Intellectual, physical, unique, challenging, beautiful, useful, tactile, extraordinary, cutting-edge, innovative, aesthetic, visual, thought-provoking, handmade, multi-disciplined, cultural, designed, artefacts, visual, sensitive…is this contemporary craft?
In recent years contemporary craft makers have been challenging our perceptions of what craft is, pushing the boundaries of traditional craftsmanship and emerging to represent a new, innovative and exciting art form. Jenny Deschenes, Laura West, Lucy Woodley and Daniel Kavanagh, four makers from across the Highlands and Islands, demonstrate in their joint exhibition Made It! the ingenuity, passion and creativity that contemporary craft is today.
The Highlands and Islands have long been a natural home for craft, its inspiring landscapes, rich mythology and wealth of natural materials, have contributed to the rise in interest and desire to understand, see and own Scottish craft, from both the traditional and contemporary sides of the spectrum. Craft is an integral part of the economic, social and cultural life of the Highlands and Islands, and its diversity combined with the increasing professionalism of the sector has opened up greater opportunities for growth, both for makers and for craft audiences.
In order to sustain, grow and advance such a culturally rich and engaging art form, contemporary craft has been the focus of a number of initiatives set up and delivered by the HI-Arts Craft Development team. To support the emerging professional contemporary crafts makers in the Highlands and Islands HI-Arts launched the Making Progress programme back in November 2009. The mentoring and business support scheme was designed to support mid-career makers, demonstrating exceptional potential in their chosen field, and enable them to develop new work, be supported by talented and established Highland makers through mentorship, to exhibit their work, and develop their understanding of curating, marketing and management.
Ceramics, textiles, wood and jewellery are the dominant disciplines for the Scottish craft scene; however the four makers selected for the Making Progress programme represent the diversity of contemporary craft today.
Drawing together vintage fabrics with textile design, Jenny Deschenes’ work highlights how a maker can bring the old and the modern together with style and exciting flair. “I am interested in the intimacy of old fabric, to keep the character of old cloth but yet to infuse it with a new modernity and style.”
Laura West has reinvented the way bookbinding can be infused with art and craft. West has created her own signature range of unique artefact books which take inspiration from historical and multi-cultural book structures, “they are unique and contemporary artefacts meant to inspire the user and enhance them or their surroundings.”
Daniel Kavanagh works with fine art ceramics which demonstrate both a classical and contemporary style, and is developing a fusion of bronze and ceramics to create unique and inspirational sculptural forms.
Working from her studio in Tain, Lucy Woodley takes inspiration from her local environment, the sea and its many creatures finding itself as Woodley’s muse. Woodley’s jewellery brings together silver, gold, slate and sandblasted glass to create the sense of the flotsam and jetsam of the ocean.
I was able to catch up with two of the Maker’s; Daniel Kavanagh and Laura West, to talk about their experience of the Mentoring Programme. The programme was designed to give these maker’s the freedom and support to explore their full potential, as West explains; “the mentoring process was like being given ‘permission’ to explore new materials and ways of working in order to come up with a whole new collection of work”.
As maker’s based and working in the more remote and rural areas of Scotland it was important that through the mentoring programme there was a greater sense of community around their own artistic craftsmanship. Kavanagh felt he had really benefited from the experience as the “opportunity to be part of a collective group of makers has been a new experience … and one that has provided a lot of insight and reflection, just being able to share ideas about your work and the practical parts of exhibiting and applying to shows as well as the more humanistic opportunity to talk about the stresses and positives that being a maker can present has provided support and guidance that has allowed me to feel less isolated and more informed”.
If anything the mentorship programme not only enabled these maker’s the time and space to focus on their craft and develop beyond their comfort zones, but gave them the confidence to face the future as a professional craft maker. “I feel excited by the future and what I have learnt on the programme and believe that this is a valuable experience for any maker at any stage of their career, it is easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day commitments and to have an opportunity to work in a structured way has allowed me to view both my work and my development in a new light”, Kavanagh explains. West echo’s this sentiment, admitting that the pieces she created for her Spotlight show “opened up a whole new range of possibilities in my work…No binder that I know of has attempted to move into the world of fashion in the way that I am attempting”.
But the experience also had a profound affect on the mentors involved; Gilly Langton and Eileen Gatt. Gatt worked with Jenny Desenches and Lucy Woodley who felt the mentoring programme ‘has been a very rewarding experience, seeing [Lucy and Jenny] develop and become clearer about their career path. The mentoring process has been a very positive experience for everyone involved and it has proven to be a two way process, as I have gained a lot in terms of networking opportunities and the exchange of ideas and contacts has been valuable”.
The theme of the exchange of ideas is a prevalent one across the Made It! Exhibition, with works on display, courtesy of the Craft Council, from notable maker’s such as Rupert Spira and Tord Boontje, the four maker’s were able to draw on collection items which have inspired their own practice, to exhibit alongside their work.
Another exchange of ideas culminates in what might be perceived to be a video installation, but on closer inspection are videos of each of the maker’s and their mentors working from their own studios on their craft. HI-Arts partnered with Distance Lab to create these immersive and extraordinary insights into the world of the craft maker. Distance lab is a creative research institute bringing together digital media technology, design and the arts to redefine and overcome the issues and problems of distance. This collaboration required each maker to wear immersive recording devices (HD bullet cameras) around their chests, to have the freedom to move around and work in their studios. The overall effect is one of feeling very much a part of the craft and artistic work which you are viewing, rather than simply being a passive viewer. These recordings bring a totally unique and innovative insight into the world of the maker, their talent, skills and creativity, enabling you to appreciate the incredible works on display.
The Made It! exhibition is a showcase of four talented Highland and Island makers and works which have inspired their craft and runs until the of July 2010 at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.