It’s always nice to get an unexpected invitation to something, even if it is because you are on someone’s database. I was surprised and pleased to get an invite to the Private View of a new exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre called “Setting the Scene: New Landscapes in Craft”. Curated by Sara Roberts, the exhibition examines the engagement of craft with the landscape where objects are arranged to evoke the idea of landscape.
As I am not able to attend on the day of the private view and I had some free time today I took myself along to Farnham and had a look for myself.
The Crafts Study Centre is located in Faulkner Road in Farnham and is part of the University for the Creative Arts complex. Before going to look at the main exhibition, I had a wander round the Centre’s own in-house exhibition Making Connections which is a reworking of a popular exhibition which demonstrates the connections between makers, institutions and works, much of which comes from the Centre’s own collection but also including some work on loan from makers who have a strong connection with the Centre. It was very interesting and a real treat to see some fantastic contemporary wood, ceramics, jewellery and textiles.
The main exhibition occupies the first floor of the Centre and on first entering the room, it appears a little underwhelming. However, on commencing a closer inspection it becomes clear that the work on show has been very carefully selected and placed. As with any exhibition one cannot be expected to like, appreciate or even understand everything on display. For me the pieces that did not work for me included Rosa Nguyen’s Act 1, a placement of glass and ceramic receptacles with dried foliage. I simply could not identify with the artists claim that the work “established a relationship between hollows and voids, vertical and spindly stems, a natural exchange the manufactured and nature”. I was equally unmoved by the piece by Dutch artist Simone ten Hompel titled Between Sky and Earth, while I could appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship and obvious beauty of the individual components that made up the piece, it did not resonate with me as a landscape, industrial, urban or rural.
However, there are ten artists included in this show and several really resonated with me. The first being Mimi Joung who has created the most intricate and intriguing landscapes made from ceramic handwriting in the form of a letter to her mother. The words are drawn in ceramic slip and glazed in earthen colours reminiscent of rocky outcrops, cliffs, ploughed fields, honestly the list is endless and stretches as far as the imagination can take it. The second piece that captured my imagination is the set of tea cups, saucers and plates by the ceramicist Paul Scott and which form part of his Cumbrian Blues project. A very traditional set of white china teacups with gilded edges and transfer printed trees in blue sit upon saucers of a rectangular shape with the short ends curled upwards. Each white saucer is transfer printed in blue with the design layout of a garden or topographical landscape. Fixed to the wall are a set of white plates with gilded edges each with a fence or hedge bisecting it, some with a single tree or a wind turbine. More about this research project can be found at www.cumbrianblues.com.
Tony Hayward’s triptych takes the form of 6 small reclaimed paintings of landscapes placed face to face, one of which is then cut open and peeled back to reveal what lies beneath and at the same time create a new painting in 3D with the addition of extra ‘props’ to set the scene. The final piece that captured my imagination is the only one which moves and is by Helen Maurer titled Grey Gardens. The work takes the form of a vitrine in which are placed a mirror on a revolving turntable, several etched wine glasses and some cocktail sticks with flying birds on the ends. These pieces are placed in a seemingly random fashion in the vitrine and the tableau comes to life when the mirror and a light pass across the objects casting a moving shadow which shows birds flying across a landscape with trees, grass and flowers. The whole is ethereal, delicate and dreamlike. Find out more about Helen Maurer at http://www.helenmaurer.co.uk.
So how to sum up what I have seen? A quick skim through the visitor comments book reveals the usual banalaties including “fascinating, inspirational, food for thought” all of which are perfectly appropriate sentiments but none that really, in my view, sum up an exhibition like this. It is highly conceptual, yet features a good mix of contemporary pieces, many made using very traditional craft hand skills, yet each is underpinned by a deeper, intellectual understanding of expression. So has it provoked my thoughts? Yes it has. Do I find it inspirational? Yes and No. Some pieces struck home more than others, but in all honestly this is to be expected with an exhibition of this nature. Overall did I enjoy it, which after all is a powerful reason for visiting any exhibition, yes I did, and I recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary craft and its place in the art world. A resounding success for curator Sara Roberts!