Well, I am dead impressed with the Barony Centre: what a fabulous venue for craft. Not bad for tea and scones either! It feels slightly disloyal to be celebrating a new venture like this when we’ve only just said goodbye to the Collins Gallery… but then I think how much worse it would be if we didn’t have a new place to enjoy. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds at the Barony, but for now I will just give an honourable mention to the sign outside the front door which announces that the toilets are open to the general public. I’m guessing that was part of their funding deal, but you have to love a place which freely shares its loos.
Now, to the craft. Lab Craft is subtitled “digital adventures in contemporary craft” and all of the work had an element of high tech involved in its production. For the textiles that included computer-aided design, digital print and electronic Jacquard weaving, while for other media there was laser cutting, 3-d scanning, rapid prototyping and a host of other techniques.
The things I really liked were the ones where the makers had used the technology to do things that were a bit mad — I could imagine someone thinking, “I wonder…” and then heading off in pursuit of a slightly daft idea. I don’t mean that in a bad way: what could be better than a daft idea that actually works? I’m thinking, for instance, of Tavs Jorgensen, who has come up with a way to capture a circle drawn freehand in the air and turn it into a glass bowl. Just the thought of that makes me smile, and the bowls themselves are lovely rumpled-looking things.
Perhaps it is just over-exposure to textiles on my part, but I didn’t find those exhibits nearly as exciting as the non-textiles. Digital print, for instance, is the mainstay of the degree show at Dundee and I’m just not thrilled by it. My favourite textile piece was actually not a textile at all but a piece of wallpaper which looks like knitting — that isn’t exactly a daft idea, but you might have to be a bit daft to see it through… and it makes me smile.
Stuart and I both misunderstood one piece (made by Daniel O’Riordan, although sadly the link doesn’t seem to have a picture of the work). It was a coffee table whose surface is covered with rings and we each assumed that he’d taken a shortcut to get it to the state all our furniture is in, marked as it is with coffee rings, tea rings, blackcurrant cordial and other flavours of rings. What an excellent idea, we thought, to cut out that awkward period before the first ring, when you are worried about keeping the table nice… and then that prolonged middle period, when you only have a few rings and they look all wrong and out of place, before you reach a critical coverage… But no. It turned out to be much more artistic than that: the coffee table is intended to look like the surface of a pond in the rain, when all the drops turn into ripples. I’m still not sure, though. Perhaps it is just that we are exceptionally messy (in spite of having a house full of coasters), but when I see “rings” and “coffee table” the association is automatic.
One thing that bugged me was some of the text accompanying the pieces. The little exhibition brochure sets the tone with its statement that “the human touch is considered a pivotal anchor in the definition of craft” (page 1) and much of the surrounding blurb seemed to be written in defensive mode. Whether it was the equations used in the design software — hey! this is really complicated! — or the time taken to complete some of the processes — this is hard work! it takes ages to do this! — I had a sense of an underlying anxiety from the makers that they might not be considered “real” craftspeople. I don’t know whether they do in fact feel such an anxiety, but that was the tone of the text and it seemed to pre-judge our response to the work.
Warning: strong personal opinion coming up… I think it is important that we are free to choose whatever tools we wish to work with and that it is not the business of some external authority to determine which ones are authentic “craft” tools and which ones are not. I occasionally see people proclaiming the absence of certain technologies from their work and the manner of their proclamation suggests they believe that this makes their work “better” — either aesthetically better or (rather scarily) morally better, or perhaps a bit of both. But who is lining up all the tools and making this judgment about them? Seems to me to be a very dangerous path to go down… where, after all, do you stop? A loom was an innovation once up on a time. Weaving was an innovation once upon a time. “What’s that you’re wearing, Cally? Animal skins not good enough for you now?” And that’s just fibre… can you even imagine trying to work wood without tools? Ow. Anyway, digital print might bore the pants off me, but it clearly has a magic for those who choose to work with it. End of strong personal opinion.
Amazingly, the sun was shining on us all day so we discussed all these things and more over a picnic lunch with a lovely view of Arran.