Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution

February 2010.

As shiny and modern as it seems now after its 2008 refurbishment, Dovecot Studios actually dates back to 1912: its founder-weavers came from William Morris’ workshops in London. An Arts and Crafts institution of sorts, then, echoing the movement’s anti-Industrial Revolution thoughts even today. They continue to commission and exhibit tapestry, ceramics, metal work (just to name what’s on in the next few months!), even employing ‘Master Weavers’ – commitment to craft indeed. Dovecot’s current exhibition ‘Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution’, now on its second stop of an eight-venue tour, therefore seems quite at home at the gallery.

‘Taking Time…’ features the work of nineteen artists, all concerned with the idea of craft and slowness in the modern world. The exhibition expresses this beautifully, featuring craft in all of its glorious different guises, and embracing multi-media and interactivity. This is dignified revolution, but a revolution nonetheless. “We liked the idea of it being quite political”, says Helen Carnac, curator of the exhibition, “I think society could learn a lot from this.” Many of the pieces of work are indeed subtle comments on society, notably that of Neil Brownswood, who describes his work as exploring “the social, cultural and economic impact of the decline of British ceramic manufacture.” Brownswood works with salvaged ceramics, transforming them into beautiful, almost ornamental pieces of art. Carnac describes this as “upcycling”; recycling an object and making it better. It is a concept prevalent throughout the exhibition: Rebecca Earley’s covetable hand-printed shirts certainly do not betray their charity shop roots.

By the time you see the exhibition – which I really suggest you do – Garland #21 by Shane Waltener and Cheryl McChesney Jones may have taken over the entrance. It is a striking mess of woollen knots, stitches, patches and plaits, currently resembling a psychedelic fishing net. Viewers are encouraged to create additions for the piece: enormous knitting needles, wool, and a How to Knit book are supplied. Carnac admits that when ‘Taking Time…’ opened in Birmingham, she felt a little disappointed upon first seeing the exhibition: “something that had been so alive was suddenly static.” The disappointed feeling was short-lived though, as viewers began to contribute to Garland #21: “The way Shane’s work grew really kept the exhibition alive … people have really responded to it.”

Also encouraging participation is Amy Houghton’s One Centimetre is a Little Less than Half an Inch, which features a vintage typewriter wired up to a screen featuring an animation made using tapestry archive material. As I typed, the tapestry on the screen changed, stitches being added and patterns created. According to Carnac, the typewriter seems to have encouraged people to leave surprisingly beautiful comments about the exhibition – clearly a more inspiring medium than the usual comment cards. Equally intriguing – possibly the understated star of the whole exhibition – is Houghton’s Cardigan Study, a stop-motion animation projected onto a perfectly ordinary desk, which shows a cardigan slowly unravelling. This is surprisingly compelling: after a few days of puzzling over it, I have only just realised how it was done (which I shan’t divulge here)!

I suggest you try not to become entangled in Garland #21 or decide to write your life story on Houghton’s typewriter, because then you won’t also get to experience the intricate joys of Sue Lawty’s Calculus: a stone drawing made from thousands of tiny stones, meticulously arranged by colour and size; cloth work inspired by paper lanterns in Kyoto by Matthew Harris; Amelie-esque collections of memorabilia by Elizabeth Turrel, and much more.

This exhibition works as brilliantly as it does thanks to Carnac: the works, whilst individually striking in all their painstaking detail, could have created an overpowering whole. Instead, they almost seem to interact: “Maybe the works are about themselves rather than the artist … they definitely seem to interact and have an identity in their own right. Some of them look like they might get up and have a run around the gallery at night!” she says. The exhibition is welcoming and easy to enjoy, helped by the fact that each piece of work has an interesting and illuminating blurb, although we are not bombarded with information – Carnac wanted viewers to dwell on the art, saying: “it’s about the works, not words.” All in all, a visual delight with a message worth contemplating.

Originally published in The Student.

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