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Indepth Arts News:

"Transformations: The Language of Craft"
2005-11-11 until 2006-01-29
National Gallery of Australia
Canberra, AC, AU Australia

Transformations: the language of craft, a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, constructs from some of those fragments a bridge that will encourage visitors to consider the power and eloquence of crafted objects as mediators of space and experience. It offers visitors the opportunity to evaluate Australian work in the context of the most accomplished and innovative work in the contemporary craft arena, focusing the discourse on the place of craft skills, traditions and values in an increasingly dematerialised, regimented, yet fragmented world.

With its continuous evolution and traditions of functionality, ornamentation and ceremony, craft has always been about life. The skill and ingenuity of its practitioners manifests in objects that help us navigate our way through our lives, offering us new ways to imagine the world. Our perception of that world is continually being reshaped through our reception of discontinuous episodes and fragments, many destructive yet others transcendent and inspirational. In a world of global industrial manufacture where location of production is determined by economics, the practices of the crafts exist as fragments of achievement and personal narrative that can be re-ordered to bridge to a world of new possibilities.

The works selected for it are drawn together in themes on the ideas of narrative, materiality and structure, each showing how unique crafted objects can transform both material and meaning in a world increasingly dominated by commercial design and branding. It is a celebration of the recent work of 85 leading international and Australian artists working in the area of studio craft and forging new expressions within the fields of glass, ceramics, textiles, furniture and wood, jewellery and metalwork. The work of those international artists most prominent and influential in these fields is seldom seen in Australia and this exhibition offers visitors a chance to encounter compelling objects that challenge our perceptions of design, function and the meaning of materials. These works reveal the creativity, skill and imagination of the contemporary craft practitioner in the articulation of materials, structure, and production technology; the passionate expression of the languages of abstraction, narrative, design and ornamentation; and their skills that transform materials from the everyday to the extraordinary.

This exhibition is the first of its kind in the National Gallery of Australia’s history, its dramatic display design and juxtaposition of 134 works in the Gallery’s main exhibition spaces, thematic structure and wall texts encouraging visitors to explore the relationship of contemporary craft to broader areas of current interest and concern. These range from innovations in the use of materials and technologies to narratives on nature and the urban environment; communications and the body; the expression of personal narrative and the reflection of regional identity.

An Artists’ Forum will be held in the National Gallery of Australia’s Fairfax Theatre on 12 November 2005. Speakers include some of the exhibiting artists and prominent craft and design commentators. Artists’ and curator’s floor talks on aspects of the exhibition will be part of the Gallery’s public program for the duration of the exhibition, while a comprehensive website for the exhibition and associated projects and events will extend its reach.

The artists whose work has been selected by the exhibition’s curator, Robert Bell, the National Gallery of Australia’s Senior Curator Decorative Arts and Design, are those leading the fields of ceramics, textiles, metalwork, jewellery, glass and furniture. Among the international artists are those whose work and practice has been a major influence on their fields at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A number of these are also artists whose significant influence on craft practice in Australia has resulted from earlier visits and residencies, and this exhibition of their recent work will create a bridge to their earlier work that has remained in Australia, much of it known through public collections.

The Australian exhibitors have been selected from among those whose practice has demonstrated strong conceptual and technical development over the past ten years. Among them are established practitioners whose work, while well-known, is seldom seen in the international context that this exhibition provides. A large proportion of the works included in the exhibition has been recently acquired by the National Gallery of Australia, a tangible expression of its commitment to the acquisition and exhibition of contemporary craft within the broad historical framework of Australian and international decorative arts and design.

Catherine Truman,
'Carving without portrait' 2005,
english lime wood, paraffin wax, shu niku ink,
Collection of the National Gallery of Australia

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