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An eagerly awaited conference, allied to the Lost in Lace exhibition, this was not a disappointment.  A wide cross-section of people attended the conference, hosted by Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery with partners, the Crafts Council to hear quality speakers.

The key-note speaker was Gijs Bakker, designer and co-founder of Droog Design, the famous Dutch design company who have done so much to change our perception of craft in design.  His presentation, based round lace, as were all the presentations, was informative but above all humourous, dry and beautifully ironic.  Taken from the notes that were given to all delegates, Gijs’ talk was entitled, Without Concept, No Craft.  ‘Form-giving’ is the Dutch word for design. He talked about craft being a tool for communicating conceptual interests, and that without concept, craft is merely a mastered sill, for skill’s sake.  His talk was stimulating, amusing and thought-provoking, drawing on his technique of jewellery making (which he loves and hates in equal measure, I think), but encompassing many of Droog’s innovative ideas and methods.  He mentioned “for me, designing is a way of thinking, a way of observing – intuitively understanding by continually questioning the subject and avoiding preconceptions.”

He was followed by CJ Lim, the founder of Studio 8 Architects, a practice in urban planning, architecture and landscape.  His presentation was a new experience for me, with his designs focussing on “multi-disciplinary innovative interpretations of cultural, social and environmental sustainability programmes.”  He uses, among other things, paper, carbon and glue to build prototype models in 2 1/2 dimensions of his futuristic, fantastical and eco-sustainable environments.  I am definitely going to buy his book “Short Stories: London in two-and-a-half dimensions”.  For me, this talk was of particular interest as I am investigating further the world of fractals and fractal geometry, although CJ freely admits that there is no science behind his use of the term 2 1/2 dimensions.  His is purely an artistic terminology where the work is not confined to the flat plane of 2 dimensions but is not a 3D model either.

The panel discussion with the two speakers was ably MCed by Grant Gibson, who many people know for his editorship of Crafts magazine, and also for his writing in various high profile publications both in the UK and beyond,and he oversaw the running of the day.

During the lunch break, and amidst the networking that was going on, delegates had the opportunity to be taken round the Lost in Lace exhibition by Prof Lesley Millar, the curator.  This was a chance to hear the rationale behind many of the works (although this can also be found in the catalogue) but was enhanced by Prof Millar’s passion and enthusiasm for the works.  It is the second time I have visited the exhibition and I was just as entranced the second time.

After lunch, Michael Brennand-Wood gave the story behind his piece in the exhibition, as well as showing us his close connection to lace throughout his long career.  I first came into contact with his work back in the 1980s and was intrigued by it then, something which has continued to this day.  His talk was called Pretty Deadly which reflected the use of military motifs integrated within lace-like and Islamic patterning.

Then came Kathleen Rogers, who explained the development of her piece in the exhibition which is a video installation of black Chantilly lace seen through a scanning electron microscope.  It is accompanied by the sound of silk worms chomping their way through mulberry leaves heard through headphones, and leaves you wondering if you are listening to a tropical storm in a rain forest or the silk worms.

Finally, the team of Kira O’Reilly (artist) and Janet Smith (biochemist) talked about their joint work on working with living cellular materials in the laboratory.  In the past, Kira has created artwork based on creating a living lace from skin cells, and together with Janet Smith , they have been working to culture cells onto spider silk.  This talk was very interesting, especially in relation to the ethical issues raised, and how the development of the work they are doing ‘sits within larger lace, craft and textile practices.’  This is indeed thought-provoking.

A very stimulating day, which left delegates with plenty to think about!  Also it was a very successful day in terms of attendance, even with problems on the mainline from London!  Hopefully the Crafts Council will be encouraged to put on more events like this outside of London….