Thursday, March 5, 2009

Shift from the conceptual to the material...

In an interview with Iwona Blaswick, Director of Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 2002 the artist, Claire Barclay, commented about her own practice that:

My work is about a shift from the conceptual to the material. More and more, though, I'm realising that I don't really have that sort of conceptual practice. There's a certain amount of research which runs parallel and it controls the work in terms of what materials I'm using or what reference points I might have. Basically, though, I really do work in a more hands-on way. It's much more about making -- about getting materials, doing things with them and the surprises that occur. Rather than try to mould things to what you want them to mean conceptually, you allow them to dictate to you.

It's important to me to make things myself. Some things are obviously more hand made and this is important to me. I don't know if that's because I enjoy making the work, I've realised that I have a belief that crafts are vital within society, the idea of making something yourself with love, or having something that somebody you know has made for you.

There are lots of issues here about working in a hands-on way and letting material lead you. Do you identify with this kind of practice?

Do you think that conceptual processes and material practices can be connected? How do you think you do this in your work?

For some contemporary practitioners the idea of making things with love is a bit too romantic and a more activist or participatory model is pursued. Do you think that participation and engagement with different communities is something you want to engage with when thinking about material? Or do you always want to make things yourself?

There are many web based DIY projects drawn from street activity, a performance of making if you like. Is this something that appeals to your activism?


  1. I think it is increasingly important in a digital environment to continue making physically tangible objects. It is an act of resistance to the virtual, a world that seduces and surrounds us more and more. I struggle with this concept in my films, but I do think there is also a way to contain the material within the ideological framework. I strongly believe that "from the work comes the work." Be it poetry, stitching, karaoke, cooking. The more we do what we do the greater it becomes. It will always be important to act out of love and concern for others. I do see art as a gift that we possess as human beings, that we make for one another as an act of physical communication not unlike sex. Activism addresses the world around us that we touch and need to touch us back. Art is not food, but it does help us survive.

  2. My interest in working with a specific material is in the transformation that occurs when one pays pays close attention to, or maintains a deeply focused engagement with, something. Through labour both you and the material become something you could not be without the other. However, I also think that this experience should not be limited to so few of us, and that one can translate this personal transformation into transformative action in one's personal and political life. You and I can do the philosophical and political work that it was once thought autonomous art objects could do, and the process of making can show us that it's possible. Or I guess, in other words that joy in one's labour is the beginning, not the end, of the emancipatory power of craftwork.

    During his visit to SAIC, Glenn Adamson put forward the notion of craft might be both the "perfect copy" and the "prototype". However material practice has convinced me that it is not possible to make a perfect copy, or that one can actually perfectly master a skill. And that it is the pole between our efforts to perfect, and our inability to perfect that we grow.

    In this way I have come to think that a philosophy of material practice could include the idea that there is no simulacrum. Everything is real.

  3. I agree with your response, Sarah, to Glenn's comments about craft being the perfect copy and the prototype. "Perfect" only exists in an idea state, never a material one, and it is the space in between where interesting things happen. In this sense, I do identify with the statement from Barclay about materiality leading the concept.

  4. A quick thought on the Glen Adamson Roundtable and lecture:

    Concerning Post-Discipline:

    The conversation during the round table about a post-discipline approach to art production largely concluded that it was merely a way for artists to expand their brand within the market, a technique to increase one's visibility and saturation. Artists such as Koons and Murakami were sited as examples of artists whose products are not bound to disciplines and therefore have the flexibility to move with the market and keep their brand ever-present within it.

    But it strikes me that post-discipline production might be Janus-faced. While it may increase brand visibility, it may also hold the possibility of avoiding branding by perpetually moving from one discipline or medium to another, thereby lacking that something stable, which on some level a brand seems to require in order to be recognizable. Perhaps this is where something like the amateur or the dilettante comes in...

  5. "It's not what you're doing, it's how you do it."

    - Judith Leeman, visiting instructor in Mark Jeffery's Performing Labor class a few weeks ago.

  6. The comment about love and activism? Is activism a romantic notion about utopia? I don't think about love in a romantic way at all when i'm being a textile activist - i'm thinking about how sewing is a radical skill, that i want share with everyone! And it's a skill you can learn to whatever level one wants from sewing a button to making your own garments!