like some appalling genetically modified allotment nightmare.
pictures here and here
The vile progeny were not only vast, for worms, but toxic colours, mauve, yellow and orange. Exactly the sort of thing you really don’t want either on your allotment, or in your studio. They looked like they were made of fibre-glass, but apparently they were earthenware. I kept having all the wrong thoughts, like, ‘I wonder how much they weigh.’
It’s a strange thing, You have to be very deeply dug into ceramics really to get any kind of conversation going with these works. ‘Form and Function’ it bravely asserted. This was the title. To ‘get’ it you have to know Mr. Leach. Well to ‘get’ that side of it at least. Otherwise you can just get into their creepiness, which is largely about identifying with the other sort of Leech.
Ok, so let’s be perverse, and pretend for a moment that they are made of fibre glass, or some kind of plastic. They have a sort of upside down IKEA look to them. They’re made by one Anders Ruhwald. Danish chap. I like them better now they’re made of fibre glass, because I can move them around my loft apartment. They somehow seem more alive. They’re just a bit too turdy as clay. No two ways about it, I’m more charmed by the Leech discourse than I am by the Leach discourse, or the anti-Leach discourse as this would presumably be. Looking on the bright side however, we are, presumably, seeing the first stirrings of the Ceramics Establishment, lumbering slowly away from its relentless preoccupation with solid, stupefyingly dull, modernism. We’re on un-truth to materials now apparently. Halleluja. But dear god, please let those leeches be speedy movers. What bliss it would be to leave all that stuff behind and glide gracefully into a Ceramics Spring. Is this really so much to ask for? But then what would the establishment do?
I guess I should be optimistic; these worms are trying that long-preserved ceramic virtue. I wish they’d get a move on though, so the rest of us can get out of the mausoleum and embrace in the sun.

Welcome to The C word

Friday, march 7th 2008. Dark moon according to my diary.
Dear Readers,
Welcome to The C word, which in this blog refers to in particular to Craft and to Class. The first is art's C word, the second is the C word of political theorists, academics and journalists, among others, or as someone, (Terry Eagleton?) put it, 'the issue that got away'. Just to warn you, I think commas may be one of my personal c words, since I'm inclined to lose the plot with them, so if any school teacherly types feel inclined to get out the cyber-red-pen and correct my postings, I'd be eternally grateful. Vis a vis the class thing, I've heard there's a series of telly programmes on the matter, and I know I wont get round to watching any of them; so please, send in your reviews and comments if you have a better relationship with your telly than I do.

My name is Claudia, and Clare is my surname, which is also a rather feeble excuse for the title of this blog, and I'm a potter who likes writing. I do write in a proper published sort of way, but here I get to say what I like. Welcome then, to the unedited version. The next four posts I wrote in February, over a weekend I think. I wanted to use it to get the blog started, so It's pasted in and I hope will give some of you, both of you, something to get your teeth into.