In the entrance to The Power of Making exhibition is a gigantic silver gorilla. Spiky and fierce, it is easily double the size of any visitor gawping up at it. On closer inspection its relation to craft becomes apparent. The spikes are seemingly like the end of coat hangers and David Mach’s great sculpture is produced solely from twisted wire.
The lighting is dim inside the Porter Gallery but the exhibition is bustling, which is hardly surprising with one of the greatest selection of craftsmanship on show. Inside, the 100 or so objects each hold their own; delicately created using various skills and an assortment of materials. There is no obvious connecting theme, apart from skill, creating a randomness that encourages a more exploratory approach.
This exhibition challenges any perceived notion of craft…
I was continually drawn to my favorite object: the Ghanaian wooden lion coffin. Each hair of the lion’s mane is elaborately carved and the paint work immaculate, symbolic of traditional African artistic craftsmanship. I am fascinated by Paa Joe’s so-called “fantasy” coffin, which formalises the concept of celebrating life by creating a coffin to reflect the existence, or in most cases the profession, of the deceased. The lion may be symbolic of power and leadership but there seemed to be a consensus around me of it being a shame to create something so beautiful and intricate in design, for it only to be buried. It seems this particular object has come to symbolise art, when it is in fact Ghanaian tradition.
The objects range from shotguns to a crocheted bear, bespoke shoes and facial prosthetics, suggesting the extent to which public perceptions have evolved throughout history regarding what constitutes craft. Good and honest craftsmanship is no longer just associated with natural materials and straightforward, pure designs, but has come to include more modern, innovative and complex creations. However, these developments have made it increasingly difficult to identify the nature of craftsmanship. The Power of Making Exhibition brings to light the variety of forms it can take, providing a cross section of craft today. Craft can take the form of art or machinery, medical breakthroughs or simply a skill for the masses to learn. This exhibition certainly challenges any perceived notion of craft that a visitor may have walked in with.
… the techniques are at times mind boggling, the outcomes ingenious…
Mid way into the exhibition there is an opportunity to enjoy short films, which reveal the processes behind the making. The international array of films is truly insightful, although the techniques are at times mind boggling, the outcomes are always ingenious. It certainly provides a greater appreciation of all the works on show. The curator focuses on the processes so as to highlight the relationship between the producers and their materials whilst at the same time providing a context in which such objects came to be.
Making is a universal phenomenon and this celebration of craft seems long overdue.
The short films are available to view online.
The exhibition continues until 2 January 2012.
Images courtesy of the V&A