Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vestiges of civilization

I'm a long time admirer of Richard Slee - back when I had a production pottery even, or... especially... that's why I'm now a fine artist : production pottery is more slog than creativity when your body is the machinery. Italian dinnerware designers were having more fun designing new "rustic" lines for their factories. But back to the matter in hand...

Here Slee shows some interesting objects ... Hales Gallery press release says "Slee renders the possibility of function as a distant memory, rather like the evolutionary remains of a tail."

A pun on the Bauhaus "form follows function" right enough. A wry comment that in the age of mass production crafts have become merely decorative products. Trinkets to be embellished and displayed rather than used. The practice reminds me of something. Oh yeah. People hanging old guns and swords over the fireplace. Or trophy antelope heads or indeed nostalgic items, antiques of any kind. Relics of activities that used to be vital.

Slee's references are bringing up a lot of thoughts for me about contemporary culture.

Landscape paintings appeal because they show us fertile and productive land that our primitive brain sees as necessary to survival (or words to this effect). Crafts seem to appeal to people because of the mark of the hand, human input, and skill, somehow associated with "the good old days"... but it is all more complicated than that.

In "The Meanings of Modern Design" Peter Dormer describes Marx describing a woman making bricks for a living (p 151) - craft industry at its most brutal (activities we are happy machines have taken over). Antelope hunting and guns above the fireplace refer to days we'd all rather not replicate in reality - having to catch and butcher our own dinners, or fight off our enemies personally. But there is something in there about human- ness that we cling to. Perhaps it is the idea of our power to accomplish all these things... when sometimes it might seem that we do nothing anymore, that we are not powerful. That's not true, of course, but if you watch the news you might start thinking that way.

Hales' press release notes that Slee's work recognizes these issues. It challenges conventional notions of ceramics and transcends "its utilitarian roots whilst also sidestepping the self indulgent aspects of the studio tradition which became ubiquitous in the late twentieth century".

Craft becomes art when it is aware of its own references and contradictions. Cool! Please explain that to the folk who are probably still painting bluebirds on the hand-polished agates they then make into clocks.

My further thoughts about culture run on ... more appropriate on the blog about my own work, or explored in the sketch/note/book. They go hand in hand with reading "The Invention of Capitalism" et al and curiosity about what we can learn about ourselves by the interpretation of contemporary cultural artifacts. I feel there's a mother lode buried under these premises ... but I'm still nibbling at the edges.

Richard Slee at Hales Gallery, London, 4 Jun - 17 July, 2010

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