Not Your Mother's Arts & Crafts

27 May 2012

 

The art world is certainly no stranger to stuffed goods, even for artists whose oeuvres fall outside of the realm of textile arts. Claes Oldenburg’s early sculptures such as Giant BLTSoft Light Switches, and Soft Toilet played with material and scale to celebrate the banal objects of our everyday lives. Mike Kelley frequently used stuffed animals and dolls found in yard sales and thrift stores to convey the pathos and nostalgia of youth, as evident in Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites — a hanging installation of soft good bundles emitting a pine-scented mist. The prolific Takashi Murakami deftly and unapologetically straddled the line between art and commerce with the creation of limited edition plush toys produced in partnership with Louis Vuitton. And countless other contemporary artists today have chosen the needle and thread as their tools of choice.

Over the past few years, my own work has been less about creating new forms or languages, and more about recasting existing ones in new ways to reveal beauty — at times, irony — and ultimately, truth about ourselves and the world in which we live. Oftentimes a medium — and its accompanying cultural associations — is, alone, the device for conveying my intent. A friend recently remarked that my past few projects have been about a return to the domestic arts. While this insight initially took me by surprise (much owing to my self-admitted failings in the traditional home-making department), he was right in many ways. But this revival of domesticity, of the slow movement and the hand-crafted, is not unique to my own artistic endeavors, but rather one experienced on a cultural scale — largely in reaction to the industrialized, corporate underpinnings of our economy. And it is very much the subject matter of my current work in progress: Stuffed Hipster Emblems.

Watching the meteoric rise of the local artisanal movement has given way to a tempest of conflicting reactions within — at times, reverence, at others, amusement, and on the rare occasion, perhaps a bit of eye-rolling. I’ve long been a champion of the craftsman, of the cottage industry, of those who have chosen to dedicate themselves to making beautiful things with a point of view or those who honor yesterday’s traditions today. But I’ve also enjoyed a few moments of mirth at the fanaticism that surrounds it all.

Stuffed Hipster Emblems is an experiment in media and meta-narratives — soft sculpture replicas of iconic goods using the very levers that invoke such fetishism among enthusiasts of artisanal, small-batch goods (single origin, scarcity, tactile materials, handmade processes). In doing so, my hope is that these cotton-filled instantiations will collectively function as a mirror to the times and the cultural economies built around craft.