The exhibitions “Emerging Contemporaries” and “6:30 Sessions” celebrate the work of highly talented emerging artists who speak to and through the tangible, connective intimacy of materials, created during a period of unprecedented physical human separation. The diversity of ideas in these exhibitions are expressed through media including ceramic, glass, metal, paper, textile and wood, yet they are somewhat connected by the shared experience of Covid 19 induced disruption and uncertainty. It is difficult to imagine a more stark contrast between a remote, digitised social response to the pandemic and the intimate physicality of the Emerging Contemporaries exhibition, works, or the sensitivity evident in the way that 6.30 Sessions artists creatively navigate studio practice across physical and emotional separation.
Some of the exhibition works offer a material conduit to our bodies, whether through the physical and psychological utility of objects and devices, visceral material gestures and metaphors, or referred personal narratives. Others create conversations which connect us, the audience, or present tools that promote the experience of material beings. Experiencing these intimate material sensibilities deflects us from a screen view of the world that has been increasingly ‘on trend’ over recent decades.
Responses to the global pandemic have compounded the shift, disrupting social connections, work patterns, escalating a physical remoteness reliant on communication technologies to unprecedented levels. These conditions create critical shifts in opportunities, expectations and possibilities for artists, designers and craftspeople who work with physical materials, shaping their practices differently, whether in private studio environments where work may continue attentively with minor adjustment, or in Colleges and Universities where workshops, opportunities and practices have been severely disrupted, requiring in some cases a total overhaul of their working possibilities and patterns.
Despite those working in the arts and cultural sector being largely neglected by the Australian Federal government in its response to this pandemic (1), the exhibitors have found a way to defy the odds and continue to practice. That is why this show is important. It reminds us not only of the resilience and resourcefulness these artists draw upon, but of the values their contemporary voices express, a celebration of a vital physical affinity denied by remoteness. The significance of these creative material perspectives should not be taken for granted. Parallel to the trends toward screen based, remote connection is an increasingly repurposing of the word ‘material’, beyond its Cambridge dictionary definition, to a point where the environmental foundation in its meaning is endangered. An internet search for ‘materiality’ will today evidence privileged links to auditing and accounting, whilst ‘material design’ calls up pages of references to Google’s Android-oriented design language. Remoteness from materiality signals loss of intimacy and ecological danger.
Craft ACT’s continued advocacy for emerging artists across educational institutions, organisations and private practices has never been more critical. It positions this exhibition as a catalyst for artistic opportunities at a time when emerging Australian practitioners face critical barriers in transitioning to professional practice, offering an informed and influential audience the opportunity to both celebrate the achievements of this group of artists and support them.
Roderick Bamford, Snr Lecturer & Head of Ceramics Workshop School of Art & Design, ANU.
1.https://www.unisa.edu.au/media-centre/Releases/2021/arts-and-culture-workers-neglected-during-covid-unisa-study-shows/ accessed 28 Jan 2022.