Over the next six months, visitors to the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon, will be able to observe the day-to-day studio practices of eight artists as they participate in a conceptually provocative and communally based art performance. Working sequentially over two-day to three-week periods, the artists, comprised of six individuals and one pair and ranging from woodworkers to a seamstress, will work in the museum’s first floor gallery. There they will add to, modify, or subtract from the objects of their colleagues. In doing so, the artists will physically illustrate the game of “Telephone,” in which the initial and final phrases, in this case environments, are almost guaranteed to be different.
The show, “Gestures of Resistance,” is the brainchild of Judith Leemann and Shannon Stratton, two academic artists with positions at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, respectively. Leemann is also the lead artist-in-residence at the Design Studio for Social Interference, Boston; while Stratton is the director and co-founder of Three Walls, Chicago. In curating “Gestures of Resistance,” Leeman and Stratton have selected eight early-career, politically-minded artists to play a game that evolves as each artist or team of artists occupies and performs in the museum’s first floor gallery. Each of the artists works in a different media, but all have emphasized an attention to craft and process in their individual practices. The curators have seized upon the dynamic of craft- process over object – to investigate a weighty collection of sociological and poitical ideas, including “slowness,” consumption of mass-produced goods, and queer propaganda.
In participating in the show, the artists implicitly acknowledge that what they are making matters less than why and how they are making it. Additionally, by allowing subsequent artists to manipulate or destroy preceding products, the artists incorporate ideas of hubris and impermanence into a section of cultural expression that usually holds the artist’s vision as sacred and the final work as inviolate.
A darker side of the project and one that Leeman and Stratton fail to explicate is that by devaluing the final object, they and the artists are complicit in a type of cultural deflation which undermines the very processes of craft that they are trying to extol. If the product of craft is removed from the equation of “process leads to object,” then the process is purposeless. It will be exciting to see if, at the end of the six months, Leemann and Stratton’s experiment will have killed craft by making it as meaningless as our “throw away” culture may or may not be.
Category: Contemporary Art
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