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September 17, 2009 to January 3, 2010

State of the Union: Contemporary Craft in Dialogue

Within contemporary art, there has been a well-noted renewal of interest in process and materials in the current practices of artists, designers, and architects. Consequently scholars and professionals have begun to consider the definition of craft outside the tightly defined perimeters that have been determined by history to be an anti-theoretical process of crafting meticulous objects in a given medium. Given this conservative historical marginalization, craft has the potential of questioning the boundaries of its own conventions even more so than other fields in contemporary art.

Many artists working in craft-based media are those who challenge these historical standards, providing a self-reflexivity to their practice, and considering the term as an active subject to be questioned in innovative ways. Scholars have argued that the roots of this climate may be found in the 1970s when higher level art educators began to teach skills to their students from a wide range of materials and techniques. The results of this attitude are widely evident in the disappearance of medium specific crafts courses in higher educational institutions.

The intent of this exhibition was to engage in this dialogue by providing alternative vantage points in which to consider the state of craft. State of the Union was not meant to be a comprehensive survey of each of what encompasses craft production today but a focus on the post-disciplinary practices being used by emerging artists who are interested in questioning the fundamental assumptions of its traditional perimeters.

Given the historically validated hierarchy between crafts and the fine arts that has been explored exhaustively by countless theorists, a new generation of artists within the craft discipline is using their work to consider ways in which craft can maintain its identity outside its relationship to the fine arts. Considered through the use of material and skill, self-reflexivity of the very position of craft and its reception by the viewer becomes the subject of the work itself. Some artists included in the exhibition explored craft processes and materials, borrowing from one or more techniques and media, thus questioning the traditional categories of craft as textiles, clay, glass, wood, and metal. Others reconsidered the traditional function or use value of craft, referencing its history as an object to be used or worn thus subverting its original purposefulness. Yet others questioned its ties to the decorative and the roots of craft aesthetic in Western history.

Rather than treating craft as pejorative term as defined against the fine arts, the artists in State of the Union wished to embrace the term craft and reject the idea of distancing themselves from the field. Approaching craft in a way that reaches beyond the restriction of a single medium or by referencing its historical purposefulness invites connections to the fine arts, interior design, architecture, new media, performing art, and pop culture. Whether it is sculptural and abstract thus working outside the conventions of the media chosen, or through its reference to the industrial, the purposeful, the decorative, or as a form of adornment, the artists in State of the Union reflected upon timely debates within the field.

Participating Artists: Yo Fukui, Haley Bates, Austin Heitzman, Adelaide Paul, Amy Beecher, Jeanne Quinn, Jen Blazina, Rachel Abrams, Jill Baker Gower, Richard Bloes, Julie York, Gord Peteran, Tetsuya Yamada.

Tags: ceramics, fiber, glass, installation, metals, textiles