Devotion / Destruction: Craft Inheritance at Dorsky Gallery

Devotion/Destruction

Devotion / Destruction: Craft Inheritance doesn’t try to define craft nor call to question the role of craft vs. fine art. Rather, it positions itself in response to the history of craft by bringing together a group of contemporary artists whose practices and choices of material are typically associated with different craft mediums, including weaving, quilt making, glass blowing, woodwork, and ceramic.

The exhibition is curated by Rebecca Pristoop, and includes the work of Alexandra Ben-Abba, Alyssa Casey, Colby Claycomb, Crystal Gregory, Elana Herzog, Joan Lurie, Michael Milano, John Paul Morabito, Armita Raafat, and Cheryl Ann Thomas.

In her writing about the exhibition, Pristoop bypasses the typical arguments that arise when crafted objects are placed in a white cube and attempts to sort out what craft means to her and this exhibition:

Numerous voices have attempted to define or expand upon craft’s signification by formulating terms and theories that hybridize or open up aesthetic fields for its inclusion. It has been deemed an aesthetic object with functionality as well as a process, a way of doing rather than a thing in and of itself.

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Pristoop took a formal and process-based approach to the artists she included in the exhibition. Much of the work in the show is formally comprised of familiar organic and geometric shapes that come together through cumulative processes.

At first, the exhibition seems almost minimal. The space is bright and stark with little color. The first piece a viewer encounters upon entry is a network of fragile-looking glass orbs connected by a rope net. Some of the orbs have spilled from the net and shattered on the floor. It is unclear whether the glass was broken intentionally or by accident. With its loosely contained orbs that linger precariously in the exhibition space and the delicate glass shards, Disruption by Alexandra Ben-Abba has a quiet kinetic energy that is echoed throughout the exhibition.

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The other works included in the show hold similar feelings of tension. While the shapes or materials seem familiar at first, with a closer look, a viewer sees that each is comprised of an intense cumulation of small parts that indicates a laborious, repetitive, and possibly violent action. In the wall pieces by Elana Herzog, textiles that look to come from couch throw blankets or a tweed coat have been stapled to the wall and then stripped away so that all that remains are the skeletal outlines of the objects’ original patterns and structures.

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The building up and breaking down of objects disrupts the viewer’s expectations for the material on view and causes one to question the truth or understanding of what one sees. In a world where knowledge is often gained through every-day experience in a material culture, the truth of what one knows is brought into question. Materials and objects are abstracted so that the parts are recognizable but the thing itself may no longer be there.

Michael Milano‘s work takes quilting as a source material. He does not create a quilt for the viewer but rather dissects the elements that make up a quilt and isolates them in new forms. In Triangles, Milano creates a composition of cotton broadcloth triangles on stretched canvas. The overall pattern and material is recognizable, yet lacking the other components that make a quilt a quilt as we know it. The quilt is simplified and abstracted into a formal composition of shapes and colors, forcing the question of what it is we are looking at: is it a quilt? Is it a painting? Etc.?

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We are constantly surrounded by material: cloth, glass, metal, concrete, wood. It clothes us, shelters us, entertains us, and serves us. The objects and structures in our everyday lives carry with them cultural connotations that are products of broader social constructions.

Crystal Gregory explores the cultural implications of material and objects in her wall piece, It Did Not Take Much Moving To Come Along As Fast As We Were Going. The lattice-like network of small glass triangles creeps up and clings to the wall, held together by metal solder. Though the physicality of the piece draws from architectural materials, the form comes from the structure of woven leno-lace. Lace is a permeable barrier. It can both conceal and reveal. In textiles, it is often perceived as soft, feminine, intricate, and elegant. In Gregory’s use of lace constructed by architectural elements, new connotations are examined. The materials are hard, sharp, brittle, and dangerous. Yet, the permeability and the voyeurism of the lace remain intact and are amplified in its new form.

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When the artists in Devotion / Destruction: Craft Inheritance dismantle familiar objects by breaking them down into their material elements or build them up to create imitations of something familiar, they abstract the pre-conceived understanding of an object’s truth that is described by its material language. The questions raised when a referential object is abstracted in this way lead to conversations that have the capability to expand our understanding of ourselves and of the implications of material language on a more layered spectrum.

Dorsky Gallery

Devotion / Destruction: Craft Inheritance is on view at Dorsky Gallery in Long Island City, New York until March 27th 2016.

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