Handicrafts exhibition a response to consumption-driven society
Allyson Mitchell's room-sized installation "Hungry Purse" appears in the exhibition "DIY: A Revolution in Handicrafts" at the Society for Contemporary Craft.
Kate MacDowell's porcelain sculpture "Migrant" is part of "DIY: A Revolution in Handicrafts," at the Society for Contemporary Craft.
Amy Johnston's silver "Did Dolly Dream of a Bio Mom?" references Dolly, the cloned sheep, atop a double helix.
Ehren Tool "CBU 87" is made up of 14 shelves each holding 14 ceramic cups embellished with military and patriotic imagery, contained within the suspended shape of a large bomb.
These choice cuts are part of the installation "Stuffed Full" by California artist Lauren Venell at the Society for Contemporary Craft. Ms. Venell prices her meats according to their actual costs, incorporating their effect upon the environment and human health. Her total for pork is $39.88 a pound; for beef, a whopping $138.79.
Share with others:
The DIY movement -- "do it yourself" -- has been gaining steam among crafters in response to a culture that has shifted from people making their own personal items to a consumer society that divorces those items from their sources, both physical and geographic.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Arts and Crafts movement formed in opposition to the Industrial Revolution, and had both an aesthetic and an ideological edge. Similarly, DIY's youth aesthetic shares prominence with the politics of sustainability engendered in the Slow Food movement and other efforts to wrestle options from purveyors of mass-produced and mass-marketed goods.
But DIY goes one further, exemplified by the 16 American, Canadian and British artists/collectives in the timely exhibition, "DIY: A Revolution in Handicrafts," at the Society for Contemporary Craft.
"Once again, craft finds itself a reactionary cultural activity by virtue of its connection to self-sufficiency, manual skills and cottage industry; in short, by its wholesome and romantic values," writes Gabriel Craig of www.conceptualmetalsmithing.com in a small, smart publication that accompanies the exhibition ($3).
The show's work confounds expectations, appearing to align more with fine art than with craft, until one learns that the common denominator that unites DIY is values.
Because of social shifts in family structure and gender roles, urbanization and the rise of the middle class, men are far less likely to build their homes than those a few generations back, and women are less likely to sew clothing for family members or to cook meals from scratch. While some of that change has been freeing, it has its own kind of entrapment.
"Today, it's in the context of a world in which it's possible to get by making nothing that making -- and the simple empowerment it confers -- can emerge as a category of active interest and political meaning," writes Katherine Sharpe in the show brochure. Ms. Sharpe, a Brooklyn resident, is online editor of ReadyMade, a bimonthly lifestyle magazine centered on DIY projects and modern design.
The exhibited artists add yet another twist. Knitted items and jewelry, media one would expect at a handicraft show, are represented. But Mark Newport's colorful 6-foot-tall "superhero" suits challenge stereotypes of masculinity, even as they reference his mother's hand-knit sweaters. Robert Longyear works in a deserted St. Louis industrial building and makes brooches of materials found therein that look like exotic crystal growths, to call attention to "the fate of our neighborhoods, which are presently filled with abandoned warehouses, idle factories and empty lots."
Exhibitions coordinator Kati Fishbein says it "doesn't lend itself to what is typically expected as a DIY show. [The work selected] is a next step, a way of showing how DIY has become integrated into higher craft."
Ms. Fishbein points out that it's important that artists continually diverge from tradition, "otherwise the main field wouldn't change."
Craftsmanship is evident in mastery of technique, as with Amy Johnston's "Did Dolly Dream of a Bio Mom?," a silver bracelet shaped like a DNA double helix with two beautifully realized sheep at its closure, a reference to the first cloned animal. Her "Hidden Agendas," about surveillance, comprises a network of RFID tags that the visitor activates to reveal, on a screen, images or quotes such as Aldous Huxley's "Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards."
Man's impact upon the environment and vice-versa inspired Kate MacDowell's lyrical porcelain sculpture such as "Migrant," a pair of feet rooting to the soil, and Austin Redwood makes a case for recycling with his humorous and pragmatic "Traffic Barrier Car," a found construction barrel turned "utility cart or ... portable garden."
The Middle Eastern wars sparked London-based War Boutique's "bak-2-skool" series -- bulletproof vests embellished with prep school emblems, a reminder of distant conflicts and perhaps the appalling school shootings in the U.S.
Persian Gulf War veteran Ehren Tool exhibits "CBU 87," 14 shelves each holding 14 ceramic cups embellished with military and patriotic imagery, contained within the suspended shape of a large bomb. Broken cups symbolize dead soldiers; they're sold in units of four or more "because military units don't leave a soldier behind."
Feminism also has a seat at the table, in Canadians Julie Moon's ruffled and decal-embellished porcelain sculpture, such as "Birdie," that critiques cultural ownership of women's bodies; and Allyson Mitchell's "Hungry Purse: The Vagina Dentate in Late Capitalism," a captivating carpeted pillow and doily-lined, womb-like installation that subversively lures the visitor into a contemplation of handicraft, domesticity, sexuality, life cycles, femininity verses girl power, and, writes Dr. Mitchell, "the excessive availability of second-hand goods that are loaded with emotion and sentimentality."
On the upside, Pittsburghers Paul Roden and Valerie Lueth exhibit "America the Beautiful," a woodblock printed from five blocks meticulously carved in their Lawrenceville studio, Tugboat Printshop. The 26-by-34-inch 2009 work was created for "Manifest Hope," an art exhibition celebrating President Obama's inauguration.
"Stuffed Full," Lauren Venell's installation of plush fiber ham hocks, steaks and bacon strips, inspires smiles, but the deli-style price list enumerates the per pound cost to public health and the environment of beef and pork for a grand total of $138.79 and $39.88 respectively, far surpassing the most gourmet grocery.
Also exhibiting are Sarah Kate Burgess, Seth Papac, Cassandra Smith, Matt Smith and Bamboo Bike Studio.
The contemporary retreat of touch, tactile experience and in-person engagement gives new meaning to the word "disembodied" and perhaps explains the renewed popularity of zombie culture. Take heart: DIY practitioners across the globe are on track to push the pendulum back to center.
"Revolution" continues through March 26 at 2100 Smallman St., Strip District. Hours are 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free. Information: 412-261-7003 or www.contemporarycraft.org, where the artworks are pictured and for sale.
"Paul Thek, The Artist's Artist: A Conversation with Paul McCarthy and Lynn Zelevansky" will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday at Carnegie Museum of Art. This promises to be a lively evening with the seminal installation and performance artist. It's free, but be advised that seating is limited and the auditorium has been filling early for other events (www.cmoa.org or 412-622-3131).
Little did she know how visionary it was when Pittsburgh-based ArtUp founder and director Tavia La Follette traveled last summer to Cairo to lead a workshop for 15 Egyptian artists. The project culminated in an exhibition at the cultural venue Darb 1718 in Cairo, and led to development of a website, fireflytunnels.net. Ms. La Follette reports that ArtUp has been invited to return to Egypt next month to train artists in web applications and will lead a similar workshop in Pittsburgh in May. International collaborations will ensue, resulting in an exhibition at the Mattress Factory to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11. "Firefly Tunnels," the website reads, "are metaphorical passageways for the exchange of ideas through the language of Performance Art."
Riverlife and Point Park University seek an artist member for a team designing a public art installation to connect Wood St. and the Mon Wharf Landing. Applications, due March 7, are at www.pittsburghartscouncil.org, then "public art."
Deadline for applications to the 2011 Three Rivers Arts Festival Artists Market and Emerging Artist Scholarship Program is Friday; for the Juried Visual Art Exhibition, March 11 (www.artsfestival.net).
Silver Eye Center for Photography, 1015 Carson St., South Side, is sponsoring two workshops. Feb. 27 Sarah Schmerler, New York Times contributing art critic, will conduct "The Art of Writing for Artists" ($175, members $160). March 19 Christine Holtz, Robert Morris University associate professor of media arts, will present "Self-Publishing Your Photography or Art Book" ($135, members $120). For information, 412-431-1810 or www.silvereye.org.
First Published February 16, 2011 12:00 am