Vessel : Craft ACT Accredited Professional Members' exhibition
8 April - 22 May 2010
Avi Amesbury | Debra Boyd-Goggin | Margaret Brown | Sarit Cohen | Linda Davy | Rozlyn de Bussy | Dianne Firth | Robert Foster | Anna Gianakis | Ruth Hingston | Bev Hogg | Belinda Jessup | Elizabeth Paterson | Marli Popple | Kirstie Rea | Luna Ryna | Nancy Tingey | Monique van Nieuwland
What’s in a vessel?
This exhibition is a bold show challenging our concept of the vessel and craft practice in a professional arena. This presentation accords well with Craft ACT aim to include a diverse and rich group of inter-generational artists and designers among its Accredited Professional Membership all of whom are invited to participate in an annual exhibition.
Diana Hare has taken over as Craft ACT curator from Jason Hugonnet, and says it was her first opportunity to connect with the Accredited Professional Members and to work with the curatorial rationale of creating intimate vessel inspired objects to be held in two cupped hands. The outcome is a diverse body of work illustrating the breadth of craft practice today.
There could hardly be two more diverse objects representing the vessel than Ruth Hingston’s Nest, French knitting, recycled wools and found buttons and Simon Maberley’s classily beautiful and highly skilled Untitled, blown and cold worked glass.
On the one hand is Maberley as an embodiment of the craft professional skills-based practice, where by necessity the objects is produced in a well-equipped studio, and Hingston’s knitted nest which can effectively be produced outside the studio environment and all that it stands for.
The notion of the studio where an artist or a group of artists work with practised skills producing objects generally for exhibition and sale has recently come under scrutiny. In a recent publication, thinking through craft, the author writes: “A studio is inhabited by a limited number of workers under the leadership of a single individual who is the author of anything made there. Like an object or an action, a studio is singular and confined, rather than multiple and open.” 
This statement could easily attract criticism particularly in relation to say, a glass studio where the nature of the process of production of a blown glass object in particular, generally requires more than one person to be involved and as such there is more likelihood of a sharing of tasks and skills. The spectacle of blown glass production also invites an eager audience and many such studios are open for viewing. It is the intrigue of the alchemy and the process of a number of craft skills: glass blowing, pottery production, loom weaving, wood turning and so on that invites this often participatory audience.
Contrast this craft practice with a group sitting around a table or in a garden knitting using recycled wool and limited skills. No studio is required and we can certainly say that the activity is shared: “multiple and open”. Can we say that Hingston’s work has challenged the traditional genre of the vessel, at least in professional craft terms – or has it? Beyond its theoretical construct, i.e., challenging traditional craft practice based on acquired skills and knowledge, the piece has limited value – or has it? Can we say that craft practice has moved into a more theoretical, more open, arena?
Two other aims of the Craft ACT professional membership are: ‘Individuals included in this membership demonstrate excellence and innovation in their field’…and…’Individuals included in this membership inspire audiences and other artists’.
There has over the past couple of years been a community movement which some call, “guerrilla knitting”. Recent examples have appeared in Australia in the park surrounding the El Alamein Fountain in Kings Cross in Sydney where large plane trees were dressed with knitted garments snugly fitting the broad limbs and surrounding benches. During the final week of Soft Sculpture an exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, 2009, knitters were invited to submit samples to decorate a bus parked outside the gallery and covering bollards and posts in the gallery precinct. This was part of the festival event, Knitta Please, described as a “tag crew of knitters who turned their frustration with half finished knitting projects into a phenomenon sweeping the world.” 
The many interpretations of the traditional genre of the vessel is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this membership exhibition from “nest as vessel” Nancy Tingey’s Bird Net Nest, shredded plastic bird netting, the aforementioned Ruth Hingston Nest, to “vessel as glamorous headwear” in the fabric creations of Monique Van Nieuwland and Marli Popple’s Vessel, Arasihi shibori technique on gold lame.
Van Nieuwland describes her work as “a hand woven tube shaped by the monofilament weft and coloured by the ikat dyed warp”. She says: “Only a few stiches were used to draw in the centre to form the sculptural base.”…or is it a hat? She adds.
Craft ACT is one of the few craft organisations around Australia continuing the idea of Accredited Professional Membership and this is to its credit. What is also to Craft ACT’s credit is that this system is broad enough to include such diverse practices and processes from well-established studio based traditional crafts practitioners to younger professionals wanting to challenge our notions of craft.
Framing the exhibition was the idea that the work produced could be held in two hands. Thus, in one sense unifying the shape and size of each piece but also creating a connection with the object.
This idea of connecting was explored in many ways: Anna Gianakis works in Australian porcelain and on “utilitarian and ergonomic principles”. Her agianakis Home Range Deep Vessel invites the user to “mould their hands around the convex base” of this insulating double wall design. Ian Jones’s stoneware, woodfired Chawan which in the tradition of the tea bowl, invites the user to hold the bowl between two hands, to look into and test its weight and volume while admiring the form and glaze.
There are 23 artists represented in this exhibition working across all media. Hare says: “The exhibition’s theme has provided many of the participating APMs’ with the opportunity to experiment and play with an idea that may not have come to fruition with a solo exhibition. It has also, in some cases, provided the opportunity to take their practice in new directions.”
The subject of craft is always up for debate and in the 21st century it deserves further thinking about. This exhibition has provided an opportunity to do just that.
Helen Stephens, writer, curator and gallerist now living in Collector, NSW.