Mar 19, 2013

Hand Made Exhibition

7 clichés about crafts unraveled

'Handmade is hip and happening' the magazine covers are screaming. Being a admirer of handmade design, Craftscurator would have to agree. However, she does not feel comfortable with this one-liner; it is as if handmade is only a fad, expressed by knitting hipsters. That is why Craftscurator was happy to see the exhibition Hand Made in Boijmans, where curator Mienke Simon Thomas makes sense of crafts, by arranging historical and contemporary handmade objects around 7 clichés. Craftscurator selected 7 handmade design products that reflect the 7 themes of the exhibition.

Cliché one: Unique
Nowadays, just like at the end of the 19th century, people value the unique and imperfect characteristics of a handmade object. Industrially made products are considered boring and impersonal. The hand of the maker is valued. Hella Jongerius studies how the human touch can be integrated to an industrial process. Her B-series of vases reflect that experiment.

Cliché two: Tradition
Crafts are often associated with certain regions, where specific techniques are being tranferred from father to son. Many of these craft traditions prove to be quite young; they appeared first in the 19th century, when nationalism emerged. Now, designers explore the characteristics of these 'souvenirs' and create their own interpretation. Christien Meidertsma designed furniture based on traditional Dutch techniques from Hindeloopen.

Cliché three: Art
For many centuries, art and craft were considered to be the same. After the Renaissance, art and craft grew apart; an object was either a piece of art, or a functional everyday product. The Arts & Crafts movement encouraged artists to made objects by hand, and consider those as works of art. In the 21st century, we are once again confused what is art, design or craft. Studio Job is very clear; they make art, which belongs in museums.

Cliché four: Handicraft
In the 20th century, handicrafts gained in importance as a form of 'creative expression' and DIY. After years of declining interest- an entire generation of women are no longer able to knit and sew- many enthusiastic amateurs are now learning how to knit and embroider. Products made by hand by crafters are popular, as the enormous success of Etsy proves. Dutch designer Bert Jan Pot cleverly offers insights into the creative processes in his studio to the general public. His wonderful masks are also a result of crafting and experimentation after all.

Cliché five: Virtuosity
Craftsmen that explore the boundaries of their techniques and material have been admired throughout history. For centuries, virtuosity, daring and ambition were highly valued capacities. Much expertise was lost during industrialization, and with that the ability to judge the quality of craftsmanship. In the first decade of the 21st century, a renewed appreciation for outstanding skills is dawning. Designers are using precious techniques; Studio Swine created a curiosity cabinet using wooden inlay techniques.

Cliché six: Honest
The idea that a handmade object should be 'pure' and 'honest' arose at the end of the 19th century. Crafts and craftsmanship were romanticized. The qualification 'honest' was given to the design of the object; the more visible the material and the construction, the more 'authentic' a product was. Nowadays, many handmade products are considered 'honest', 'humble' and 'pure', and are preferred over mass produced items. Pepe Heykoop uses waste as a raw material, and carefully puts that together to create his signature 'bold' and 'honest' designs.

Cliché seven: Craftsmanship
From the Middle Ages until the 18th century, the quality of many handmade items was guarded by guilds. Pupils enrolled in a long process of apprenticeship, and only after delivering a masterpiece, were allowed to call themselves a master craftsman. For this reason, handcrafted objects are still considered reliable and good. The guilds encouraged their craftsmen to develop their skills constantly. Therefore, crafts are not static, they constantly evolve. New technologies, such as 3D printing, once more allow makers to create innovative designs, as Iris van Herpen does for her haute couture collections.

'Hand Made: long live crafts' in museum Boijmans van Beuningen Rotterdam, The Netherlands, from March 9 to May 20, 2013.

Art, design or craft?
Screen Bavaria by Studio Job
Imperfect vases pattern
Jongerius for Maharam
Icon of imperfection
B-series vases by Jongerius
Outstanding craftsmanship
Wood inlay by Studio Swine
Typically Dutch
Cabinet by Christien Meindertsma
Mastering 3D printing
Haute couture by Iris van Herpen
Museum showpieces
by Studio Job
Peek into creative process
Studio Bert Jan Pot
Result of experimentation
Mask by Bert Jan Pot
Bold, humble and real?
Honest design by Pepe Heykoop