What follows is the rough draft of my first VCT assignment, the subject matter regards the curation of the art of making, an exhibition at the V&A . Pictures and the final conclusion have been omitted due to the size of the document, also Im in the process of removing the flying numbers (bibliography) for the Harvard system. I would very much appreciate as much feed back as possible. Blunt truths would be helpful thanks for reading.
A curator (from Latin: cura meaning “care”) is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material. The object of a traditional curator’s concern necessarily involves tangible objects of some sort, artwork, collectibles, historic items or scientific collections.1
In this review I am asking and attempting to answer a number of questions.
What is the curators role and has the curator accomplished their task to a satisfactory standard?
What is the message, is the curator asking me to define the exhibition for myself or am I being persuaded to see only what they want me to see? Did I understand?
Why did the curator select these particular pieces for the exhibition?
Finally, and maybe most important, was the exhibition any good?
As you approach the exhibition you are confronted with a large introduction sign, clearly printed and written by the guest curator himself, Daniel Charny. The introduction gives a brief but concise explanation of why, as humans, we make things. It also explains that we all have the power to make. I made sure I did not read this sign and also made certain to hide the accompanying literature, so as not to influence my opinion before I had even laid eyes on a single artifact.
On entering I was some what surprised at the small scale of the exhibition. I was also struck by how busy it was, clearly this was an exhibit catching the attention of many. The exhibition was laid out around the edge of the room with the center having two large vitrines showing work with a 360 degree view. Everything was encased in perspex and there were numerous signs telling you – “DO NOT TOUCH”. It has to be said, in an exhibition that asks the viewer to consider humanity’s need and desire to make useful objects, its a shame you are not allowed to touch them. I understand these items are probably valuable, however I found the irony of not being able to touch or use these working objects quite an interesting choice by the curator. I understand keeping a Monet behind glass but a brick wall, maybe not?
I quickly found the exhibition was curated in a way that led the viewer through a series of what could be termed as “age-old skills” (such as wicker weaving, dry stone wall building and leather craft) to more contemporary skills (such as computerised manufacturing, polymers, video and stereo-lithography). I also found the centre pieces to be more art based and less useful as objects, for example Shauna Richardson’s Crochetdermy bear or the Tyre Shark by Ji Yong-Ho. I am not sure this was done on purpose, perhaps it was not as there was no set route around the exhibition. However, I had a sense (or maybe a wish?) it had been.
Accompanying the each piece of work is an in-depth explanation by or about the creator, the medium(s) used and an outline of how or why it was made. I mostly found the details relatively informative but in some cases wish there had been more details. I have come to the conclusion that fine art (especially contemporary) quite often needs no explanation, and, indeed, sometimes if a descriptions is there, it inhibits the viewer drawing their own conclusions. An object made for a purpose but displayed does need an explanation. A surf board can be beautiful to look at, but does it become more intriguing to the observer when they know it is made of cardboard? In my opinion yes. I was happy with the information displayed, it was clear and concise. It allowed everybody to view the work on an equal basis. It wasn’t trying to fool me in to believing something not true, and added to the understanding of the reasons why it was created.
The work being displayed, the materials used, and the ways in which they were manipulated all varied a great deal. The V&A website explains that all of the pieces in the exhibition were created in three different ways. They are:
Adding techniques connect, layer or combine materials. They include welding, soldering, veneering, weaving, embroidery and painting.
Subtracting techniques remove materials. They include cutting, carving, engraving, drilling and grinding.
Transforming techniques alter materials themselves. They include throwing clay, blowing glass, forging metal, and baking. The transformed states may be temporary or permanent. Irreversible transformations occur in processes like vacuum forming, stereolithography and casting.2
Each artifact was constructed by a separate maker. This allows a wider range of techniques to be displayed. Simple skills such as piling stones to create a wall could at first seem boring and pointless but to our Neolithic ancestors it was the height of technology. Many of the traditional skills being shown at the Power of Making are obsolete and are close to becoming extinct. Does this make a pile of stones art work? If Damian Hirst had made it yes, but a farmer in a field, maybe not. To see these beautifully crafted artifacts is to see the need in man to innovate and explore our capabilities.
Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director, Crafts Council explains more saying, “The Crafts Council and V&A partnership is a very fruitful one, enabling the development of ambitious contemporary craft exhibitions that are seen by very significant audiences. Power of Making is our second partnership exhibition and will focus on the universality of making. Over 100 hand-made objects from around the world will reveal the ingenuity of makers and highlight the influence of craft skills in a multitude of settings and across many industries.”3
In my opinion the power of making, although not the most exciting exhibition is still an interesting display of human endeavor and ingenuity. The works were well thought out, moving the viewer through a series of skills which may not be used as much but are still important today. Whilst other skills are the cutting edge of what we can create. I had an overwhelming sense that the curator was trying to show us the importance of working with our hands. He was saying that we may not need to sow the field or construct our own dwellings anymore but for many of us we still have the need to make things. I personally feel that we get caught up in our throw away culture, things are made cheaply by someone else, purchased cheap, used, abused and finally thrown on a skip. The power of making was about coveting the objects we use and the joy that comes from making something of quality.