March 17th - April 29th, 2016
Becca Taylor, We made this together, seed beads, thread, wire, oilcloth, 2016.
Artists: Lindsay Arnold, Shannon Gerard, Heather Goodchild, Kerri-Lynn Reeves, Suzie Smith, and Becca Taylor
Guest curated and essay by Jenny Western
While many of us no longer have a hearth in our homes, the word is nostalgically evocative of simpler times. Over the last few years there has been a resurrection of interest in older craft-based skills such as canning and food preservation, gardening, knitting, woodworking, and an array of alternative modes of production that have regained prominence in the mainstream mindset. This movement is vast, manifesting itself in various ways and under various forms of terminology that remain loosely interrelated: DIY or Do-It-Yourself, homesteading, self-sufficiency, self-sustaining, and the handcrafted are just a few.
With the revival of interest in these skills is a commodification of this aesthetic for consumers within larger arenas and by major corporations. For instance Starbucks has used this language to advertise its coffee as “handcrafted” beverages. The reference to this movement by a major coffee conglomerate both props it up as a current thing of value and yet undermines the inherent independent mindset. The simple gesture of referencing a craft technique in the production of an object is surprisingly complex.
For artists and makers who employ craft techniques in their practices and whose own skills of creation are tempered with critical thought and self-reflection, how then are the complexities of the contemporary DIY movement being considered in their artwork? Hearth is a group exhibition that takes the current rise of the cult of self-sufficiency as its starting point, presenting the work of six artists grappling with the tension of sincerity and cynicism bubbling under the surface of pop culture’s present fascination with the handcrafted.
Lindsay Arnold, Florence, ink and watercolour on paper, 2016.
Lindsay Arnold’s interest in exploring domesticity through her artwork draws from the paradox of presenting a spotless facade while masking the difficulties unmentionable within the homemaking sphere. Arnold explores these concerns through a variety of media, including the two exhibited in Hearth: drawings of doilies and interventions on found or sourced china plates. Doilies and plates certainly hold a space in the personal collections of many homes on the prairies. They may be pressed into use as household items or merely employed as an embellishment for interior decoration. In either case, these objects can be proudly cherished for years and then wind up languishing in a thrift store, the valued intent of their original makers still cogent but shifting wildly. By re-examining the doilies and plates through her artwork, Arnold asks viewers to take a closer look at the objects that surround them, the reasons for their creation, acquisition, and value.
Heather Goodchild, At work, porcelean, linen, cotton, hair, wood, 2013 - 2016.
For Heather Goodchild, skill and labour practices have often found their way into the subjects of her artworks and her Hearth contribution “At Work” is no exception. A series of traditionally dressed porcelain dolls work around a table in an assembly fashion. They appear to be manufacturing heads and hands similar to their own heads and hands. One doll does the slip casting, the next doll the finishing, the third doll the painting, and the final doll adds the wigs. A bucket of “garbage” heads is separated from a container of finished heads. The scene is eerie but alluring. Are the dolls creating their own identity through their work and labour, or is their sense of individuality being lost in these repetitive tasks?
Shannon Girard, Round Again, mixed wool and cotton interfacing, 2016.
Shannon Gerard grapples with similar uncertainties when she reflects, “Because of the high environmental costs of consumer abundance, reduction, reuse, and recycling really are social and economic imperatives, and yet because so much stuff is within our reach, those “Three Rs” stay in the realm of municipal stewardship and convenience.” A significant part of Gerard’s practice is composed of craft-based work, which, despite conceptual underpinnings, she sees as being highly commercial and decorative. Out of these pieces comes a lot of waste material in her studio and the question of what to do with that waste material looms large. The three small bodies of work included in Hearth are the result of making use of those materials. “Sweater Weather” is composed of a stack of paper and sewn books made from thread and woollen offcuts combined with recycled linen tablecloths. “Round Again” uses the ends of yarn skeins that proved too short for other projects and repurposes them into a circular crocheted carpet. “Crock Garden” uses two litre pop bottles to create oversized cacti. The bottles are stuffed with foam offcuts produced from other craft endeavours and then covered in crocheted skins. These three bodies of work expose the excess that can underlie DIY projects while still effectively presenting a pleasing and aesthetic product.
Suzie Smith, Wall Painting, varied edition screenprint, 2015.
Suzie Smith’s contributions to Hearth may appear simple and straightforward on the surface but they unfold to reveal more of the complexities inherent in craft-based artwork. “Wall Painting” is a varied edition screen print of five images depicting a hand as it appears to paint a blank space red. The main crux of the artwork is the element of change, in this case colour. Smith is interested in the relationship between technical process and artistic concept, and how these two elements inform each other in the creation of an artwork. The tension between mass production and craft is of particular concern to her as a printmaker. As she explains, “The work subverts the intentions of screen-printing (multiples, uniformity) while also celebrating what you can do with the process (repeat imagery, use stencil for different colours, etc.)”. Smith’s rethinking and usage of these printmaking techniques speak to a larger possibility around the creation and consumption of handmade images and objects. Rather than following the prescribed modes of production, are there alternate ways of approaching the current movement of the handmade with fresh and independent thought?
Becca Taylor’s approach to the handcrafted comes inherited from her mother who she credits with demonstrating an aptitude for knitting, crocheting, quilting, sewing, and beading. Taylor recalls that these activities were not done in isolation but often in the company of family or female friends who would work alongside one another. In this way, Taylor received not only training from her mother but from a variety of women also sharing with her the knowledge they had received from their mothers and grandmothers. Her contribution to Hearth is called “We made this together” and it heralds back to those times of skill sharing within a community of women. Taylor, who has been beading since she was little, has picked up on various techniques, designs, and patterns throughout her travel and education. “We made this together” reflects a Huichol beaded medallion technique whose skill is then passed along to others who wish to learn the skill as well as contribute to a larger project. The small medallions are placed together to form a “blanket” resembling a yo-yo quilt. The piece blends together Indigenous and non-Indigenous handicraft practices as well as evoking the allusions of quilting to community and landscape.
Kerri-Lynn Reeves, Bracing a Post-Prairie Landscape. projected video, 2015-2016.
One artist who directly uses her practice to investigate issues underlying the post-colonial Canadian landscape is Kerri-Lynn Reeves. Much of the current rise of interest in self-sufficiency looks to homesteading skills and a “back-to-the-land” mentality. But what does this mean for those of us living on treaty lands in the Canadian prairies? Reeves’ two pieces in Hearth “Bracing a Post-Prairie Landscape” and “Post-Placement Techniques” look at the settler act of building fences. “Bracing a Post-Prairie Landscape” is a video work showing Reeves’ father, a third-generation settler, demonstrating to Reeves the technique of building a brace for a gate in the middle of a stretch of fence. Reeves is the oldest daughter in the family, an artist and maker who has just returned home to the family farm with the birth of her first child. Family and place weighs heavy on her mind and as she explains, “By mindfully engaging in the colonial act of claiming and protection of territory I hope to better understand my own settler history.” Her other work in the exhibition, “Post-Placement Techniques,” shows Reeves exploring the fence building techniques through drawing and watercolour. Triangles and squares come to represent physical space and social relationships: “The marking of boundaries reshapes the landscape from amorphous organic geography to geometrically shaped mini domains — the quilting of the prairies into farmland.”
The definition of a hearth in its plainest terms indicates the floor of a fireplace, but it can also connote a place of creative centre. As more and more people are creating or consuming goods produced under the banner of the DIY, handmade, or craft movement, a cultural identity is being forged. The six artists of Hearth present six different takes on how ideas around this movement have influenced their creative practices. While the complexity of this movement can prove confusing or contradictory, these artists seem to suggest that the aforementioned ‘tension of sincerity and cynicism’ underlying the popular rise of the handcrafted can co-exist in an artistic practice, be learned from, approached thoughtfully, and even embraced as a dynamic and necessary element of this movement.