Third Response to “Temporality, Critique and the Vessel Tradition”

To accompany the recent publication of The Journal of Modern Craft 6.3 we have invited a number of critics to respond to the lead article of the issue: John Roberts’ “Temporality, Critique, and the Vessel Tradition: Bernard Leach and Marcel Duchamp,” which is freely available for a limited period (click here for the link).

Our third response to the article is written by Johan Wingestad ceramic artist and freelance curator based in Stockholm. Since 2011 Johan has served as chairman of The Association of Swedish Craftsmen and Industrial Designers.

If one approves of Roberts’ assertion that Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain can be interpreted as a craft object, then it can be positioned as the forerunner to the work of many contemporary ceramic artists, such as Caroline Slotte from Finland and Kjell Rylander from Sweden. They use readymades in a similar way to Duchamp, although I find it problematic to use this loaded term to describe their work

Caroline Slotte, From the series Under Blue Skies, 2009. Reworked second hand ceramics. Ø 22 cm

Jorunn Veiteberg, art historian and professor at Bergen Academy of Arts and Design, has for several years observed the relationship between Duchamp and a new generation of Scandinavian craft artists such as Slotte and Rylander. She has used the term upcycling as a way of describing the use of the readymade within craft practice, referring to the appropriation of anything from trash, to products available in most departments’ stores, which have been altered and modified into exclusive craft objects.[1]

Kjell Rylander, Untitled (Kontentum), 2009-2011. Porcelain, paper cups, glue A4 paper. 21x30x9 cm

Roberts argues that Duchamp’s readymades could be seen as “a dialogue with, and a discourse on, the craft of conceptualization or conceptualization as craft“, and suggests that in order to expand our “craft-thinking” it might be necessary to “reject the presupposition that craft is attached to a particular range of objects and techniques identifiable with tradition.”[2] Once again, in the works of Slotte and Rylander we observe something that resembles this approach, but even so, these artists also cultivate a strong connection to a particular range of objects and traditional craft techniques. It seems to me that their works are the result of a reflexive practice, one that deals with both the craft of conceptualization, and the objects and techniques identifiable with craft traditions. Their works reject and confirm aspects of tradition simultaneously, in a similar way to Duchamp’s Fountain, as interpreted by Roberts.

It would have been interesting if Roberts had referred to other readymades of Duchamp in order to establish a broader perspective of the artist’s “craft-thinking”, not just from the basis of one single artwork, however famous. I am confused as to whether I should look at Fountain as an illustrative example of Duchamp’s craft-thinking or as a isolated example on how this idea might constitute itself.

[1] Jorunn Veiteberg (ed.), Thing Tang Trash: Upcycling in Contemporary Ceramics, (Bergen: Bergen National Academy of the Arts and Art Museums, 2011)

[2] John Roberts, “Temporality, Critique, and the Vessel Tradition: Bernard Leach and Marcel Duchamp” Journal of Modern Craft 6:3 (November 2013), p. 265

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