Chapter 5: Craft and the Relational
5.1 Relational aesthetics
The methods used to present crafts in the exhibition space can be seen to reflect changes in attitudes and techniques associated with the field throughout craft’s history. Over decades of deliberation, attempts to define the concept of craft have pushed and pulled it between the handmade skills and traditional craftsmanship advocated by William Morris as part of the Arts and Crafts movement and the countless provocations and definitions that insist on or deny process and content as part of an interdependent relationship. These debates challenge the hierarchies and boundaries of art, craft and design, and have raged while craft has evolved from the skill-based profession of the rural artisan to become a pursuit of the middle classes. Craft thus entered the home to become an activity that is supported by other means of income (Harrod, 1999). The apprenticeship-based knowledge of the ‘journeyman’ or ‘connoisseur’, whose ability was gained from experience and training, was replaced by amateur enthusiasm driven by passion rather than technical understanding. This development transformed notions of the process of making from that driven by necessity and function to the luxury of a leisure activity or hobby. This in turn informed a contextual understanding of the crafted object that is underpinned by the satisfaction or value placed on the ability to transform and understand materials.
In craft display, such contextual reference is established via curatorial methods based on technique, materiality and function. Craft objects are housed in display cases: conventional structures that present items according to discipline. The consequence may be an eclectic collection of objects reminiscent of the collections of wonder or curiosity that so intrigued past generations. The rise of a group of art-educated individuals during the 1960s and 70s began to inform the creative development of jewellery as a personal statement. This approach gave rise to the dichotomy between the preservation and celebration of traditional, skill-based techniques and a developing contemporary language that insists jewellery should be placed at an equal footing to the arts. As a result a small number of individual jewellers have instigated creative strategies for the presentation of their work, a process which informs the critical meaning that is central to their practice. This development has informed the way in which the viewer of jewellery design is approached, placing emphasis on collaborative projects that explore social spaces and the relations that take place within them, as a means of activating the audience. These are supported by media-based methods by which craft objects and concepts are portrayed within the exhibition space, and which demonstrate a relational awareness of craft’s contextual background. A major element of this contemporary drive is the need to address the social interactions and perspectives in what is conventionally an unmediated process, and to facilitate immediate discussion in order to portray an embodied craft object.
The element of ambivalence and confusion surrounding craft and its display, as discussed in previous chapters, suggests that public perception of craft remains connected to traditional objects and rural trades, but is increasingly infused with the notion of the enthusiastic but unskilled ‘amateur’. These apparent contradictions feed into the challenge of demonstrating an appreciation of skill through display, alongside the theoretical or conceptual content that is intrinsic to the contemporary genre of craft. Paul Greenhalgh attempts to unpack the various attitudes associated with the definition of craft:
something which is (or is not) art, is (or is not) design, as technophobia as an anthropological signifier, as a protector or apparent traditions, as old (or new) age lifestyle, as patriarchy, as airport trinket, as ethnic iconography, as communist Utopia, as eco-protest, as redundant technology, as aromatherapy, and most emphatically as victim of an unloving world (Greenhalgh 2002: 1).
In his somewhat exasperated exploration of contemporary craft’s discursive framework, Greenhalgh portrays a set of practices and positions in craft as a form of expansion and inclusivity, as opposed to conventional definitions that have been restrictive and defensive in nature. He covers its history over two world wars, the development of industrial design and increasing associations with ‘hobby’ craft that is made and sold by organizations such as the Women’s Institute, through church bazaars and in amateur craft fairs. Greenhalgh depicts a craft tradition that has been ‘a history and philosophy of excuses and apologies rather than a confident striding out of a vital part of visual culture’ (ibid.). This observation coincides with the concerns of contemporary jewellery critic Benjamin Lignel, and the ‘what is jewellery?’ questions that now direct many conferences, exhibitions and texts concerning jewellery. Though he confesses that his comment is ‘an overstatement’, Greenhalgh’s notion of an ‘unloving world’ seems to define a culture that is characterized by anonymous, technological structures and the instant and readily available.
With ‘hostile shoals’ facing the craft curator, as noted by Glenn Adamson, the challenges confronting current craft exhibitions have prompted a growing trend towards presentational methods that extend beyond the gallery space (Adamson 2006: 110). These embrace a cultural desire for the physicality of handmade processes that counteract the dematerialized and impersonal implications of the modern, technologically informed world. This move is further influenced by the fluctuating, but often limited, availability of funding which means that craft exhibitions are often forced to remain within existing display structures, such as those categorized according to discipline. As a consequence, a new generation of practitioners is becoming increasingly aware of its potential audience by exploring technological developments and methods of communication. Practitioners are engaging actively with the internet, digital media and public venues in order to create social space in which to communicate and produce their work. As discussed in Chapter 3, this includes venues such as pop-up shops, fairs and underground exhibitions, utilised in order to engage with a wide and varied audience. Locations such as these have highlighted the social implications of craft practice, portraying interactivity and perception as practical and theoretical principles that inform a growing methodology within contemporary craft. Jewellers including Yuka Oyama, Ted Noten, Suska Mackert, Dinie Besems and Naomi Filmer are examples of those who adopt a collaborative approach to their audiences in order to inform their work. It is this strategy of signifying the importance of the viewer, in order to establish an embodied experience between contemporary jewellery and its audience within the gallery space, which draws this study towards the relational.
In support of this methodology, this chapter addresses the concept of relational aesthetics and encompasses key artistic principles that can provide comparative links to the presentation and communication of contemporary jewellery. One of the earliest texts to discuss artistic interest in audience participation was Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics (1998). In this, the collaborative and social concerns of artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Philippe Parreno, Liam Gillick, Pierre Huyghe, Maurizio Cattelan, and Vanessa Beecroft are discussed in terms of their aim to engage the individual within a community-based collective through their work. Bourriaud analyses art works that provide the viewer with a social interstice in which interactivity and discussion can take place, and defines relational aesthetics as:
a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space (Bourriaud 1998:14).
This description illuminates the nature of art that aims to move away from portrayal of an individual viewpoint and instead to interrogate the visual contemplation conventionally associated with the gallery space. This approach replaces such convention with the ambiguous interaction of the audience, in order to establish engagement and meaning that focuses on key principles such as ‘interaction’ and ‘connectivity’. Bourriaud highlights concern surrounding the reception of art, focusing on the site in which art work is exhibited and the role of collective engagement as a means of exploring art’s position within society. As an example, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work for Aperto ’93 at the Venice Biennale encouraged visitors to help themselves to dehydrated Chinese soups that were stored in boxes round the exhibition space, and provided the hot water needed to prepare the food. The social codes and complexities embedded in the cooking and consumption of food identify forms of knowledge and behaviour that are culturally recognizable. In Tiravanija’s work, the active engagement of the viewer is inteded to break down not only the distinction between social spaces and those of the gallery, but also that between artist and the viewer. The humanized process of eating is a universal activity, so the intricacies of cultural behaviour and understanding can be shared in the social space provided by the artist.
Artists have often used the presentation and consumption of food because of its sensory and symbolic capabilities. Such artists include Alison Knowles, a member of the Fluxus group of the 1960s and 70s, whose work addresses simple actions, ideas and objects from everyday life, re-presenting them as an interactive performance. Knowles’ performance Make a Salad, which premiered in 1962 at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), explored the notion of collective activity by using the sound of food preparation alongside the visual spectacle of salad being thrown from a height. The salad was dressed, prepared and finally eaten by the audience. A continuation of such work is Make a Soup (2012), a performance by Knowles at Chicago’s Jane Addams Hull House Museum. Sound was introduced as a stimulus in The First Supper (1997), part of The Sonic Catering Cookbook at the University of Reading’s Fine Art Department. This revealed the creative development of a recipe during its preparation for consumption. These examples are unified because they place the individual experience of food preparation and consumption in the social context of the gallery space. This recognizable process, which is evocative of memories and sensory experience, facilitates immediate discussion and interpretation from the audience, thus providing a participatory experience that is embedded in the social and cultural meaning associated with food.
5.2 Relational aesthetics and contemporary jewellery
The jewellery making process provides comparisons with such interactive exhibitions. The independent and private space of the jeweller’s workbench is brought into the gallery space, thus expanding jewellery’s characteristics from individual adornment related to a single body, to work that is reflective of whole communities. This notion of exploring communality in the making and wearing process is addressed in events such as Yuka Oyama’s Schmuck Quickies (2005). In a process initiated as a social commentary, the jeweller works directly on to the body of the wearer, allowing the audience to become participants in the construction of each jewellery design. Her work uses jewellery as a vehicle by which to convey modern isolations, a situation where awareness of construction and handmade skills is hindered by mass production and the instantly available, throwaway product. The pieces are made from recyclable material and found objects, and the intended wearer becomes instrumental in their construction and design, instructing Oyama on material choice and offering design input. The material available for construction is donated or collected at each location, so geography influences the design and material content of the work produced. The significant rejection of precious material reflects social and environmental concerns, and is also a reaction to genetic and mass-produced commercialism. Its nature as a live performance allows interactivity to draw the making process away from the maker’s bench, creating an inherently social structure within jewellery design that reflects DIY craft culture and the political stance of Craftism. A further consequence of this will be drawn on and expanded later in this chapter.
As noted by Bourriaud, relational practice aims to break down and address divisions between artwork, artist and the viewer, operating within social connectivity. The relation between artwork and the viewer has become interconnected as a responsive process, revealing that:
It is no longer possible to regard the contemporary work as a space to be walked through (the ‘owner’s tour’ is akin to the collector’s). It is henceforth presented as a period of time to be lived through, like an opening to unlimited discussion (Bourriaud 1998: 15).
Focusing on the social content of an encounter or happening has opened up the optical convention of the white-walled gallery space, towards collective engagement as a means of generating meaning. The relational ‘space’ to which Bourriaud refers allows artwork to become a spatial experience, encouraging individuals to come together and partake in an activity that extends beyond a fleeting visual engagement. It offers members of the public the opportunity to react, exchange and contribute to an artwork, or as Bourriaud says, to engage with ‘a period of time to be lived through’. This idea works on a system of experience and interactive encounters, investigating the central theme of inter-subjectivity and the collaborative role of social exchange within the arts. In terms of craft, these tenets signify an alternative approach to the display case methodology that segregates the displayed object from the everyday object. Instead, it promotes the exploration of relations between object and viewer to provide the potential for embodiment, or at least experiential engagement that actively immerses the viewer in the craftwork on display. As an example, the similarity between the work of Tiravanija and a potential relational approach to an activity such as a tea ceremony, locates the relational in craft within the physiological mechanisms of the body through materialism and process. In line with Bourriaud’s observations, a relational response to a tea ceremony would allow the audience to experience such ritualistic processes by actively partaking in this cultural activity. A relational approach would therefore provide an environment that allowed audience members to experience tea drinking, thus providing a tangible means of engaging with the socially-laden and tactile properties embedded in the crafted cup, saucer and tea pot. This is what Devon-based potter and artist Sandy Brown has done with her two-part installation Ritual: The Still Point and The Dance. This was part of the 9th Appledore Visual Arts Festival in 2006 and was shown at UCA Farnham’s Crafts Study Centre and the James Hockey Gallery in 2008. The Still Point is based on the Japanese tea ceremony, and visitors are served tea in order to experience the meditative nature of the ceremony. Brown designed and made the pots used for the installation, which features a recreation of a traditional tea house. The second part of the installation, The Dance, uses large-scale ceramic pieces to represent the energy that comes from The Still Point through colour and movement. The contrast between the two parts demonstrates parallels between the calm ritual of the tea ceremony and her discipline. The viewer is able to experience a process that reflects the methodical steps taken by the ceramist when creating a clay form. The creative ideas born from this craft process are represented in the vibrant expressions of The Dance.
The origins of relational practice can be found in the work of late 20th century artists who aimed to theorise human interaction in the arts. Such practices responded to the increased social exchange and mobility afforded by developments in telecommunications and growing transport infrastructures. This expansion led to the formation of social communities, signifying ‘the birth of a world-wide urban culture’ (Bourriaud 1998: 14). Bourriaud’s analysis of relational work is a response to the internet boom, considering the implications of technological communication in the arts. It explored the role of the artist and the ability to produce communal events and scenarios by which to address social meaning, rather than exploring the isolation of an individual experience. Bourriaud’s contextual reasoning aimed to establish a refined framework from which art in the 1990s could be understood, and to provide an alternative theoretical tool to modernism. His work reflects artistic concern for the loss of authentic social interaction in a post-industrial age by describing the artistic desire to emancipate the individual. Bourriaud cites the work of artists such as Liam Gillick, who focus on projects that enable human exchange in a bid to re-establish sociability within their work. Gillick’s investigation of the boundary between sculpture and functional design is seen in his Pinboard Project (1992) which featured in the Hessel Museum of Art. In this, bulletin boards are placed throughout the museum to explore the production of social relationships in his work. He invites others to add material from books and magazines along with exhibition information, which in this case is added by students and graduates from The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (CCS Bard). The artwork enters a dialogue with the audience, questioning the position of the individual artist and their authorial role in art. Similarly, Gillick’s Plexiglas and aluminum structures, such as Discussion Island: Projected Think Tank (1997), enable a space or context in which human relations are established, forming a practical backdrop that facilitates activity or discussion from the audience. This adaptation of social spaces is reminiscent of the collaborative work of Ted Noten, as discussed in Chapter 2. Noten’s interactive projects often use his audience in order to construct meaning within his work, focusing on the conceptual space in which relational exchanges take place. These include the maker’s studio in Chew Your Own Brooch and the commercial environment of Silver Dinner II. Whether engagement is encouraged through the artist’s choice of objects and activity or spatial exploration, the collaboration between relational aesthetics in art and those in craft foregrounds intersubjective relations and the open-endedness of human interaction. This approach references the concept of ‘work in progress’, rather than the completed object, as a structural premise of the construction and presentation of a relational project.
The focus on social spaces and the relations that take place in them informs the collaborative approach taken by the autonomous group of contemporary jewellers whose practice is explored in this study. This principle is discussed in terms of Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics as ‘new formal fields’ (Bourriaud 1998: 28), which summarises a structure within the conception and construction of relational art that is addressed by other disciplines. These fields are based on the processes and interactions that are intrinsic to the production of an artwork, such as meetings, encounters, events and collaborations. Bourriaud explores these interactive scenarios, which provide practical platforms in which relations can take place and be discussed:
The sphere of human relations have now become fully-fledged artistic ‘forms’, indicating that the processes in which art work is constructed or exchanged is what informs the ‘material’ content of the work (Bourriaud 1998: 28).
Thus, Bourriaud locates human exchange as a material-based concept that can inform and direct artistic enquiry, observing that ‘the contemporary artwork’s form is spreading out from its material form: it is a linking element, a principle of dynamic agglutination. An artwork is a dot on a line’ (ibid: 21). This description locates art as a linear field that reaches beyond the artwork itself, a fact that illustrates the importance of contextual principles prior to the artwork’s realization and the effect of the artwork’s subsequent existence. Examples of this involve the enactment of institutional systems such as visiting cards, appointments and openings, as seen in the work of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Liam Gillick and Jeremy Deller.
Such models of communality expand the potential content of the ‘artwork’ and can be seen in craft initiatives and activities such as knitting circles and craft clubs that engage with the practice of social making. Craft’s association with relational art is embedded in social and cultural relationships, and can be understood in terms of the theoretical and practical discourse surrounding concepts such as Craftism, DIY and the slow movement. Artist, maker and curator Helen Carnac’s blog Making a Slow Revolution engages with principles of the slow movement by embracing craft as a process. The use of a blog as a communicative outlet allows participants to discuss the concept of slowness in relation to their own practice, not only through the written word but in shared activity and participation. This has clear links with the activist stance of craft practitioners within Craftism, a term coined by writer Betsy Greer in 2003. This draws together principles of craft and activism, allowing the craft skills to be adapted as a practical means by which to voice political and social concern. It is the consequential effect of craft within society as well as for the individual that holds a relational value. This sense of empowerment is often seen in the educative methods of contemporary craft initiatives, such as Craft Club and Firing Up organized by the Crafts Council. These facilitate the production of craft while encouraging social engagement and development of skills, as well as promoting craft activities to a wider audience. The ‘formal fields’ that enable collective engagement with the crafts can also be seen in community-based initiatives such as the collaborative action research project The Meeting of Hands and Heart (2004). This was held in Birmingham in conjunction with the exhibition Self, a collaboration between Craftspace Touring and the Midlands Refugee Council. This initiative aimed to establish dialogue that challenged social boundaries by bringing together communities in an environment in which skills can be learnt, developed and shared. It offered a platform from which areas of social commonality and distinction could be addressed by group dialogue and by the objects being made.
Describing the relational in terms of social practice, writer Dustin O’Hara claims that when discussed as a political project:
It can often be considered pedagogical, be seen as weakening or challenging perceived hierarchies, or bridging spaces previously divided, developing or presenting shared resources, or enacting a performance of community (O’Hara 2009).
This observation emphasizes the multi-faceted consequence of engaging with a relational principle that is embedded in the materiality of everyday life and is a production of humanizing practice. This principle places the communal impetus that underpins the examples given within the ‘do it yourself’ ethos. By definition, such DIY practice adheres to the principle of seeking out knowledge in order to enable a participant to carry out a task by themselves. Bourriaud discusses this principle with regard to virtual networks enabled by the internet and globalization, stressing the value of face-to-face interactions that inform and engage the individual as part of a collective experience, but he also documents the artist’s shift towards creating their own ‘possible universes’ (Bourriaud 1998: 13). Artists such as Tiravanija and Gillick exemplify immediacy similar to that first encountered during the 1960s, in which performance art placed value on the first-hand experience between viewer and the artist’s body. Bourriaud, however, used the DIY concept to define clearly the relational from performance and installation art. Art historian and critic Claire Bishop observes that, rather than employing the ‘utopian’ attitudes of the past, Bourriaud defines a ‘DIY, microtopian ethos’ as a political concept that drives relational aesthetics (Bishop 2004: 54). This concept considers how contemporary artists ‘seek only to find provisional solutions in the here and now’, and observes how we relate to our neighbours rather than creating idealized versions of the world (ibid.).
The establishment of Bourriaud’s ‘microtopian’ relations can be seen in social initiatives that aim to draw together communities, using handmade activities, shared knowledge and skills in a range of communicative environments that aim to blur the division between the craft maker and viewer. In recent decades, collaborative structures have included open sources and social networks that involve and empower the viewer in the design and making process. In ‘Craft Hard, Die Free’ Anthea Black and Nicole Burisch investigate the far reach of community activist Grant Neufeld’s knitting circles and the role of craftism and DIY practices. Calgary’s Revolutionary Knitting Circle focuses on the educative and communicative nature of craft and involves the sharing of tacit knowledge and techniques within a collaborative environment. The group’s manifesto has resonated across the craft community with its non-violent promotion of textiles and other handcrafts as a means of dispersing craft traditions through social engagement (Black and Burisch 2011: 611). Marianne Jørgensen’s Pink Tank (2006) collaboration of knitters made 4000 squares to cover a World War II combat tank as a protest against the Iraq war. Canadian artist Wednesday Lupypciw’s craft-based workshop for the artist-run gallery TRUCK (2006) was based in a converted motor home. Her performance and video work involves group demonstrations and activities using a variety of materials such as pipe cleaners and wool, in order to challenge the distinction of ‘fine craft’ work by exploring the properties of materials normally associated with DIY, hobbycraft and the kitsch. Her work continues in the curatorial project Cast Off, which looks at the performance of craft and was presented at the Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Festival Society (M:ST) in Calgary, Canada. This organization’s website describes how the society looks at projects that explore handcraft while considering ‘ideas of competition, conflict, and self-interest’. The performative aspect of such projects involves the live creation of new work, offering the viewer access to the normally secluded process of making and craftsmanship and thus blurring the division between private and public spheres. Lupypciw’s Ladies’ 500-meter Challenge (2010) is a platform for competitive weaving that explores traditional concepts of domesticity and gender. Two teams weave against each other for three hours, in a project that creates engagement evoked by the competitive structure that involves both audience members and competitors with the charged environment. The creative method of this project evokes group mentality, whether an individual participant is supporting, challenging, learning or is just a spectator.
The sharing of craft skills and communal making relates to Dennis Stevens’ discussion of craft’s ‘communities of practice’ (Stevens 2011: 46). Stevens describes the division of social groups under the umbrella of craft, which are unified by a communal vocabulary, style and concern. Resembling the activist stance of Craftism and the DIY mentality, specialist fields such as glass, ceramics, woodwork and textiles are communities that are defined by a common sensibility. The dialogue between each community, which is activated during conferences, workshops and exhibition openings, has been exposed to new variables. Stevens recognizes the implications of new forms of communication through digital means:
makers are using the democracy of the Internet and its nonhierarchical and decentralized format not only to market their work but also to express their views and to debate and exchange ideas beyond the tight knit, medium-based enclaves with which their work might conventionally be associated (Stevens 2011: 47).
The merging of conventional craft structures and digital communication reflects various interdisciplinary approaches to craft in the modern era. These take place against the growing body of technological techniques that inform craft production in the form of digital objects. Consideration is being given to the digital environment and methods in and by which which craft is consumed; events such as the Handmade DIY craft fair that was part of Manchester’s 2011 FutureEverything initiative. The fair involved a community of craftsman, hackers and makers who empower the viewer by allowing direct involvement in the making and design of an array of interactive and tactile work. Writer, researcher and event curator Karen Yair says: ‘a new maker community is emerging, connecting the culture of traditional skills and materials with modern-day digital production, distribution and interaction techniques’ (Yair 2011).
The implementation of digital technology as a communicative platform allows dialogue to flow between craft communities and the viewer via methods that encourage viewer participation. Despite Bourriaud’s concerns, technological communication has assisted the distribution and acquirement of craft knowledge: ‘how to’ videos on networks such as YouTube and Vimeo and step-by-step instructions for craft projects are readily accessible via the internet. As a reaction to audience participation the boundaries between amateur and professional practice have become blurred: the use of blogs, websites and online video streaming allows users to become involved in projects, gain access to programs and online tutorials and record and share outcomes and ideas with a universal community. Designer Becky Stern has instigated a novel approach to knitting by using a reformatted knitting machine that can be connected to a computer in order to knit craft pixel art created in Photoshop. A how-to manual available online, along with coding and patterns, allows this process to be shared with other users. Melanie Bowles’ The People’s Print (2011) engages the consumer in the design process of digital textiles and print, addressing the concept of sustainable design through emotionally durable and relational design systems. Bowles’ work is also entwined in an open source community by which ideas, skill, events and experiments can be shared via a social networking site. This platform aims to address the transition between digital and the handmade, and between slow and fast-paced processes.
The influence of digital media on the production of craft and its communication differs from the first-hand experience of process and material content explored by a collection of people in the same room. As in contemporary art, the communality generated by the internet differs from material communality in praxis, which involves coming together and collaborating in real time on a single piece. Bourriaud discusses the suitability of art, in terms of work such as painting and sculpture that are presented in the form of an exhibition, as a platform for relational encounters. Art, in comparison to TV and literature, is noted to be an expressive form that ‘tightens the space of relations’, offering a shared spaced for consumption in which discussion can take place immediately (Bourriaud 1998: 15). This view overlooks, however, the developing capabilities of communication and experience enabled via the internet, which offer instant access to a far-reaching audience and to a rich and diverse database of information that can be referenced at any time. On the capabilities of art Bourriaud says: ‘I see and perceive, I comment, and I evolve in a unique space and time’ (ibid.). He presents the gallery space as a valuable environment in which to establish and observe the potential relations between viewer and object, which is separate from current development in digital communication within craft.
Relations that exist in real time have influenced museum methodology in a bid to extend first-hand experience. The V&A’s ‘Late Friday’ includes live performances, debates, one-off displays and installations as well as special guests, food, drink and guest DJs. With late-night exhibition opening times the museum is able to consider an audience different from the daytime visitor. Similarly the role of the artist-in-residence provides a link with the current relational premise of art venues such as Gateshead’s Baltic Centre and the Palace de Tokyo in Paris. These exemplify a collection of European art venues that aim to move away from the conventional collection-based structure by removing permanent collections and providing instead a space for artistic expression through project-based works-in-progress and artist-in-residence schemes. This approach is expressed in the interior of the Palace de Tokyo, designed by architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal. The stripped back concrete and steel shell-like interior aimed to reconceptualize the ‘white cube’ model of art display and reflect instead the fresh and continually evolving curatorial ethos of co-directors Jerôme Sans and Nicolas Bourriaud. The museum houses a collection of art exhibitions, live music and performance, and employs a range of presentational and interactive formats in order to reach a wide and varied audience. Formats such as Tokyo TV, radio and book collection offer differentiated forms of communication and interaction. Designed to function as a laboratory rather than a museum, the Palais de Tokyo and its exhibiting artists aim to involve the viewer within the ‘process of construction’, rather than establishing a conventional, walk-through experience (Bennett 2001: 2).
Similarly, Lin Cheung, Laura Potter and Ted Noten worked with Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA) on the Museumaker initiative to investigate ways of ‘unlocking the creative potential of museum collections’ (2011). Cheung and Potter’s project Pas de Deux (2010–11) was a collaborative partnership between makers, museums and visitors. Local people produced a collection of objects based on their visits to MIMA, The Dorman Museum and the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, accompanied by discussion concerning their own lives and likes. The project incorporated participatory workshops involving the process of cuttlefish casting in pewter, during which skills, ideas and dialogue were formulated and documented. The exploration of social systems allowed residents to interact and engage with their local area, including alternative craft and institutional communities through a repertoire of communal resources, artefacts, vocabularies and handmade skills. Such projects function by empowering the viewer and aim to highlight social networks through craft practice by drawing on individual input and experiences to assemble a collective portrayal of meaning. It is social relations that form the content of such projects, rather than placing value solely on the crafted object.
5.3 Defining relational practice in craft display
The properties Bourriaud identifies that separate relational art from the closely proximate performance or interactive art reveal a need to distinguish between relational practices in craft and the process-led interactions seen in display design, such as the Craft Council’s CraftCubes. Work-in-progress exhibitions allow the viewer insight into the developmental structures within the crafting process, informed by educational principles embedded in fluxus techniques. As Hannah Higgins argues: ’Fluxus experience has particular value, promoting as it does, first and foremost, experiential learning, but also interdisciplinary exploration, self-directed study, collective work, and the nonhierarchical exchange of ideas’ (Higgins 2002: 189). This identifies the potential of a fluxus-inspired pedagogy as a possible application of experience in teaching and learning afforded by the arts. The educative approach to craft display communicates the attitudes and techniques of the maker; it empowers the viewer by allowing access to a creative process by communicating what is normally contained within a displayed object. For example, design sketches, notes and a how-to mentality reveal a craft narrative by unpacking the making process as a direct concern, whereas a relational project becomes focused on the social context and implication in which skill, functionality and materiality may operate. Thus, an alternative approach may question who the maker is, rather than demonstrating the progression and methods used. In addition to analysing the relation between jeweller and audience, it might explore the impact of such work on the individual or collective, and how it relates to or represents the social context in which it functions.
Social concern of this nature can be seen in exhibitions such as Ceremony (2005) at London’s Pump House Gallery which looked at the relevance and application of craft skills in contemporary society by exploring the performative relationship between ritual and object. This interactive project consisted of a diverse range of practices including stone carving, cake decorating, knitting and quilting, and participation was encouraged through a number of workshops, demonstrations and screenings, as well as demonstrations and audience participation. The exhibition and the jewellers taking part aimed to use the social setting to encourage their audience to consider the cultural role played by craft, and how handmade objects inform bodily behaviour and processes. The wedding ring, christening shawl and funeral wreath are examples.
The approach taken by Palace de Tokyo and those contemporary galleries which establish a work-in-progress methodology is a close association with the studio or experimental laboratory as a model for the display of contemporary art work. This resembles the principles established in the early 20th century Bauhaus, a German art school that employed experimental learning, cultural exhibition and production to allow students to work alongside and interact with artists and designers. This established the ‘laboratory’ as an approach in which collaboration and experimentation play an important part, creating a forum of ideas and open-ended expression within exhibition practice. In terms of the relational in art and craft practice, this definition may be seen to have negative connotations.
Claire Bishop considers the ideology of the laboratory setting promoted by curators including Bourriaud, Hans Ullrich Obrist and Barbara van der Linden. She suggests that artwork which operates within relational aesthetics ‘seems to derive from a creative misreading of poststructuralist theory: rather than the interpretations of a work of art being open to continual reassessment, the work of art itself is argued to be in perpetual flux’ (Bishop 2004: 52). There is a suggestion that an unstable identity renders this form of practice difficult to define; a problem which when applied to craft may compound the current communicative challenges faced by contemporary jewellery and craft and its relation with public perceptions. It also emphasizes the proximity between the concept of a ‘laboratory’ and the area of leisure and entertainment that reflects a shift in modern exhibition practice towards the leisure market. As David Dernie notes: ‘What is now fundamental to contemporary exhibition design is the creation of an ‘experience’ that is engaging, multi-sensorial and rewarding’ (Dernie 2006: 13). The museum is effectively pressurised to offer an educative, worthwhile experience, as opposed to an industry that is dedicated to pleasure and consumerism (Hooper-Greenhill 1994: 2). This may be seen as an influential concept that looks to establish relations with new audiences and enrich the experience of existing audiences via sensory experience.
The concept of the laboratory and the relational within the crafts proposes an element of risk to the interdisciplinary and discursive subject of contemporary jewellery, which has yet to find confidence beyond the presentational techniques of the display case. Bishop continues her discussions on the contemporary significance of collaboration and direct engagement between social collectives. In ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents’ (2006) she engages critically with the assertion that relational practice has become driven by rewards associated with collaborative activity rather than by the social and political principles that ground relational aesthetics. She claims that artists are adopting the tactic of ‘working with pre-existing communities or establishing one’s own interdisciplinary network’, thus implying that no clear revolutionary stance is being taken (Bishop 2006: 179). Her comments seems to suggest that the political and aesthetic radicalism which formalized relational work has been diluted, and is now driven simply to further practical or conceptual art practice. Bishop’s 2004 article ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’ interrogates the value of Bourriaud’s relational examples, suggesting that Gillick and Tiravanija represent a ‘feel good’ approach to social harmony (ibid., 79). Bishop puts forward the notion of ‘relational antagonism’ in order to expose the true or consequential effect when sustaining such harmony, suggesting a weakness in Bourriaud’s assessment of relational aesthetics.
Grant Kester’s Conversation Pieces (2004) also addresses the quality of Bourriaud’s theory, describing the significance of the dialogical as a contemporary outcome of relational aesthetics. Kester considers artwork that engages with social and political thought via conversations as an act of artistic activism. He discusses projects in alternative venues such as a car park in Oakland, California and a pleasure boat on a Swiss lake. Operating outside the gallery and museum space, these projects are formulated to investigate collaboration with diverse audiences and communities, in which emotive dialogue and information are exchanged as a key principle of dialogical art. This approach unites artists such as Newton Harrison, Suzanne Lacy and Stephen Willats in their desire to address issues such as gang violence and political conflict through community-based dialogue. Prominent examples that illustrate the structure of the dialogical are Lacy’s The Roof is on Fire (1994) and the work of Austrian arts collective Wochenklausur. Each was established with social intervention in mind, involving alternative social groups such as politicians, journalists and sex workers in the Wochenklausur project Intervention to Aid Drug-addicted Women (1994–5), and 220 high school students in The Roof is on Fire. These performance-based projects provided a neutral setting in which to establish conversation, with the aim of addressing the issues of cultural stereotyping and public complaints and support in response to social problems. Kester suggests: ‘These projects require a paradigm shift in our understanding of the work of art; a definition of aesthetic experience that is durational rather than immediate’ (Kester 2005: 78). The evolving platform on which conversations are established encourages the role of art to be questioned alongside the cultural identities, stereotypes and common attitudes to which such dialogues aim to dispel.
As with relational art, Kester’s concept of dialogical art is informed by the installations and performance based work of the 1960s and 70s. Influences include Jackson Pollock’s process-led paintings, which are mediated through the dripping and splattered movements of paint and body and captured by Hans Namuth's film making, and Allan Kaprow’s ‘happenings’, which foregrounded the importance of process over the outcome of a piece of artwork, reflected in the dematerialization of performance art. In order to illuminate the dialogical in performance work, Kester uses a description of the work of video and performance artist Nancy Angelo by Cheri Gaulke, a fellow member of the group Feminist Art Worker: ‘Moving beyond simple theatricality and [incorporating] elements of networking, working with a real-life environment, and communicating with a mass audience’ (Kester 2004: 125). This description notes the subsidiary position of the artist in terms of the work’s development and outcome; its development depends on the input of participants and the environmental and cultural factors in which it takes place.
The concept of ‘networking’ and mass communication is also significant to the activist expressions of the 1980s, in which artists created comparative links to government initiatives and social reform in recent community art practice. To describe this, artist Suzanne Lacy coined the term ‘new genre public art’ in which the relationship between artist and ‘real-world’ audiences is considered and the implications of art on the public changed (Lacy 1995). Like Bishop, who is concerned about the quality of relations established in Bourriaud’s concept of relational art, Kester considers the authenticity of the relationship between artist and participant:
community art projects are often centered on an exchange between artist (who is viewed as creatively, intellectually, financially, and institutionally empowered) and a given subject who is defined a priori as in need of empowerment or access to creative/expressive skills (Kester 2004: 137).
Concern over the need for a balanced relationship between artist and community gives rise to questions about the authority of the artist and their involvement in an area of complex ethical issues which requires an understanding of the political and social complexities embedded in such communally based practice. There is a need to tackle relations that contain a network of meaning that is difficult to define and navigate, including the traditional teaching model in the institutional structure of art schools. Kester questions the authority of such relations in terms of the artist’s background knowledge of such micro-communities. Works such as The Roof is on Fire and projects by Wochenklausur investigate groups that are segregated from society. This principle considers the ‘antagonism’ or negative relations in society as theorized by Bishop, but in turn open up dialogical art to criticisms of authority, asking what qualifies the artist to become involved with such sensitive issues. The political and ethical consequence of such discussions directs my own observations of the body and craft in order to define an approach that is intrinsic to contemporary jewellery discourse. This method does not imply a need to alter or enforce relations, but to present information in a relational or accessible way.
With regard to the role of interaction, it is important to make a distinction between the concerns of the contemporary art museum and those of the jeweller. The subjective views of the individual artist, which may be primarily political, and those issues intrinsic to the body within contemporary jewellery discourse, must be defined. As previously discussed, the relationship between the gallery space and craft is balanced precariously between aesthetic contemplation and the everyday, utilitarian associations of the craft object. It is the humanizing ideology of relational aesthetics that ideally locates the gallery space as a challenging and potentially rewarding area of investigation. These aesthetics draw on craft’s humanistic principles and hand-wrought processes to unify the viewer and the displayed object. The gallery’s institutional structure is thus employed to refine a concept of relational aesthetics that is intrinsic to craft practice. In a way that chimes with Kester’s concerns about authority, my own experience as a contemporary jeweller will enable me to present a view that differs from that of a curator or exhibition designer when addressing forms of display. The major question will be how contemporary jewellers can engage with their audience in the gallery space, informed by the relational craft practice already evident beyond the museum.