Guest edited by matt lambert… Issue Fifteen: Tools, Use, Mastery
by guest editor Kate Devine
How is it that we come to know something or more particularly, how to do something? We may imbibe the words of others, learn by watching a skilled example, learn through our own trial and error, or discover something within ourselves. How then, do we pass on that knowledge? Through stories, through instruction, through play? It can be hard to teach something ‘you just know’.… Editorial #14: Craft, Teaching, and Knowledge
Perhaps more so than any other art form, wearable art is the place where the decorative becomes most dissident. Costume amplifies the inherently expressive nature of the clothes we choose (or are forced) to wear; it is a powerful and accessible medium to tell stories about who we are, who we want to be, and the nature of our relationship to the society we live in.… Issue Thirteen: Wearable Art
For this issue of Decorating Dissidence we wanted to reflect on last year’s centenary of the Bauhaus. Now at 101 years, the celebrations may be over but the movement’s legacy still offers much to be learned, developed and reflected on.… Editorial: Bauhaus Continued
So much of the labour and processes that come together to create a piece of artwork can often go unseen. The invisible lengths of time, practice and patience hover on the edges of a piece, as much a part of it as the what is being presented as centre stage.… Editorial #12: Backstage Craft
As the Zoom calls continue to loom – too everyday now to even joke about – does craft have the power to keep us connected? Or, what’s more, does craft have the power to model new forms of connection that offer respite from the ‘always on’ socio-economic demands of late-capitalist life?… Editorial #11 – Care, Craft, and Community
When Rozsika Parker wrote The Subversive Stitch (1984) she brought to the fore a powerful exploration of the cultural and socio-economic values of embroidery, which revealed the deep-rooted gender politics that led to the devaluation of ‘feminine’-coded arts.… Editorial #10: Subversive Stitching
Ceramics and pottery making are empowering practices, simple yet uplifting way of intervening in everyday life and leaving behind a trace of our touch.… Editorial 9: Ceramics
Queer(ing) Craft is guest edited by Daniel Fountain.… Editorial 8: Queer(ing) Craft
We often automatically refer to an artist’s collection as their ‘body of art’. The physical, bodily processes of crafting go (often literally) hand in hand with artistic creation. These bodily acts can often be therapeutic – we might think of the rhythmic practice of weaving or the soothing feeling of stepping away from screens, quietening our minds as we manually manipulate materials. Craft can impact the body, the physical act of making leaving its mark on the maker, such as the quiet ache of a spine that has been bent over a loom, fingers pricked by needles, skin chapped and cracked from handling clay. This issue feels out the myriad ways in which bodies relate to craft. It reaches into the crevices between creative practice, form and crafting and traces boundaries between interior and exterior. Through exploring a diverse range of embodied craft practices, it considers the corporeal aspects of crafting, of how bodies participate, labour, and speak back in the act of making.
In a poetic response to artist Alexi Marshall’s ‘The Party’, writer Jess Payn considers how bodies inhabit group spaces and impact on their environments; Bodies sometimes behave differently in crowds, partaking in murmurations of movement, performance, dance, or a jumbled jostle on a busy street – they are repeatedly made and unmade by their environments. Payn’s piece draws out the carnivalesque elements of ‘The Party’, exploring the ways intimacy’s dual promise of intimacy and threat of violence is foregrounded in this scene of communion and cluttered limbs. Making and performing are revealed as inherently embodied, collective acts through which we process the world around us.
From the way bodies work in social gatherings or intimate encounters, to the ways in which bodies work in capitalist systems – artist Johanna Unzueta states that ‘[h]ands are tools for me’ and her current exhibition, Tools for Life at Modern Art Oxford, unpicks the intrinsic relationship between the body and processes of labour, practice and industry. Cecilia Rosser’s exhibition review reflects on how the industrial is humanised, what craftsmanship means for the individual working body, and how the labour practices craft the labouring body within Unzueta’s body of work.
Sofia Carreira Wham reviews ‘Threading Forms’, an exhibition curated by Candida Stevens. This exhibition saw live demonstrations of weavers, live machine and hand stitching demonstrations, showing how bodies participate in making, the labour, concentration and rhythm of crafting, stitching and weaving. Whether it’s the politics of labour, or the fundamental human right of freedom of choice over what happens to your body; the body is a political space. Artist Giacinta Frisillo presents ‘the feminine mistake’, reflecting on healthcare and the right to inhabit and have control over one’s own body in a contorted American system that still, forty-seven years after the landmark Roe v. Wade case, is a relentless battle for freedom of choice and power.
The body is in constant conversation with the world around it. Violetta Liszka works with wire sculptures, photography and poetry to explore the boundaries between human interiority and the exterior forces that shape emotional and bodily experience in her project ‘Je est un autre’. Xuan Ma’s jewellery work also plays with the boundaries of the body, offering playful and intimate glimpses of ‘private views’ of the body. Using geometric shapes and reflective, mirrored surfaces, body parts are shown within the jewellery pieces to highlight these beautiful abstractions.
Embodied processes of making are at the heart of Enam Gbewonyo’s practice, which opens up a space to both critique racist capitalist discourse and enact processes of healing and renewal. Ahead of Gbewonyo’s performance ‘The Unbinding: a Restorative Act in Two Halves’ – which takes place on 15th April at Two Temple Place as part of the ‘Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles’ exhibition – we take a closer look at the work of this exciting up and coming textile and performance artist.
Human and non human bodies come together in ethical collective acts of making in the work of Tomas Saraceno, currently on display at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence and reviewed for this issue by Jade French; the tiny webbed worlds that are spun by spiders reflect the interconnected natural and man-made structures that our bodies are bound up in, systems and processes that feel increasingly fragile at this moment in time. Saraceno’s work reminds us of not only of our common humanity, but also of our interdependence with the non human and the natural world – as French’s review highlights, ‘the woven patterns that we mimic in craft and making practices are a homage to the biological patterns we pass by and through’.
We hope you enjoy this collection, reflecting on the physicality of crafting, the work our bodies do, and the power to move and be moved that they hold.
Witchcraft. Crafting is embedded in witchery, part of the practice of magic. From crafty or cunning crones to charms and casting spells; from spinning, traditions, rituals, weaving, to herbs, botanics and potions – craft, creation, myth and mystery all surround the occult. Witchcraft is intimately linked with ‘women’s work’ and the domestic arts – in this way, traditional modes of making become transgressive. As Constance Classen reminds us, the witch was a woman out of place, on the margins, often elderly and/or widowed; yet she was also ‘in her place, a woman in the home who made use of the very basis of her domesticity – her cooking, her cleaning, her child-rearing, her healing – to defy the social and cosmic order’.
The history of witchcraft is also accompanied by oppression and violence. The Salem witch trials saw many women accused of being witches drowned. Silvia Federici situates the witch trials as a tool wielded by early capitalism, a way of containing any semblance of power that women were gaining through communal living and making. The vestiges of this violence can be found in directly in Anne Jackson’s work ‘The Witchcraft Series’, which commemorates individuals tried and condemned to death in the early modern period. In this issue, she presents her tapestry work, which uses a hybrid of knotting and woven tapestry technique. Elsewhere, Jane Fairhurst’s ethnographic research into wand-making and fetishes have led her to examine the role of the goddess in Viking culture, reflecting on the diminution of the female in the human story throughout history.
From early modern to the contemporary, Anna Nolda Nagele provides a link in her algorithm-inspired textile design, crafting conductive yarns and fabrics into a ‘digital shrine’ for the practice of magical ritual. Indeed, craft can be thought of as a type of ritual itself. Repetitive actions can lead to meditative states. We also spotlight the work of Xenobia Bailey, who combines influences from African, Native American, and African-American cultures with craft techniques to create an ‘aesthetic of funk’. Drawing on traditional African healing rituals, Bailey’s crochet tents offer spaces of sanctuary, healing, and renewal that celebrate the cultural legacy of African American women.
Poetic craft sits comfortably alongside the elements of making in this issue, words become threads that weave together ideas. We need only look at the work included in new small press Ignota Books to see the way in which poetry is made active through ritual. Publishing the likes of Ramayya, as well as CA Conrad and Bhanu Kapil, Ignota publishes fiction and poetry where technology meets myth-making and magic, allowing the possibility through reenchantment of the world around us through language. Poet Nisha Ramayya has gifted us a ‘ritual selection’ of her poetry, which explores themes of tantric poetics, sacrifice, connection and correspondence. In an interview with Jade French, Ramayya also highlights both the generative and fun elements of writing through ritual as well as the way ‘ritual can provide a safe space in which to dwell on, respond to, and even perform violence, fury, revenge’.
Modernism meets our magic theme in the ‘Modernism & Alternate Spiritualities Conference’, held in January at the Royal College of Arts in London. Aoiffe Walsh offers a fascinating overview of the papers presented on the day, which ranged from an exploration of the history of yoga practice, to retreat movements, ritual, ‘abracadabra language’ and chemical enlightenment. Walsh’s review demonstrates the myriad ways that witchcraft and spiritual practices have acted as a touchstone for modern cultural movements.
Finally, those wanting to engage in their own rituals can turn to the ‘Black Tarot’, a collaboration between musician King Khan, graphic designer Michael Eaton, and director Alejandro Jodorowsky. The deck follows the Tarot De Marseilles with each major acana highlighting a black performer, activist or artist, from Tina Turner as ‘La Force’ to Malcom X as ‘X La Rove De Fortvne’. Or you might prefer to follow performer Christopher Croucher’s doorway into nature. He shares with us his own ritual, connecting to nature through a combination of dance and textile. Using an embodied, transcendent art practice, Croucher explores placemaking and impact of the earth’s natural rhythms on our bodies and our sense of spirituality.
As January draws to an end, we hope these reflections on craft, ritual, and magic will inspire and invigorate you through the new year. In difficult and often dark times, craft’s subversive, transformational powers conjure up avenues of resistance and practices to defy the social order.
‘Home is no longer a dwelling but the untold story of a life being lived.’
John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos
The praxis and history of craft is intimately intertwined with the domestic. Its domesticity is linked to the status it has long held as a devalued art form: craft is women’s work, a pastime or simply a way of creating decorative items that find their use in the home. Art belongs, we have been told, behind glass cases in galleries and institutions, whereas the products of craft live amongst us in the everyday, at home. However, the fact that the art world is beginning to take notice of craft and value it on its own terms raises questions about how craft enters the gallery space.
If home, as John Berger suggests, is the untold and unseen story of a life, craft weaves itself into this rich interior life of the domestic. Craft objects dwell in familiar everyday spaces. Their materiality records the experiences of our daily lives: the cracked piece of pottery, a frayed blanket, a snagged jumper, these all speak of our intimacy with the objects around us. It works to bring people together in a shared home or community; to think through the threads that connect us to our environment.
There is a long history of silence, untold stories, women and the domestic. Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979) installation critiqued the patriarchal erasure of women’s place in the history of civilisation, through a process of domestic labour and craft. Nicole Horgan reviews Patricia Kaersenhout’s community art project Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner Too?, in which the artist expands on and challenges Chicago’s project by inviting 39 black women and women of colour across 2000 years of history to the dinner party. Biographies of women like Queen Amanirenas and activist Marsha P. Johnson are included among the translucent glassware and table runners (made at community ‘stitch-in’ events) at this ‘table of disruption’, offering a new perspective on the canon of art history. Alis Shea discusses Ghada Amer’s Private Rooms, highlighting the tendency to view Amer’s use of embroidery in relation to English sewing practices; in the process, she notes the historical Orientalist fascination with and appropriation of Eastern crafts. Private Rooms, Shea suggests, utilises the domestic craft of embroidery to ‘unite diverse experiences of oppression which occur in both Western and Eastern cultures’.
In this issue on craft and domesticity, motherhood inevitably emerges as a prominent theme. There can be a tedious and time-consuming element to domestic art, with its relentless rituals of washing, cooking, mending, and sweeping. Sarah Cameron reflects on how the crafting of a family home impacts on and speaks to artistic making: in sweepRANT, Cameron laments the ennui the everyday tasks of the domestic, but plays with its ritualistic and repetitive nature to create a poem that weaves together her roles of artist, mother, and homemaker. Cameron reflects on these roles in an accompanying essay, ‘Two Heads, Two Hearts, and the Mother Goddess’. The crossovers between domestic and creative labour and the labour of childbirth are picked up on in Alessandra Leruste’s review of Spilt Milk’s (a Scottish social enterprise that promotes the work of artists who are mothers) recent showcase Re: Birth. Exhibiting artist Laura Ajayi’s We Used to Be So Much Closer – a soft sculpture that evokes the umbilical cord, but which is made from lint collected out of her family’s tumble dryer – reminds us of the interconnected nature of these intimate forms of crafting, creating and making. In this month’s spotlight feature, artist Blandine Martin similarly dismantle narratives of quotidian objects to question and transform their relationship to the domestic. Handwoven tapestries from recycled materials, sand, timber take on a new form; their title – objet sans importance – seems to pose a question, asking us to reassess the roles these items play in our lives and our connections to them.
It is Hull-based artist Ella Dorton who blurs the lines between the gallery, the community, and the domestic with her striking fabric works. In a recent exhibition, she turned the Humber Street Gallery into a space that ‘you could relax, sit down and feel at home in’. Her domestic portraits draw parallels between the ‘worn-out-ness of the fabric’ and the ‘worn-out-ness of peoples’ homes and lives’, using the intimate setting of the interior to explore broader socio-political issues. In an interview with Lottie Whalen, she discusses making art that creates material and conceptual connections between the domestic and the global, situating personal narratives within the context of broader political crises.
The artists and makers in this issue each highlight craft’s potential to shatter cosy notions of domesticity, transforming the home into a site of subversion, activism, and resistance. Appealing to the senses, craft creates intimacy and draws our attention to the embodied experiences of modern life; it opens up a space where the stories of our daily lives collide with global narratives, foregrounding the interconnected nature of our domestic and public worlds.
‘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…… Editorial 4: Materiality & Making
‘Civilized Man says: I am Self, I am Master, all the rest is other – outside, below, underneath, subservient. I own, I use, I explore, I exploit, I control. What I do is what matters. What I want is what matter is for. I am that I am, and the rest is women & wilderness, to be used as I see fit.’Ursula Le Guin, ‘Women/Wilderness’
Assembling our ‘Craft & the Environment’ issue whilst the Amazon rainforest burns thanks, in part, to the arrogance of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsanoro, it’s almost impossible to feel anything but despair as the world lurches ever closer to an irreparable climate catastrophe. In June, Bolsanoro attacked European interference in his administration’s exploitative environmental policies with the proclamation that ‘the Amazon is Brazil’s – not yours’; his statement evokes regressive attitudes that have seen the world carved up and controlled by a capitalist, patriarchal system that set itself above women, people of colour, the nonhuman, and the environment. As we are discovering, the consequences of ignoring the fact that the world is a shared home, a home that we need to cultivate and build an ethical relationship with, are dire. In spite of the gloom, we hope that this issue will serve as a reminder of the ways that feminist art –and, specifically, craft – can reimagine the world and play an intensive role in the regeneration of our environment. Craft shapes our world and exists in an intensely physical dialogue with the environment; it can help build a sustainable future and raise awareness of excessive consumption and environmental exploitation.
Contemporary artists and makers across the globe are connecting the dots of this ecological crisis. Recycling and regeneration form a large part of this practice, from Jasmine Linington’s sustainable textiles made with Scottish seaweed, and Kenyan artist Kioko Mwitiki’s junk sculptures made with waste materials dumped in Kenya by Japan, China, and America, to our featured artists and makers Hala Kiaksow’s hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics that draw on the richly diverse traditions of Islamic dress and Nnenna Okore’s abstract sculptures made of an eclectic mix of biodegradable materials. Okore’s contemporary practice also presents profound encounters between artist and environment. In her interview, Okore reflects on the varied and transient ways in which the natural world encourages conversation with colour, shape, texture and abstraction within her pieces, which are made from biodegradable and recycled materials.
A sense of global community has been an emerging theme of this issue, and is, of course, central in fighting back against the wilful destruction of the planet. GroundWork Gallery in Norfolk, reviewed here, show how small local gallery spaces are engaging with global artists. Pioneering marine biologist Rachel Carson’s research into the poisoning of her local natural landscape developed into her ground-breaking work Silent Spring, a text that drew attention to the global, interconnected nature of the planet’s ecosystem. In an interview with Jade French about her Rural Modernism project, Dr Hope Wolf suggests that many modernists were attuned to the way that by looking ‘microcosmically, even myopically, at a place, you begin to see that there are many connections with the wider world’. Modernism has often been viewed as a masculine movement that thrived on the speed of trains, planes, and motor cars, a newly electrified world, and the emergence of exciting new visual technology – or, as Alexandra Harris points out, ‘the wasteland, and not the herbaceous border’. Yet the ecocritical turn in modernist studies combined with a new focus on marginalised modernist artists and modes of making is creating a shift in how we understand the nature of modernism. Hattie Walters’ review of the enchanting ‘Botanical Modernisms’ conference, which took place in the idyllic surroundings of Virginia Woolf’s garden at Monk’s House in Sussex, highlights innovative work currently being carried out on horticulture in modernist texts, such as Katherine Mansfield’s ‘vegetal encounters’; the garden emerges as a sensory, material space that shaped the modernist imaginary.
Like Hope Wolf’s Sussex modernists, Scandinavian artist Hannah Ryggen turned to the rural landscape of her adopted Norway. Weaving fiercely political, anti-fascist tapestries from local wool hand-dyed with organic materials, Ryggen’s art reconceptualised our relationship with the nonhuman, creating ethical art works that remind us of the bonds that connect us to each other and our environment, even in the darkest moments. The Royal Academy’s current Helene Schjeferbeck exhibition, offers a fascinating perspective on another overlooked Scandinavian artist who was intimately in touch with the environment around her. Jenni Raback’s review shows us how, through Schjerferbeck’s airy, atmospheric compositions, we enter into light-filled spaces of her physical world.
Contemporary writer Marianne MacRae similarly opens up modernist art to new, ecologically-minded interpretations: in her poem ‘“A Kind of Fretful Speech” for Marianne Moore’, MacRae ‘[dives], headfirst through the thirsty crest of a wave’ with Moore, bringing into focus the arch modernist’s Moore’s proclivity towards animal otherness and the natural world. Moving away from the traditional centres of modernism reveals further surprising and inspiring encounters with the natural environment. Elsewhere, sisters Holly Froy and Willa Froy play with myth-making and the figure of the sun as a scorned (or scorched) forgotten lover whose temperature rises. Their poetry and accompanying illustrations interrogate a current-day ambivalence and disconnect with the natural world, as temperatures increase, icecaps melt and rainforests burn.
There is always a risk of essentialising both the environment and craft as the ‘natural’ home for women. In the experimental work featured here, we instead suggest that craft opens up a difficult and important dialogue between human and nonhuman, where the relationship formed isn’t easy or expected but rather worked for and respected. As Donna Haraway notes in ‘Situated Knowledges’, a reconception of nature not as passive matter or an object of study, but as an active subject, is central to the process of revising our actions and our language towards our ecosystems. In this issue, we see artists, poets and curators working with (rather than taking from) the environments around them, returning us to the wilderness that is both our home, our equal and our responsibility.
‘Women’s work’ – this is how craft and the decorative arts have long been conceptualised. It is a highly reductive phrase in a patriarchal genealogy of art history that privileges the mind over the body, sight over touch, painting over making, and the individual genius over the work of the collective. In this issue, we delve further into the work of craft in order to explore the intersections between labour, community activism, and class divisions through the history of modernism and the contemporary arts.