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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

29 January, 2012

Contemporary Craft in Historic Settings

I belong to an organisation called Designer Maker West Midlands, and from time to time they organise various seminars.  In the Peak District, an area which stretches across quite a lot of Derbyshire, Cheshire, South Yorkshire and the Staffordshire Moorlands, and which is surrounded by a number of large towns and cities (Buxton, Macclesfield, Sheffield, Manchester, and many others), there are a fair number of historic houses and estates which are a wonderful day out and a chance to see our amazing heritage in land, architecture and objects.

Some of these historic houses are now owned by the National Trust, whilst others are still in private hands, but open to the public (a much-needed source of income!).  Other places are under the protection of English Heritage.

In the UK, we are so fortunate to have many of these wonderful properties still available to visit and enjoy, but they are not preserved in aspic!  In order to keep them attractive to people, and as a way of providing extra interest to visitors, and gaining repeat visitors, many of these properties are becoming sites of contemporary art, utilising house, gardens, and landscapes.

This particular seminar was to introduce designer makers in my area to the inside story of how to work with these various bodies to get the best results for both contemporary art and the historic site.  On this occasion, there were three speakers, curator, Kate Stoddart;   jeweller/public art maker, Laura Baxter; and contemporary artist/public art maker, Linda Florence.

Each speaker presented their work with the various historic houses they have worked with, giving the audience insights into how best to put their work across to volunteers within the historic houses, the funding bodies and the audience.

The most important element is two-way communication – ensuring that expectations are managed from everyone’s perspective.  There are many restrictions in what can be done (usually Not done) to the fabric of the building, for obvious reasons.  However this can lead to creative solutions for siting work.

Everyone needs to understand what the work is about and why it is there.  That means all the volunteers who help with the stewarding of the work, everyone involved in the installation, and the publicity people who are helping to educate the public.  There needs to be lots of integration with the publicity department so that the visitors are not taken aback by suddenly coming across contemporary art which they weren’t expecting in a historic setting.

This was something I hadn’t appreciated.  If the public aren’t aware that there is contemporary art in such a setting, they may well dismiss it before considering further.  If they are made aware about the art before the visit, or at the beginning of the visit, they are much more accepting of the juxtaposition.

So to my mind, this is a way of acclimatising a broader swathe of the general public about art.  Many people visit period houses, and this is increasing as a result of several high-quality productions of period dramas such as the recent Downton Abbey series on ITV.  People expect to see a certain style of building and gardens.  If there is contemporary art within these settings, it needs to be done in a sensitive way that allows the two styles to work well together, sometimes in obvious juxtaposition, sometimes very discretely.

It’s certainly something to think about as a maker, especially with such a diverse range of properties, gardens and landscapes that we are so fortunate to enjoy in the UK.

15 January, 2012

Joseph Wright, of Derby, painter

Hmm.  It seems to be conference season!  Nothing for months, and then several come along in quick succession – just like metropolitan buses!  In the country we’re lucky if we get one an hour (each way)- buses that is…

Anyway, I digress!  Where was I?…. Oh yes, conferences.

This week kicked off conference season with a day’s conference hosted by the University of Derby on Joseph Wright, painter, otherwise known as Wright of Derby.  He was no mean painter and a bit of a polymath too, with interests in science and industry as well as considerable prowess with the brush.

Now Derby is not London, and, as is still the case too often today, that is seen as a problem if you want to get on in the world!  You may have heard of the North/South divide in the UK, but in those days it was more a London/Not London divide.  Derby, being in the Midlands, was most definitely Not London, and Wright was often not taken as a serious painter because of his provincial roots.  But this was a man who was proud of his heritage and, despite having fallings out with the powers-that-be who were in charge of the Royal Academy, his reputation as a painter was undisputed, but typically valued more after his death than during his lifetime.

The conference was a very interesting affair, looking at different facets of his life and the place and people who were important in his life.  So we looked at the artistic composition of his work, geographical locations of his landscapes, his relationships with the important creatives and scientists of the time, including Rousseau, Hayley (the poet), and Erasmus Darwin, and the music in his life.

There is a wonderful collection of his work at the Derby Museums and we were also treated to a peek behind the scenes by the Keeper of the Collection.

The day was rounded off by a performance of music (flute and harpsichord) which would have been played in the music society of which he was an active member.

Next week, I am attending a conference on Contemporary Craft in historic settings which will “explore ways in which makers can work within historical contexts”.  Then there is one in February, in connection with the Lost in Lace Exhibition that I talked about last month.  So I’ll keep you posted!

8 January, 2012

Labcraft: Digital Adventures in Contemporary Craft

This week I went on a little trip.  Around 150 miles in total.  In retrospect, I would have gone a lot further.  This exhibition is most definitely worth it!

Labcraft is a touring exhibition under the auspices of the Crafts Council. Currently, it is showing at The Civic, Barnsley.  The participants are makers from various disciplines from woodwork through textiles to jewellery and sculpture.  What they all have in common is the use of digital media to assist in the creation or design of their artifacts.  Obviously, seeing as I am a weaver, I was drawn to the woven pieces, most especially that by Philippa Brock.  I am delving in the same field as her with dimensional fabrics and her Self-Folding #1 and #2 were based on paper-folding ideas and realised through her knowledge of weave structure and a computer jacquard power-loom with the assistance of elastomeric yarn in addition to silk, organzine, paper and silver lurex.  Wonderful!

Other items that particularly caught my eye were Zachary Eastwood-Blooms’ “Information Ate My Table”,  table of beech with chunks ‘eaten’ from one corner.  I loved the humour!  I also loved seeing Gareth Neal’s “Louis” table – I remember seeing an article in Crafts on him and loved his approach to construction of furniture. Daniel O’Riordan’s “Ripple Tank Table” was also a covetable piece.

In the metalwork area, I fell for Drummond Masterton’s “Terrain Cup” which holds a topographical formation within it, and his “Decagon” which reminded me of relief maps and Chinese rice fields ranked in rows up a steep hill.  Lynne MacLachlan’s Bubble Jewellery was very topical as I’ve just read a book on the science behind soap bubbles and films!

In glass, I really loved the concept behind Geoffrey Mann’s “Cross-Fire Wine Glass, Teapot and Knife, with the shaping influenced by sound waves caused in an argument.  Who would have thought that the sounds of an argument could lead to such funky pieces?!  And Shelley Doolan’s “Iteration 512″ appealed to my love of sand dunes.  With the rippled effects happening dramatically on the back of the work, I was drawn in to see the close-up effects on the surface.  Very engaging.

Also interesting were Michael Eden’s “The Babel Vessel #1″ although I preferred another piece of his I saw at the Ceramics Biennale two years ago, and Daniel Widrig’s “Cloudlike” sculpture in polystyrene.

It’s really good to see the marriage of hi-tech digital technology with traditionally based craftsin a quality exhibition such as this.  It’s a marriage I think is particularly exciting and one that brings crafts’ contemporary relevance to a technology-savvy audience.  I was converted years ago, but this may be an exhibition that brings new people in and raises the profile of contemporary crafts.