Under the Counter
A collaborative curated exhibition at Smith’s Row, Bury St Edmonds
Making a Slow Revolution
Commissioned by Craftspace
Commissioned by Artquest for the Crafts Council
Making, unmaking, repair and repetition
Commissioned by AXIS
Catherine Bertola, Andrew Burton, Julie Cook, Shelly Goldsmith, Amy Houghton and Jill Townsley
Curated by Helen Carnac
Searching the Axis website, with the broad idea of finding innovative or contemporary approaches to craft and object making, has been an interesting process. The Crafts may be seen to be in a state of flux – the teaching of material based subjects is in upheaval, subject to budget cuts and in some places seen as an outmoded form of practice, and its need to be understood as a thinking process is somewhat denied. For me what cannot be denied is that making does offer both maker and viewer crucial ways of thinking, and that contemporary craft and object-making is acknowledged as important in the visual arts world and beyond. As an artist who makes things, objects, exhibitions and ideas, I am engaged with thinking critically about the reasons why we make and the necessity of making as a thinking process. That the‘process’ is a crucial but often hidden stage has been a key issue for me over the last ten years. In curating this online exhibition I have looked for artists who explore concepts of repair, making, unmaking and repetition –
all as ways of thinking. Repair in making is complex, it takes the understanding of how something has been made by its original maker to then repair or restore it. The making and unmaking processes that take place in order to do this involve a layering of
knowledge and sensibility in the handling of material that develops through time spent, and an appreciation of changing technologies over time.
Things Fall Apart, 2008
‘Things Fall Apart’ (2008) by Andrew Burton is a process-based temporary structure made from brick components which are later dismantled and broken up, the constituent fragments forming part of the artist’s next body of work. Burton’s works are made and unmade simultaneously, gathering evidence of the previous works they encapsulate. Collaboration has formed an important aspect of the work, in particular through
the projects that he has undertaken in India such as ‘Sculptures from a Land of Ants and Bees’, Delhi (2006) where Burton worked with bamboo and ladder workers – traditional craft workers whose skills are increasingly challenged by a burgeoning industry. In the UK it is Industry that is currently being challenged and sculptors such as Burton can suggest ways for us to think about this cycle of decline and regeneration through the objects that they make.
One centimetre is a little less than half an inch, 2009
The process of unmaking is explored in Amy Houghton’s ‘One centimetre
is a little less than half-an-inch’ (2009). Here the artist takes a pseudo-forensic approach to understanding a piece of historical text. Taking apart and x-raying a letter, sourced from the Dovecot Studios’ archive on the Isle of Bute, she began to understand something about the person who wrote it. When I spoke to Houghton about this work in 2009 she told me that knowing how to unpick a textile enabled her to think through other objects –
to take them apart, physically and metaphorically: ‘I like the idea of going backwards –
the unmaking; in going backwards you have a sense of what the person has been through. At points you will see things that only that person would have seen at the
time of making, and there is a real sense of physical connection’.
Outpourings on an English Landscape, 2009
Shelly Goldsmith also uses a layered process and knowledge of materiality in the handling of complex scientific processes, particularly human biology, in her investigations into worn garments. In ‘Outpourings on an English Landscape’ (2009) Goldsmith worked collaboratively with the Forensic Science Service to explore the parallels between ‘forensic methodology and the methodology of her practice’.
Goldsmith’s work can give us new perspectives and knowledge about the objects that she reclaims –how do we understand these garments, their former life and the person who wore them? What is there left of the person in this evidence? For me they offer a way to view objects anew, a new perspective on the day to day and an insight into the way objects somehow have the ability to become a part of us. In Jane Wildgoose’s essay Reviewing the Data, Charting the Flow (2008) she eloquently articulates this:
‘Shelly’s metaphors of flooding, staining, and seepage may also be applied to the processes of the unconscious she explores. Shelly’s work offers opportunities for the viewer to participate in a stream of consciousness that may bring fresh perspectives
– not only to traditional skills and processes (the textile media she employs), but also to a fundamental understanding of ourselves, our relationshipwith the world we inhabit, and the residues we leave behind.
After the fact, 2006
The everyday residues of another kind form the material with which artist Catherine Bertola constructs and creates installations, objects and drawings that respond to particular sites, collections and historic contexts.
In ‘After the Fact’ (2006) Bertola quietly interacts with dust that is found at the site of installation, reminding us that things left hidden still quietly exist and can provide an eloquent material in which to mark human presence. This engagement with the material detritus of human existence and the making of it into a tangible presence seems a poetic and humane response to place. The presence of those who have walked through the space is evoked through the dust collected and the subsequent marks left by Bertola and the visitors to the space -a layering through time and space. Time, repetition and a sense of inherent materiality in the making process are immediately apparent in ‘Satie 840’ (2007.)
Here Jill Townsley attempts to ‘experience what 840 repetitions feels like -by
chalking numbers on a blackboard. ‘Starting at one, each number was drawn and rubbed out by hand then replaced by the next number in basic numerical sequence. The whole process is repeated until the number 840 is reached’.
Through a process of mark making, erasing and repetition, the artist builds an appreciation of
rhythm and time systematically.
As the process develops the chalk surface grows and the numbers, at first difficult to remove by
hand, begin to disappear seamlessly into the build
-up of chalk on the blackboard. This simple
repetitious exercise holds the meditative and repairing element of the making process within it.
Satie 840, 2007
A Time for Healing
– Siguiriya Lamenting Place, 2006
Therapeutic Appliances for the Injured
– Melancholia, 2002
The final works I have selected are Julie Cook’s ‘Therapeutic Appliances’ (2002) and ‘Duende A Time
for Healing’ (2006). Cook’s c
onstructed textile works are collections of wearable objects that intend
to provide comfort and ‘enigmatic therapeutic solutions’. Here again we encounter an aspect of
– perhaps the repair of the human condition? The found objects that Cook uses in her work –
pillowcases, wool blankets, goose down duvets, bolsters and cotton sheets –
richly contain or
embody something of their previous life: they hold memory.
She transforms them into pieces for the body that, through use, may offer a panacea; we may
comfort and solace in these objects. Just looking at them on the computer screen with nothing
physical in my presence, they appear, by their very nature and making, to contain some sort of
comforting, human presence.
In putting this selection of wor
ks together I have found a rich seam of thinking through objects; a
glimpse at what such objects and their makers offer to wider considerations about why we make,
both literally and metaphorically, and perhaps ultimately to the human being that these objec
their making tangibly make present.
Helen Carnac, March 2
The exhibition Process Works took place between January and October 2007.
Process Works aimed to understand and explain the discreet languages of making and its specificity to individual practice. Examining this in the first instance through an exhibition and catalogue, with an invited written contribution in the form of essays and maker interviews by Paul Harper. The exhibition toured 3 venues; curatorial reaction to venue type and location was a central theme of the project. Artist talks were held at all venues and The University of Herts. exhibition was reviewed. (Mark Lewis; Process Works: An exploration of the creative inspiration and developmental work of five contemporary jewellers. Findings. June 2007. P7).
Throughout our investigation we sought to understand:
How the act of making may be understood both inside and outside practice and whether the act is more understandable when we are able to encounter the process in whatever way?
Process is rarely examined in exhibitions of made artefacts and yet making implies a process – a journey, an examining of thought, of meaning and a putting together of elements, materials and ideas.
An important element was the positioning of Helen Carnac as maker/curator, this at once allowed the examination of curator and curated from the standpoint of one practice and the making of a comparative analysis of internal/external direction.
You can access the catalogue here...proccess works_v2.2