raised in craftivity
Gallery: Rockhurst University
1100 Rockhurst Road, KCMO
Opening reception: Friday, 7 September
Gallery Talk: 6:30-7pm
Maria Elena Buszek
The exhibition Raised in Craftivity spotlights the work of contemporary artists working in craft media to celebrate, challenge, and subvert our expectations of these media and the cultures with which they are associated. Traditionally disdained as “feminine,” “decorative,” “domestic,” and “amateur,” today embroidery, ceramics, beadwork, knitting, and woodworking are embraced by emerging gallery artists who explore the rich social and historical associations of these craft media and techniques. Participating artists include Bren Ahearn, Jon Bonser, Elaine Bradford, Orly Cogan, Maggy Rozycki Hiltner, Garth Johnson, Claire Joyce, Kate Kretz, Allyson Mitchell, Heather Nameth-Bren, Morgan Price, Karen Reimer, Ben Schachter, DeAnna Skedel, and Laura Splan.
In Michel Gondry’s 2006 film, Science of Sleep, the director’s alter-ego Stéphane summarizes his attraction to the female protagonist Stéphanie when he says: “She makes things with her hands. It’s as if her synapses were connected directly to her fingers.” Like Stéphane and Stéphanie falling in love as they play with Stéphanie’s cloth and yarn sculptures, audiences have fallen in love with Gondry’s works through his spectacular manipulation of these very “low-tech” materials in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and music videos for artists such as Björk and the White Stripes, which present worlds where teddy bears come to life and musicians play knitted instruments. The work on display in Raised in Craftivity suggests that it is unsurprising that such old-fashioned, handmade images and objects should resonate with artists and audiences in our hi-tech world: in today’s “information age” the sensuous, tactile “information” of craft media speaks, as Stéphane does, of a direct connection to humanity that is perhaps endangered, or at the very least being rapidly reconfigured in our technologically-saturated, twenty-first century lives.
Yet while the artists in Raised in Craftivity draw upon craft media in ways that revel in such associations, they often do so in ironic and ambivalent ways different than (or even poking gentle fun at) the precious, romantic, or heroic sensibility with which their predecessors often approached these media. As such, Raised in Craftivity not only spotlights the sophisticated thought of artists promoting new ways of thinking about the role of craft in contemporary art, but instigates a much-needed dialogue between this generation of what the ceramist and webmaster Garth Johnson calls “extreme crafters” and their predecessors—who at the moment are at best working in a parallel universe to, or at worst with confusion or disdain toward many of the emerging, conceptually-focused artists whose work actually depends on and pays homage to the trails blazed by their predecessors.
Exhibition curator Maria Elena Buszek is Assistant Professor of Art History at the Kansas City Art Institute, where she teaches courses on Modern and contemporary art and theory. She is the author of Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, and Popular Culture, and her scholarship and criticism have appeared in such journals as Art in America, TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies, and Photography Quarterly. Dr. Buszek is also a regular contributor to the popular feminist ‘zine, Bust: The Voice of the New Girl Order. She is currently at work editing the anthology Extra/ordinary: Craft culture and contemporary art (forthcoming, Duke University Press).