Saves Nine Sparks Discussion:
A reflection on the conversations that came out of its associated programming
By Kerri-Lynn Reeves
Saves Nine had two events associated with it as its parallel programming. Saves Nine artist Corrie Peters gave an interactive artist talk inspired by her piece in the show, act of trust, and a panel discussion was held on Potential Histories of Post-disciplinary Craft in Manitoba. Both events centred around conversations around the definitions, boundaries, and the artistic and socio-political potentials of craft-based art.
On Saturday, August 17th a small but eager group gathered at aceart., collected afghans and Nap Zone Posters from Peters’ installation, and set off for Central Park. Once at the park, a spot was chosen, blankets spread, and a picnic was set out. Peters spoke about the ideas and experiences behind act of trust, mentioning her experience volunteering in missions and homeless shelters, as well as spending time in the nursing home with her grandmother. Power relations and vulnerability were the common themes in these experiences and at the heart of the act of trust project. The conversation organically moved from these topics to those of social justice, the responsibility of the artist to “make things better”, the potential for political artworks to effect change, and the challenges and benefits of participatory art projects. Also discussed was the potential of using craft based materials and methods in art projects, due to its association with private life, the personal as political, domesticity, home, self-efficiency, accessibility, and approachability. The casual atmosphere and the umbrella of act of trust allowed for a very engaging conversation to flow throughout the group.
Some of the same themes were again pinpointed in the panel discussion held on the evening of Thursday, August 22nd at aceartinc. This panel focused on Potential Histories of Post-disciplinary Craft in Manitoba. Moderated by Craft Council Board Chair, Alison Norberg, the panel featured Helen Delacrataz, Kegan McFadden, and myself. It was aptly and quickly pointed out by Norberg in her introduction that the panel and the exhibition itself made many assumptions. Firstly, that there is a history of post-disciplinary craft in Manitoba. Secondly, that we are all in agreement that there is such a thing as post-disciplinary craft, and thirdly, that we all agree what the definition of craft actually is.
As curator of Saves Nine, I went first, presenting on the cross-generational group of artists included in the show as one potential history of the post-disciplinary craft movement within Manitoba. These included Steven Leyden Cochrane, Leah Decter, Erika Lincoln, Corrie Peters, Willow Rector, Deborah Scott, and Gaetanne Sylveter. I remarked that I had framed the show as such to spark just the debates that Norberg had pointed out – is there even such a thing as post-disciplinary craft, is it a helpful term, and does it exist within Manitoba’s craft legacy. And in fact, what is the definition of craft within the current context? In my proposal, I put forth the common thread of the works in the show as using a craft technique or material for its conceptual connotations as part of a larger interdisciplinary practice. Delecrataz echoed this idea by stressing the notion of conceptual practice in her presentation of artists that are in one way or other represented in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s collection. These included Aganetha Dyck, Ione Thorkelsson, Leah Decter, Mariko McCrae, Teresa Burrows, and KC Adams. She explained that when she took on the responsibility of curating and collecting in the craft realm for the institution, part of their collecting mandate was about functionality, and was organized by material discipline. While it is still using that discipline organizational structure, it has now opened up to include non-functional items, which she labelled as conceptually driven.
Delecrataz picked up immediately on Norberg’s questioning of the premise of post-disciplinarity, stating that she was against jargon due to its limiting and narrowing function, as well as its air of exclusivity. This sparked dialogue about the benefits and drawbacks of labels and definitions. While they give shape and context to something, they also give boundaries, rules, and expectations that at times may not be appropriate. McFadden picked up this lead when he presented his presentation to be about “local craft-adjacent performance and performance-adjacent craft.” He stated as his interest “conceptual approaches to what might, very loosely, be defined as craft,” specifically as represented by male Manitoba artists, which included Ron Gabe (aka Felix Partz), Doug Melnyk, Royal Art Lodge, C. Graham Asmundon, Andrew Harwood, and Eric Lesage. This shifting and loose defining of craft-performance / performance-craft speaks directly to the malleability and vast potentials for craft itself. McFadden quoted Harwood as saying “craft could incorporate politics, identity and aesthetics in exactly the same ways as the “fine arts” of that time.” And in fact due to craft’s deeply entrenched history in the everyday life and culture of the peoples of the world, is able to better speak to certain socio-political issues and themes, such as class, race, gender, economies, and spirituality.
Delecrataz brought the thinking of Paul Greenhalg (The Persistence of Craft) into the conversation when she concluded her presentation with the following quote:
“Craft is like any other word. It has no sacred right to exist, and the word may well fade in the coming decades. What will not fade away are the genres the word represents. At present various of these are combining, melting, and dissembling into one another, while others intensify around a set of principles and practices pushing to ever higher levels of poetic exactitude. It has never been more vibrant.”
This quote immediately speaks to much of what was discussed that evening: That much is shifting and changing within the world of craft and that stringent borders, definitions, and rules are in fact in flux; That much of the old craft vs. art debate is no longer proving to be beneficial; That much of these conversations are about semantics and frameworks put onto the work by the maker or external forces. But despite all of this, as Greenhalg states, no matter the label used, CRAFT, in all its iterations, is still vibrant and meaningful. From the artists represented in Saves Nine and the additional artists presented as part of the panel, it seems that innovative conceptually driven craft has been vibrant in Manitoba for awhile now and looks set to continue to be for some time to come.