Editorial 4: Materiality & Making

‘Craft’ is a broad term. It encompasses a myriad of disciplines and numerous techniques. It might be hand-made or machine guided. It might start life as a utilitarian object before becoming a historical artefact. Craft is always evolving. But something all crafts have in common is tactility. Through acts of weaving, sculpting, stitching, layering, piecing together and unravelling, craft foregrounds its own materiality and invites us to enter into it, touch it, live with it…

Touch is explored in Briony Hughes’s ONE PORTION LIES REVERSED, which brings to life archival documents in a book that is creased to reveal and conceal different information. Our hands are invited to unfold different elements to create an interactive dialogue with the original letters used as source material. For example, uncovering a letter from Virginia Woolf to Gladys Easdale mimics the way that Easdale would have handled the letter, opening the envelope before peeling back the paper down carefully creased folds. From carefully unfolding to ripping it all up, Izzie Beirne’s collage work explores how beauty cultures merge with porn industries, and questions the effect this has on self-perceptions. For our new feature ‘Practice-Based’, Izzie tells us in her own words about her methods, using a heat press to imprint the collages before folding and scrunching the fabric they’re printed onto.  

In Nadja Gabriela Plein’s artist statement she writes: ‘I work with my fingers, with brushes, paper towels, silicon shapers, sand paper… I work with oil paint, pencils, colour pencils, crayons, oil sticks’. Plein maneuvers a myriad of materials as she pushes and pulls the colours with her hands over the canvases. The physicality of her artwork is reflected on in her essay for this issue, as she questions the gendered adjectives we apply to the simple movement of the brushstroke. In her article, she calls for a ‘radical non-essentialism’ that might untangle gender from the materials and artistic actions used by artists. Sharon Haward picks up on a similar tension between the masculine/feminine and how this dynamic plays out materially in her interview with Jade French. Haward’s practice explores the ‘contrast between rigid structures and fluid forms’ and the recent project HOMEWORK filtered this through an exploration of women architects, contrasting Le Corbusier’s, concept of architecture as a “machine for living” with Eileen Gray’s personal take on the role of architecture as a “protective shell against the world”. 

Emma West’s review of the recent exhibition Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900-1950, curated by Sacha Llewellyn, highlights the ways women artists used varied materials from painting and collage to woodcuts and sculpture. Drawing on her own research interests in women muralists from the first half of the twentieth century, West suggests that through knowledge exchanges and teaching networks, materials were passed down by women through specific traditions. As a public art, murals alter the texture of the shared built environment. They become a part of the community and the very creation of these large-scale works is a labour-intensive, collaborative process. Like craft, public art intervenes in everyday life, bringing us closer to art’s textures, materials, and forms; yet this closeness and familiarity can lead to neglect and a failure to understand the complex cultural and sociopolitical power structures that underpin this work. In an exploration of contemporary attitudes to public art, artist Martina Morger and writer Isabelle Thul ask how we can care for public sculptures made by women artists in ‘Cleaning Her.’ (2018). This concept was initially developed for an open call by the sculpture park Graz last year, a place where only 15.3% of the installed artworks are by female artists. This piece, finally performed in Glasgow, highlights women’s labour (paid and unpaid), as well as the attention that must go into caring for materials laid bare to the elements. 

In an article considering craft’s disruptive role in contemporary art, Katarina Kelsey demonstrates that craft objects are always in the process of becoming: ‘with ceramics there’s an oozing; in textiles there’s a fray’. We are implicated in this intensely physical process, our lives and bodies unfolding, being constantly stitched together, unpicked and repaired, alongside the art object. Craft is close to us, occupying space in our homes, against our skin, but its place in the market economy as well as in the lasting colonial legacies that allow museums to co-opt indigenous art, can also speak of alienation and violence. Craft can cause discomfort, laying bare troubling questions: as Julia Bryan Wilson reminds us, ‘some [craft] is vastly undervalued but central to the mechanisms of capitalism, while some is triumphed as ‘revolutionary’ and posited as a form of economic refusal.’ Multimedia artist Enam Gbewonyo strikingly explores the permeable boundary between closeness and estrangement present in man-made objects; in her art and performances, she works with tights to reveal how textiles enclose us in ways that can be protective or alienating, depending on gendered and racialised power structures. 

What kind of future can we imagine for design materials? That’s a question posed by a special issue journal ‘Other Biological Futures’. Our review explores the different articles, as well as how the practical meets conceptual; from shrinking humans, to decolonising edibility, and molecular time machines. From mushroom leathers to DNA dyes, the makers, curators, and scientists featured in the journal are all thinking through the way the materials of the planet might ‘better’ our lives. 

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