The Craft Council’s “Annual International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects”, COLLECT, returned again to the Saatchi Gallery between 8-11 May 2015. Editor of the The Journal of Modern Craft, Stephen Knott picks out some highlights.
When thinking about a large amount of knots I usually think of my family gatherings, coming as I do from large clan with a quirky surname. But in the work of Kazahito Takadoi, on show at COLLECT 2015, our family has certainly meet its match in terms of the production of knots. In this delicate work the Japanese artist has painstakingly knotted together Hawthorne twigs with waxed linen twine to produce an ameoba sculptural form that sits proud from the wall in the white space of the gallery jaggedart’s booth.
Takadoi’s sculpture is a representation of much of the production on show within the Saatchi Gallery during this most preeminent of annual exhibitions of contemporary craft. Like other exhibits, Sauna (2015) is a container of many, many, many hours of labour, brought together through patience and the thoughtful treatment of material. Takadoi’s sculpture is a particularly engaging example of this demonstration and celebration of skill because you as a viewer are invited into his process through the simplicity of his method: he gathers Hawthorne twigs from near his birthplace in Nagoya, Japan, and ties them together, in a process that bears some ressemblance to the toil of many a gardener.
Much of the work at COLLECT is undoubtedly impressive – the result of craftpeople at the top of their field plying their trade – but there are a lot of objects that seem destined for a life as a “photo-ready” objet d’art in the foyer of some office block, or the alcove of a well-designed interior; this is a marketplace after all. But there were certainly highlights within this year’s offering that provide an invitation into the narrative of process like Takadoi’s Sauna, or a saliant message of some kind or another.
First the politics! COLLECT held its private view of the night of the UK 2015 election and during the morning after the night before when COLLECT opened its doors to the press and public there was much discussion of the unexpected result. Poltical provocation, rarely present at COLLECT at all, was supplied by the monumental textile work of Alice Kettle, The Dog Laukanikos and the Cat’s Cradle (2015), that depicted a horde of riot police opposite a trio of women umbilically linked, and a white dog, a reference to the hound that became a symbol of anti-austerity protests in Greece.
In one of the sub-narratives of the work, a white bird, bought by Kettle for £1 while on holiday from a child who had roughly stitched out the shape in white fabric, sits atop the helmet of one of the riot police officers. In a simple gesture a surge of symbolism is produced: the white dove of peace, or the peculiar subversiveness of urban pigeons and seagulls that claim the heads of public statues as their own, for perching and, in an ultimate act of defiance, defecating.
Staying with textile, but at the opposite end of the scale spectrum was a series by Marie-Rose Lortet entitled Small Knitted Heads from “La Suite Incertaine” Series (2002-15). A part of the exhibition of The French Craft Project – new to Collect – and neatly pinned within a perspex frame, the heads speak to the current zeigeist where emojis and emoticons have become a regular feature in the daily lexicon. Yet the work also recalls the work of well-known modern painters such as Picasso, Matisse, Derain, de Vlamnick, who, as with Lortet’s loose knitting, fill splodges that stand in for noses, eyes and mouths with expressive content and energy. A bit of Internet research shows that there are many more of Lortet’s knitted heads out there.
In ceramics, Caroline Slotte’s work that critically responds to the blue and white tradition and Annie Turner’s stoneware netted structures demanded closer inspection (the artists were represented by Galleri Format and Joanna Bird respectively). Taking probably as much time as Takadoi, if not more, Slotte has sandblasted the blue out of readymade blue and white ware to create three monochromes that points to the process and history of transferware printing. The material result invites the audience in to pore over the absence, and as the plate rests in the mind, you sense a post-colonial critique: the sombre, grey, complex reality of colonial exhange beneath the irridescent blue that is normally there.
Finally, I was thrilled to see on the top floor the preview of an historical survey of jewellery, I Am Here drawn from the collections held by the Crafts Council and the Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art. The touring exhibition will be properly launched in the autumn, but the sneak peak of work, primarily from the 1970s appealed to the design historian in all of us. Removed from the chaos of the marketplace downstairs the variety of work that in their different ways challenged the definition of jewellery are an important reminder that contemporary craft needs to be critical in order to sustain itself. Self-reflection, an investigation of materials and technology, and an awareness of wider contexts for a work’s production, display and use, cannot not reduced to a sideshow while the current vogue for craft lasts.