Arrowmont’s current biennial juried exhibition, Bridging the Gap: Contemporary Craft Practices, brings together 35 artists under 35 who are making significant strides in their craft in bold and diverse ways.
The jury process brought together three outside curators from around the country, Jovencio de la Paz, Jessica Todd and Ariel Zaccheo, to identify a cohesive exhibition from hundreds of submitted work. To add to the significance of their choices, this is the first exhibition to focus on young craftspeople in the history of the juried biennial at Arrowmont.
In another historic first, in lieu of cash prizes for the exhibition awardees, Arrowmont distributed experiences specifically designed to provide professional development:
Three National Workshop scholarships were awarded to Keela Dooley, Colin Pezano and Shiyuan Xu.
Three Pentaculum scholarships were awarded to Lauren Eckert in metals, Danielle Lasker in fibers, and Jason Tanner Young in wood. Read more about the Pentaculum experience here: arrowmont.org/events/pentaculum/
One National Workshop 2021 teaching award was provided to Phoebe Kuo.
And two Arrowmont Permanent Collection Purchase Awards went to Younha Jung and Grace Brogan.
On October 18, 2019, jurors Jessica Todd and Ariel Zaccheo were featured presenters to members of Arrowmont’s Renaissance Circle. They shared reflections on the adjudication process and insights into some of the highlights of the exhibition. Below are the transcripts of their presentations. Thank you to all the jurors and participants who contributed to Bridging the Gap. The exhibition is on view in the Sandra J. Blain Galleries through December 14, 2019.
Gallery Talk for Bridging the Gap: Contemporary Craft Practices – Jessica Todd
Thank you so much to Arrowmont for inviting me to jury this show and to come here in person to speak with you, and to Kelsey for organizing this. Just as important as fostering the careers of these early career makers under 35, I want to thank Arrowmont for having the foresight to also offer this opportunity to a team of early career jurors. Just as we need new makers to make the work of the future, we need new curators and writers and administrators to build the creative infrastructures to support them and to bring the work to new audiences. I greatly appreciate the opportunity.
My background is in contemporary craft, specifically jewelry/metals – I earned an MFA from Kent State in Jewelry/Metals/Enameling – but directly after grad school I was fortunate to start working at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, Florida. The residency hosts around 70 artists a year for five weeks at a time – artists of all disciplines: painters, sculptors, installation artists, digital media artists, filmmakers, activist artists, dancers, sound artists, writers, performance artists, and everything in between. And that experience has really expanded for me the definition of what an “artist” is and what “artistic practice” can mean.
But in that expanse of contemporary art, I’m consistently drawn to work that engages with a tradition of materials and process, a basis of skill, and a connection to the hand – even when that engagement is purposefully rejecting one or more of those things. This is because I enjoy work that I can connect to and that I know a diverse audience can connect to as well. When someone recognizes a woodworking technique used to make the table they grew up eating dinner on, or notices the same stitch they watched their grandmother make with her hands, or imagines how they would feel donning that necklace and strutting down the street – there’s an entry point, a welcome mat to invite the viewer into the piece and sit with it for a while in intimate conversation.
The only thing I love more than contemporary craftwork is contemporary craftwork by fresh voices in the field – that moment when I’m strolling through an exhibition, or, these days, scrolling through my Instagram feed, and see new work for the first time. It’s that, “Ooo, what is this?!” feeling. Jurying this show was a lot of that, so I really enjoyed the entire process.
Looking at the work by these 35 artists under 35, you’ll notice a lot of play with material. I think that’s because crafts artists typically start their education learning about material – what it is, where it comes from, how it’s been used in the past, how to manipulate it, and the hand skills and tools you use to do so – so they are particularly adept at messing with it. The artists in this show did a fantastic job messing with materials. There’s work that imitates one material with another, such as Holly Ross’s crumpled cardboard boxes articulated in clay; work that takes ordinary objects and transforms them into extraordinary forms, such as Lenáe Zirnheld’s futuristic brooches made from plastic dental flossers; you’ll see work that pushes the physical and structural limits of the material, such as Shiyuan Xu’s complex and delicate porcelain paper clay sculptures; and work that renders the medium used unrecognizable, such as Dani Guillen’s infected wound textiles.
Aesthetically, the work ranges from Lauren Eckert’s sci-fi video game-esque adornment to Clay Leonard’s seductively sleek cups to Lyndee Deal’s 90s-pop-teen aesthetic tablewares, to the frenetic, intuitive texture of Danielle Lasker’s stop sign.
The work truly bridges the gap, demonstrating a range of engagement with traditional craft from reverently adjacent to it to questioning and expanding its supposed boundaries, and that’s how I want to address the work I’ll show you up on the screen today.
I’ll start by discussing a piece I feel converses closely and humorously with its traditional roots: Colin Pezzano’s Bandaids.
First, these pieces display excellent craftsmanship and mastery of material – the tiny inlay work uses the natural grain of the wood as line drawing. Conceptually, Pezzano presents us with three cracked boards that he’s addressed with his own version of a traditional wood joinery technique. Butterfly joints have been used for literally thousands of years to join two adjacent boards or to repair or stabilize cracks. Pezzano’s joints adopt the form of a bandaid. I particularly enjoyed these pieces because his wooden bandaids likely bring a smile to every woodworker’s face – because they recognize the pun that a butterfly joint is essentially a “bandaid” for the wood – and because it tells the non-woodworker viewer exactly what the purpose of this kind of joint is. Pezzano achieves both an inside joke and a didactic tool in one piece. I love this as a representation of two of the most prominent characteristics of the crafts field, two things I love most about it – the camaraderie of a small community you can geek out with about things like wooden bandaids, and the devotion the community has to education, such as here at Arrowmont.
Next, I will focus on a piece that stands somewhere in the middle of this range of engagement with traditional craft: Emily Baker’s Tarsal Tunnel. Baker uses one of craft’s most ancient materials – iron. Her sculpture makes this very hard material look stretched and twisted, but that isn’t actually why I was so drawn to this piece. As someone with a metals background, I’ve seen work that makes hard metal look soft, and her linear, draping forms are familiar in the blacksmithing canon.
I was drawn to Baker’s work because typically when I see linear ironwork, it’s forged. Though it may not be immediately obvious to the untrained eye, Baker’s piece is cast. In fact, she goes so far as to leave some of the casting material on the finished piece, which will eventually cause it to rust. As with Pezzano’s work, I enjoy the didactic quality of this – subtly showing the viewer how it was made. But I also love Baker’s boldness in this choice. Anyone in the metals community – including the authors of the 2017 book CAST: Art and Objects, Jen Townsend and Renée Zettle-Sterling – will tell you that casting has a stigma in the metals community. It’s something like, “Those who can’t fabricate or forge, cast.” But what Townsend and Zettle-Sterling champion in their book and what I see Baker expressing with her work, is that any process that leads to a desired outcome is valid, and that we need to challenge these biases within our disciplines in order to open up doors for expression, whether it’s putting beads on a piece of jewelry or acrylic paint on ceramics.
This leads me to the final piece I’ll speak about: Jenny Reed’s Feast Week. For me, Reed’s frenzied, raw aesthetic pushes craft’s boundaries exactly where they need to be pushed. She gives us something between a ceramic object or collection of objects, a painting with basic 2-point perspective, a wall-mounted relief sculpture, and an Americana cultural diptych. She rejects traditions of precise handwork, consistency between 2D and 3D representation, symmetry, order, and surface treatment. She embraces messiness and the mundane. I love the promise this piece surely keeps to shock a craft traditionalist to believe it would be included in a craft exhibition, and to shock someone in the “Fine Art” field to believe it was made by a ceramicist.
I believe it is through blurring lines in this way that we grow as a field, provide access to new and exciting voices, and reach ever-diversifying audiences. The more we expand and question our boundaries, bring craftwork into the Art mainstream, and bring the Art mainstream into craft, the stronger we all become. This isn’t at all to say that we reject tradition or skill or craft, but that there’s room for it all, and it can exist on a spectrum instead of contained inside separate boxes.
I hope this exhibition assures the traditionalists out there that young artists are still invigorated to learn exquisite craftsmanship and converse closely with tradition, and the rebels out there that there are young artists breaking boundaries and provoking meaningful evolution. Bridging the Gap is both a broad cross-section and a drop in the bucket of the craftwork being made today visibly, or invisibly, in the US and around the world. I hope that this show inspires new perspectives and contributes to the ever-expanding and limitless language and expression of the contemporary craft field.
Jessica Todd received a Master of Fine Arts in Jewelry/Metals/Enameling under Kathleen Browne from Kent State in 2014, and a Bachelor of Arts in Art with a concentration in Metal Art and Technology under James Thurman from Penn State in 2008. In 2008-09 she earned a Diploma of Hispanic Studies from the University of Barcelona. Jessica received a Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) Educational Endowment Scholarship in 2013, and has exhibited work and taught workshops locally and nationally. Publications include Cast: Art and Objects Made Using Humanity’s Most Transformational Process (Schiffer Publishing), Humor in Craft (Schiffer Publishing), and Fabric Printing at Home (Quarry Books). She currently serves on the Conference Program Committee and 50th Anniversary Committee for SNAG. Jessica is the Residency Manager for the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva, FL. The residency is a program of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and serves over 70 artists from around the country and world to live and work for five weeks at the former home and studio of the late artist Robert Rauschenberg. Jessica is passionate about building the creative infrastructures that support artists and arts organizations.
Gallery Talk for Bridging the Gap: Contemporary Craft Practices – Ariel Zaccheo
Hi everyone, thank you so much for being here tonight, and thank you to Jessica Todd and Jovencio de la Paz, fellow jurors, gallery manager Kelsey Dillow for her tireless work in bringing this exhibition together, all of the artists that contributed work, the current artists in residence, and to everyone at Arrowmont School for Arts and Crafts for their generosity and hospitality. It’s been an honor to see a swift glipse of the school and everything that goes into creating a holistic environment of education and practice in craft. I am endlessly grateful for the work being done here and at craft institutions throughout the country.
My name is Ariel Zaccheo, I’m the Assistant Curator at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco and have been with the organization for th e past six years, which was my introduction to the craft world after being siloed in the world of art history during grad school. The Museum of Craft and Design is the only institution dedicated to craft and design in Northern California, and the core of our mission is to provide creativity for all, through programming and exhibitions that explore creative process and materiality in its many forms. It is an honor and a privilege to engage fine craft and design in this role, and even more of an honor to be a part of the Arrowmont community tonight.
When asked to be a juror for this exhibition, I started mulling over a crucial piece of information that was provided: the title. The title was chosen before the three jurors chose the works, before the artists submitted work, and even before the jurors were chosen by Arrowmont.
This title, Bridging the Gap: Contemporary Craft Practices became the seed from which the exhibition sprouted–but what was the gap? What needed bridging?
I started first thinking about the descriptive part of this combination title, Contemporary Craft Practices. To think contemporarily, it seemed important first to think about the past. Craft’s definitions are endless and subjective, so I thought to start with etymology (stereotypical, I know): from its origins in Old English, “craft” referred to skill and physical strength. As the term evolved to refer to trades, the focus shifted primarily to process and skill. How and by what methods materials are manipulated remains central to a contemporary understanding of craft. The traditional definition also rested in materiality: invoking but not limited to glass, wood, clay, textile, paper, or metals. A third interpretation might be craft’s assumed servile function and domesticity, as in the past craft has more often been located in the home than on gallery walls. But all of these constraints are in intentional decay, as recent craft histories have unfolded at pace with the conceptual legacies of art as an expanded field.
To return to the implicative and catchy part: Bridging the Gap, this title reads, to me, like a rebuttal to the three admittedly basic categorizations of “craft” listed above. The gap being bridged might be one of intertextuality among materials. It might be a bridge between artists and art-viewers to showcase their process more transparently. Or it might refer to the ever shrinking distance between fine art and craft. The works in this exhibition address each of these ideas before following their own more complex trajectories towards questions of identity, environment, politics, and pedagogy.
While craft is usually discussed in terms of paper, fiber, glass, wood, metal and ceramics– what I love most about it is that it is a plastic category: in that it is able to flex and resist basic definitions in order to serve many purposes. I came to realize the importance of craft through my research into feminist and queer theory. No other category in the expanded field of art and art history comes to mind that has consistently been more inclusive of practitioners from within marginalized and minority groups, including women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community than craft.
Something that interests me specifically, and something that I think craft is uniquely positioned to do, is to give voice to women, people of color, queer people and others that have been disenfranchised by haughtier and loftier institutions. It is because of craft’s history and the definitions offered earlier, not in spite of them, that craft is able to lend voice to artists and craftspeople that have been written out or written over in traditional art history.
In the past, the perception of certain materials, processes and styles rooted in craft as “women’s work” or work of the home caused them to be absent or footnoted from the cultural record of fine arts– reinforcing a devaluation of the materials and subjects explored in the work. However, much of the work in Bridging the Gap push against and break through the borders of craft’s perceived secondary status, as well as its break from patriarchal systems embedded more deeply in traditional fine art institutions. This reversal allows craft practices the space to critique the systems they are a part of.
Though Bridging the Gap exhibits work in a variety of media, all of which take craft’s subverted status as a position in one way or another; I’d like to narrow the focus here to be specifically oriented around textiles and the often gendered associations we have around textiles using two examples from the exhibition. For context, fiber art as a movement within the institution of “fine art” began in the United States in the 1960s, led by pioneers Sheila Hicks and Lenore Tawney among others. Some male artists of this period adopted the mantle of fiber and textiles as a medium, (to cite some hometown heroes of mine: Ed Rossbach & Dominic di Mare were early adopters of melding fine art and fiber work) but the majority of practitioners were women. Fiber as a medium was quickly adopted by feminist artists as a means to unravel the embedded sexual politics woven within this medium. The gendered ground that historically contextualized fiber art has always been embedded with associations with domesticity, intimacy and costume, ripe ground for critically unpacking femininity’s place within those realms.
Within the exhibition, Kristy Bishop examines how women’s clothing and costume has shaped not only bodies (through elaborate corsetry, bustles and bustiers) but also the ways that we view eroticism and femininity. Using tassles as an abstract nod to the bedecked decolletage of burlesque, her piece features pinks & reds (colors primarily associated with women and eroticism–think red light districts and some flesh tones) as the primary color field. The tassel, when used in burlesque costuming, is used both to conceal and draw attention, something at the core of feminine experience of objectification and sensuality. The shape and woven pattern, read in a different light, might resemble a Victorian boudoir curtain, meant to conceal the outside, public realm from the private intimacy that may transpire inside. Flaunting the eroticism of female costumery, Bishop’s tapestries examine the way that textiles double to cover and importantly, reveal female bodies and how that has lead to both their objectification, and a source of their power.
Abuse Patterns (Institutional Stripes) by Arrowmont artist in residence Alex Younger uses the materiality and process of jacquard weavings to adroitly contrast the impersonal and restrained language of institutions during a time of trauma. For what is a textile to do but to cover, comfort, warm? Except when hung on a gallery wall, where its function is to resist and inform. The artist, uses this coded syntax to reveal the ways in which language can conceal and obfuscate meaning. Contained within the woven lines are quotes from college proceedings following up from an incident of sexual assault. The carefully chosen words dance around the issue, offering no closure, never addressing the incident in terms as plain, as black and white, as they appear in the weaving. Unfurled from the ceiling and spilling onto gallery floors, the increased size is confrontational and unavoidable. The extreme timeliness of her work, and her chosen material of woven jacquard, speak to the work women have traditionally done and are contemporarily doing in order to create safety and space for themselves.
Both of these textiles weave craft’s history together with contemporary feminist ideologies and political movements to question and complicate decades of women’s subjugation both within the art world and within culture more broadly. Each showcases the ways that craft can adopt the mantles of fine art in it’s own way, as simultaneously beautiful, technically masterful, and poignant.
To return to the three craft “categories” sketched in the beginning, Perhaps the range of materials, processes, and lines of questioning posed by the work in this exhibition bridges the gap between the roots of craft’s etymological origins, shifting the balance towards “strength” in its resistance to simplistic definitions.
Ariel Zaccheo is a curator and writer working in San Francisco. After receiving her MFA in Exhibition and Museum Studies from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2013, she began working with the Museum of Craft and Design in the role of Assistant Curator. She has been the co-curator for Artists Television Access Window Gallery for the past six years. In 2018, she juried “Ingenuity”, an exhibition at the Marin Society of Artists Gallery, and her writing was published in Surface Design Journal and Art Practical. Her ongoing research interests include radical craft practices and community, medium-specificity and queer/feminist studies.
While juror Jovencio de la Paz was not able to attend the reception, he shared his statement about the exhibit:
“Bridging the Gap” Juror’s Statement – Jovencio de la Paz
The works included in “Bridging the Gap,” have been culled from emerging artists and craftsmen working in a variety of media and traditions, from textiles, woodworking, jewelry, metals, and ceramics. The title of this exhibition makes a compelling proposition: what is the “Gap” to be bridged, what is the chasm that these makers endeavour to overcome? While each artist in this exhibition displays deep investment into the traditions of their chosen methodology, they are all linked by a surprising, personal, urgent, and contemporary voice. What emerges is a unique cross-section, perhaps one beat in the pulse of studio craft in this moment, in this complex time of socio-cultural reckoning. Themes of identity, of personal narrative and discovery; themes of climate and ecological consciousness, themes of a vibrant restlessness, glowing at the edges of the mainstream. In this I see the sensibility of the alternative, the speculative, the innovative, and deeply vulnerable. So it may be for every generation of artists and craftspeople.
I appreciate the word “Bridging,” that forefronted in the title of this exhibition is a verb, a doing. It has been said that Craft is itself action, not a fixed position or a predetermined ideology. To bridge the gap is to make one’s enterprise that of connectivity, of continuity, of reveling in the fecund in-between. I think of the god Janus, the two-faced god, the god of bridges and of doorways; the one who looks at past and future, of coming and going in the same gaze. This is not unlike the office of the craftsperson, who with one hand embodies the collective ingenuity of our inherited past skills, and with the other dreams of how such skills could enliven, challenge, excite, ignite, command, and titillate the present and future. The “Gap,” the void, the chasm suggested in the title of this exhibition is the no-space of disconnect between traditional and emergent, ancient and the innovative. These works prove that such simple dichotomies are the death of a culture.
Jovencio de la Paz received a Master of Fine Art in Fibers from the Cranbrook Academy of Art (2012) and a Bachelor of Fine Art with an emphasis on Fiber and Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2008). He has exhibited work in solo and group exhibitions both nationally and internationally, most recently at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado; Ditch Projects, Springfield, OR; The Art Gym, Marylhusrt, OR; ThreeWalls, Chicago, IL; The Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, OR; Casey Droege Cultural Productions, Pittsburgh, PA; The Alice, Seattle, WA; Carl & Sloan Contemporary Art, Portland, OR; 4th Ward Projects, Chicago, IL; SPACE Gallery, Portland, ME; The Sculpture Center, Cleveland, OH; SOIL Gallery, Seattle, WA; Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center, Chicago; The Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; Uri Gallery, Seoul, South Korea, among others. He regularly teaches at schools of art, craft, and design throughout the country, such as the Ox Bow School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan, the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, Maine, and the Arrowmont School of Craft in Tennessee. He is also a co-founder of the collaborative group Craft Mystery Cult, established in 2010.
Visit arrowmont.org/bridging-the-gap-contemporary-craft-practices/ for more information on the exhibition and artists.