The Hanover Project resides in a beautiful gallery space a short walk from the centre of town. ‘Ceri Hand Selects’, made of artists selected by gallerist Ceri Hand sits well within an institution which keeps ‘old school’ art college principles alongside a strong contemporary relevance. I mention this idea of ‘old school’ because for me the exhibition responds to a conversation in a lot of recent art that I have seen which through specific use of particular techniques and materials is responding to ideas of craft. Craft, but more specifically what role does craft have in contemporary practice now, and to what extent can the changing relationships between art and craft inform our understanding of what an artist is, or is considered to be?
Let us remember that this conversation between craft and art (or the role of the artist) is not a new one, it can most easily be traced back to early DADA which challenged the assumptions of what art is and who artists are. It is a conversation about the hand or the touch of the artist. The shifting importance or distance of this flows through abstract expressionism, conceptual art and the questioning of visual language of artists such as Jonathan Lasker and Gerhard Richter.
In ‘Ceri Hand Selects’ I see emerging artists who are also questioning the role, the touch or the hand of the artist, who are playing with ideas of craft as they manifest in the re-use of traditional aesthetics (the influence of Japanese ink drawings in the work of Jessica Hayes and Ann Hampson), the appropriation of industrial techniques (industrial signage and diagrammatic illustration of Stephen Moss) and the quotation and integration of sentiments of tradition and heritage (the haunting paintings by Matthew Palmer).
I was taken by the work of Megan Cameron, the simplicity of which I loved. With precarious pieces of cut paper leaning against floor or wall, her work exudes a sensitivity and humble humour which seems to willingly submit and be overpowered by the gallery space. The work of Stephen Moss, which juts out at you with a board made painterly by selectively worn through layers of seemingly industrial paint combines its cold diagrammatic language with the innocence and colour of sci-fi comics. This links nicely with the work of Ruth Tyson, whose image came from a comforting craft based fantasy made out of images of desolation using re-worked jigsaw pieces.
Kyle Browns’ ‘signs’ arrested me, made partly out of panels of canvas that had been attacked and subdued with thick black paint. It spoke to me of failed revolution, signs of protest endlessly re-worked; a sign with a total lack of message or maybe a message of ambivalence. These black squares were beautifully echoed by the mainly black ink drawings of Ann Hampson, whose almost spiritual simplicity seemed sympathetic to a perceived truth of simple but honest artistic endeavour. However, where these appeared seemingly without convention Jessica Hayes’ intricate pen based drawings responded to a thick cultural language of Japanese decoration. They had a flatness of printing and I couldn’t help but see the poetics in the image of a lady whose gaze was turned away from me; her attention was elsewhere and I felt as though the artworks’ main purpose was to reject me and frustrate my attempts at creative or conceptual interpretation. She was asking me to appreciate the craft of the drawing alone. Contrastingly, the faces in Matthew Palmers works were gladly pointing towards me, although their haunting expressions were not there to delight or be decorative. Their purpose was to undermine my confidence again, yet through a questioning but beautifully crafted aesthetic.
There were two artists that stuck out a little, perhaps for their relationship with digital technology. I’m afraid that the scorch marks on the intricately designed symmetrical work of James Bamford is a familiar effect; one that shouts so loudly ‘I have used a laser cutter!’ – when this is used so frequently in greetings cards artists should tread carefully. For me, his design which no doubt had hidden depths was undermined by the overpowering presence of this increasingly common technology. I felt as though I couldn’t ‘hear’ the work of Alexandra Florithes, which was achingly self referential and just not powerful enough in terms of size, material, or technique to compete in the space. There was potential power in the concept of the work, and there was a delicate poetics about the arrangement and form of the umbrellas, but the medium (rather small digital photography) didn’t perform its message loudly or clearly enough. Perhaps the artist needs more confidence in their craft and to exhibit more evidence of their direct ‘touch’?
There are lots of resources, videos and pieces of text about the relationship between art and craft on the V&A website.