Invested/40 examines creating craft for craft’s sake
At the Pendulum Gallery until November 9
There’s craft and then there’s craft. Oh, and then there’s craft.
At the “low” or amateur end of the spectrum are the crude wooden lamps our uncles produced as adolescents in shop class and the potholders that our grandmothers knitted by the hundreds in their dotage. Progressing upward a number of notches, we might find traditional decorative and applied craft, often practised in the developing world. The cotton scarf I’m wearing as I make these notes was woven on a back-strap loom in Costa Rica, and my embroidered jacket comes from the hill people of Vietnam. And at the exalted end of the spectrum, there’s “high” or “fine” craft, of the kind that is on display in Invested/40 at the Pendulum Gallery. The work we see here ranges from tapestry landscapes, blown-glass “ray guns”, and jewellery fashioned from silver beads and upcycled plastic cords to burnished ceramic vessels, a basketry lamp woven from willow and reed, and a three-dimensional wooden puzzle in the form of a creaturelike teapot.
Although a few of the pieces on display are potentially usable, most of them exist as vehicles for their own beauty, wit, and, yes, craftsmanship. As with art for art’s sake, they’re craft for craft’s sake, embodying a modernist approach to object-making. The considerable technical facility of the three dozen artists represented in this exhibition, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Craft Council of British Columbia, is a large part of what draws our interest. So are the shapes, colours, and textures employed. Still, a few jots of postmodern social commentary have inserted themselves, too. Ian Johnston’s Cellular Brick Road, for instance, is an ambitious, mixed-media installation that employs porcelain bricks moulded with discarded cellphones to examine our relationship to material culture, electronic communications, overconsumption, and waste.
Other works in the show deliver a more subtle or even subtextual message while delighting the eye. Julie McIntyre’s lovely Nautical Apron, made out of paper, conflates the domestic realm (symbolized by the apron form) with the wider world of sailing and adventure (her grandmother’s old travel photos of Asian seaports), creating a hybrid of place and gender. Similarly, Bettina Matzkuhn’s Tides consists of two sail-shaped pieces of canvas embroidered to resemble tide current charts. As the artist says in her statement, the work navigates both “internal and external geographies”. Kinichi Shigeno’s B.C. Mountain Pine Beetle Soup Bowl and Saucer marries Japanese and western ceramic traditions, using the forest-devastating insect of the work’s title as a curiously ambiguous, decorative motif.
Yet other pieces are simply about their aesthetic and material presence—and their sense of humour and inventiveness. Angelika Werth’s Canadian Camper Tent Dress transforms orange nylon tents into an extravagantly odd dress, its hem outstretched and secured by ropes and rocks. It’s a work that treats our woodsy national character with fashion flair. Rachel Gourley has used polymer to create a crowd of whimsical forms that suggest plant or underwater life—although in patterns, colours, and shapes that are happily alien to our expectations. And the large nautilus form that Yvonne Wakabayashi has made out of silk, pineapple fibre, and other materials arrests us with the exquisite beauty of its form and feeling.
Invested/40 was curated by Sandra Alfody, whose central thesis, as laid out in her catalogue essay, seems to be that the practice of craft builds character. Hmm, I’m not sure that we need to flog craft to the wider public quite so pedantically. Must we hear that craftspeople have grit and we’d have it too, if only we did what they did? Isn’t it enough to say that creating things by hand is a big—and truly pleasing—part of what makes us human?