Thursday, March 31, 2011


The current state of Craftivism, as in the larger art world, is hyper sensitive to the time taken to complete a project of make an object.

Craft + Activism = Craftivism

What is craft? What is Activism? Craft is tied to process, while activism is tied to outcome. Activism is born out of a sense of urgency; it is a reaction to an injustice, as well as projection towards a tangible goal.

Craftivism lacks the sense of sacrifice that comes with activist practice; there is no threat of arrest, no disruption to everyday life, no call for immediate change.

Community building through the disappearing act of making . Is making important? Yes. But is it inherently political? I would say that it is not. It is an important start, but we lie in danger of saying that it is an end in itself-- this is too easy.

Craftivism is not a replacement for activism.

Labor vs. Craft

What is the difference between labor and craft? Craft is a tricky word, as it is both a verb (a well crafted vessel) and a noun (the Crafts program at the University of Illinois) generally, however, the word craft implies skill; technical mastery of a process or a material. Labor, on the other hand, is concerned not with skill, but with time and effort. A person can put hours into the creation of a poorly made object, in other words, an object that posses little craft, but their commitment to its creation results in an object that has been labored over. While this may seem an unimportant distinction, it is vital in a closer look at the craftivist movement.

Making is Political / The Personal is Political
To say the making is inherently political seems an extension of Carol Hanisch’s seminal article The Personal is Political, published in 1969.

Talk about Woman House

People used to make things out of necessity, now many people do not have the leisure time to make things rather than buy them.

It is those with the money to buy materials and the leisure time to learn the skill that are able to call their work ‘craftivist’

Craftivists must be more honest about what they are actually accomplishing in their work, as well as the larger politics behind its production. Craftivists must also decide how important effecting change is to their practice.

Talk about the personal is political by carol hanisch, relate that to relational aesthetics

Talk about the importance of cultural specificity, of site and of interactivity

Talk about the politics of making and what that means

Craftivism claims to address overseas labor conditions and western alienation from our labor. But the means most often used to achieve these goals displaces question of labor rather than addressing the causes of the complaint.
Knitting a scarf rather than buying it does not lower the price of a scarf at walmart, nor does it increase wages of the person operating the machines over seas that made the scarf.

One of craftivism’s strengths is that it purports to consider closely the means of artistic production, to invest in process as implicitly tied to content.

How do we keep from becoming cynical when what was once radical has been thoroughly integrated into consumer culture?
Talk about PBR being the official sponsor of the renegade craft fair
Talk about the importance of not becoming complacent and self congratulatory, of being well informed, of defining our artistic and activist goals

Expanding Craftivism Beyond the Cozy
Craftivism relies on a very narrow view of craft and the potential for social change through acts of making
Knitting is no longer subversive-- that boat sailed forty years ago. Craftivists should be more avant-garde, not allowing themselves to become complacent

Ai Weiwei
Sunflower Seeds is craftivist
Reasons why it could--
-considers the politics of production and actively engages in them
-relies on the craft of a community that has been engaged in porcelain works for generations
-revitalizes a community by paying them for their labor



Ai WeiWei's Sunflower Seeds

The Tate Modern stands out starkly against London's gray skies, its solemn red brick tower looming over the banks of the Thames. The former factory is as formidable on the inside as it is when viewed externally. Harsh horizontals and verticals dominate the space, and the ceiling soars ominously far above the heads of visitors. Spread out over the cold, concrete floor, in a large, tightly manicured rectangle, are one hundred million gray and black hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds. The sheer volume of this work is an arresting sight. The Turbine Hall is transformed into a stark rock garden, or alternately, a tomb. Are the seeds germinating?

10760 square feet.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Poetics of Space

I've been reading more of Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space recently, and I was struck by the following passages:

" the imagination, to go in and come out are never symmetrical images. Beauty and magnitude cause spores to swell. As I shall show later, one of the powers of attraction of smallness lies in the fact that large things can issue from small ones." (108).

-in an outlet, large things ARE issuing from small ones; perhaps not in the obvious way that an elephant is larger than a conch shell, but the 2 inch outlets we commonly see in domestic spaces are designed to blend into the wall-- if, however, you probe a metal fork into its depths, the resulting spark and electric shock creates noise and light, as well as dangerous electrical discharge that commands our attention.

The shell is a site of potential.
"...every hospitable hollow is a quiet shell." (124).

"Reversals of this kind may seem to have only slight documentary interest for the all-of-a-piece school of phenomenologists who take the World as their next-door neighbor. They are immediately conscious of being of and in the world. But the problem becomes more complicated for a phenomenologist of the imagination constantly confronted with the strangeness of the world. And what is more, the imagination, by virtue of its freshness and its own peculiar activity, can make what is familiar into what is strange. With a single poetic detail, the imagination9107). confronts us with a new world. From then on, the detail takes precedence over the panorama, and a simple image, if it is new, will open up an entire world. If looked at through the thousand windows of fancy, the world is in a state of constant change. By solving small problems, we teach ourselves to solve large ones." (135).

"For here too, as with nests, enduring interest should begin with the original amazement of a naive observer. Is it possible for a creature to remain alive inside stone, inside this piece of stone? Amazement of this kind is rarely felt twice. Life quickly wears it down. And besides, for one 'living' shell, how many dead ones there are! For one inhabited shell, how many are empty! But an empty shell, like an empty nest, invites day-dreams of refuge. No doubt we over-refine our daydreams when we follow such simple images as these. But it is my belief that a phenomenologist should go in the direction of maximum simplicity. And therefor I believe that it is worthwhile proposing a phenomenology of the inhabited shell. The surest sign of wonder is exaggeration. And since the inhabitant of a shell can amaze us, the imagination will soon make amazing creatures, more amazing than reality, issue from the shell." (107).

"...we have the impression that, by staying motionless of its shell, the creature is preparing temporal explosions, not to say whilwinds, of being. The most dynamic escapes take place in cases of repressed being...If we experience the imaginary paradox of a vigorous mollusk...we attain to the most decisive type of aggessiveness, which is postponed aggressiveness, aggressiveness that bides its time. Wolves in shells are crueler than stray ones." (112).

I think these passages appeal to me because, in some ways, the poetics of the shell are similar to the poetics of the electrical outlet. Both have a hidden, untapped potential contained within a small, unassuming covering. True, in the case of the outlet, electricity is not contained at the outlet, but the outlet represents the electrical power of a space due to its visibility. Like the pearly, fluted lip of a spiralling conch shell, an outlet is the gateway to paths which wind away to depths unseen, whether they be hidden behind plaster and paint or the creamy calcium aggregations of sea creatures. Where there is deadly mythical potential contained within the shell, there is physical danger present in the outlet. When Bachelard warns that "wolves in shells are crueler than stray ones," I can't help but think of the number of deaths caused each year by lightning strikes, versus the number of people who die from home electrocution.

Knowledge and recognition of this potential can go some length in altering the perceived neutrality of the gallery.

The outlet, like a shell, a wound, or a orifice, is an indication of an interior world to which we are denied access. This is nit ti say that an outlet is mysterious; do it yourself books and certified electricians, as well as many knowledgeable laymans can tell us without difficulty where these openings lead. But there is, nonetheless, great imaginative potential in the benign plastic covers that pepper our lived spaces.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Studio visit

Rena visited my studio today and we had a talk about the direction of my thesis. She really liked Drawn, and seemed to be interested in the potential of Winding (both working titles). She wasn't into the plaster outlets with fragments of real outlets embedded-- while I'm relieved that I'm getting consistently positive feedback about Drawn, I'm running into a very serious problem with my thesis-- everything I'm making is with outlets and plugs, and suggests breathing. I've been planning pieces that use other parts of the space, but Rena made the prudent observation that I'm on a very tight deadline, working against the clock, and that maybe I should narrow my research and focus on what my most successful piece is doing well. But what is my work doing? I'll try to unpack my work in the following paragraphs.


Drawn is characterized by a a single length of black electric cord bounded on either side by banal black plugs attached to opposite walls. The cord slopes towards the ground in a gentle, sensually sagging curve that gradually tapers to a precariously thin gage, then down to a single strand of human hair. While the object itself is quiet and unassuming, its bizarre configuration (a two ended plug) implies a short circuit; a potentially hazardous mistake in electrical wiring that could result in the release of lethal amounts of electricity. There is a beautiful danger

in the simplicity of this piece, yet its strange
unpredictability leaves the audience wondering why such a deadly object exists.

There is a bodily response to the contemplation of this piece that is not present in any of my other work-- this is in part because of the threat of physical danger, but also because Drawn seems to trick the eye-- the cord tapers gradually to a line width that cannot be seen by the human eye from more than a foot away. The viewer is forced to approach the piece in order to satisfy their curiosity.

Drawn integrates into its host environment almost seamlessly; the outlets could easily be part of the gallery walls, and at first glance, it looks almost like an extension cord you could purchase at your local hardware store... almost. Its delicacy draws it back from the industrial, towards the ethereal. Its line quality seductive; the center of the piece wafts gently with the air currents in the room, and despite the implied danger, there is a desire to get close to the piece, to touch it, to understand it through one's senses.

Outlet Repetition

On one wall of the Chandler gallery, there is a patched hole that used to house an outlet. The spackle is rough and rises away from the wall in a slightly swollen mound, recalling a fresh scar or a patch of earth piled on a new grave. The height and shape speak to what formerly occupied the space. Using untreated wall plaster, I have recreated the missing outlet and covered the entire wall in a grid of copies. The 1600 multiples are echoes of a missing piece, part of the space that has been removed and covered. Within the plaster, some copies contain fragments of broken outlet covers, bringing to mind archaeological fragments.

The copies mimic the form of the missing outlet, but their function is stunted; their connection points are cut off, filled in by the same material that is used to make the walls to which they are attached.

Some ideas for thesis show title:

Impeded progress (a definition of short circuit)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Artists for presentation

For Graduate Seminar in Metal, we've been asked to prepare a twenty minute presentation that focuses on three artists whose work we admire. I've chosen Monika Sosnowska, Susan Collis, and Los Carpinteros. Below are some of the images I plan on using.

Value systems
the creation of artwork is an assertion of value
In the case of Susan Collis' work, perhaps she is using a shared value system to validate a personal value system.


Quote: "Artists orient themselves not to objects but to their predecessors. And if we can still conceive of an artistic programme of 'imitatio' or 'realism', it will have to be pursued very differently, and more successfully, than it was in the past. But the programme of does not represent an autonomous autopoietic system either, but is merely a misunderstanding of the latter. For simply attempts to turn the system itself into a programme within the system and thereby fails to grasp the elementary fact that autonomy, far from undermining all relations to the external environment, precisely presupposes and governs them. The autopoiesis of art is actually destroyed if dependency is effectively interpreted as the negation of dependency." (Art in theory, 1080).
-to cut off art's access to the world is to ensure its eventual demise; art is part of the world
-doesn't that mean that everything is art? because if autopoiesis is self-sustaining creation, then it could exsis

For a discussion of value in the art world, there is no better place to begin than the post office.

As artists, we negotiate the question of value every day in our studios. We encounter this again in the dispersion of our work. Apart from gallery and market considerations, even shipping artwork is problematic. For many shipping companies, in order to send artwork, it must be insured, and in order to insure it, the value of the piece must be declared. The question how much is it? versus how much is it worth? becomes a problematic difference.

So how do we assess value in a work of art? Value in art is tricky to define, because it relies on reified value and conceptual value, both of which are important considerations in a work of art. I would answer that value in a work of art is constantly changing, and is a negotiation between the reified value and conceptual value of a work. The mediation between these two hinges on a common theme: rareity

rareitey, that which cannot be replaced, that on which we are willing to spend our time, our lives

But then again, maybe value can be assessed in a point of view, a reorientation towards the world, a change in perspective, that, as adults, we experience very rarely.

Some threads of connection between the work:

-value is explored through their choice of materials

-value is placed on: the everyday, the discarded, the intimate object, the architectural fragment, using conventions we are familiar with to encourage us to see the world anew

-All concerned with interior space, objects that are commonly seen in domestic space while not overly nostalgic

-The artists all approach their subjects with the detached fascination one would expect to see from an anthropologist interpreting an ancient culture

-all exhibit a flare towards the fantastic (especially in the work of Sosnowska and Los Carpinteros (compare to Damien Ortega)


Susan Collis

"Visitors stop being viewers and become associates, intimately linked to the artist by a shared secret." (, 1)

Collis' work is marked by its obsessive attention to detail; the amount of time and effort devoted to the creation of these banal objects becomes devotional- it is proof of a belief system. Belief in what? Her relationship to material is a defining quality in her work. She recreates construction scenes with precious materials, using the finest hardwoods in the place of pine, silk embroidery thread in the place of house paint splotches, and white gold in the place of stainless steel screws. Collis' courage to submit to the possibility of being misunderstood is admirable. Despite the deft use of materials, her work is not flashy, nor is it particularly eye catching-- her work demands stillness, time, and contemplation. Only the dedicated viewer who leans in for a closer look or one who reads the list of materials from the wall tags will benefit from Collis' work. She runs the risk of being seen as another unmonumental sculptor, working with the discards of a consumer society.

Collis is a maker not only of individual pieces, but of situations. The gallery is a perfect location for these closely composed still lives; they are a naturally occuring part of building repair that is carefully kept behind closed doors; they expose the fragility and transience of the gallery. Collis valorizes these brief, individual moments of banality, and by proxy, she invites us to contemplate the quiet, quotidian still lives that surround us. Her work exists in a state of post-function, as if we are happening upon a scene where someone has just finished working.

While her work is enticing, her use of materials is not innovative or even surprising, once we are accustomed to her formula. A screw made of white gold and set with a diamond works within a well established value system; Collis uses our expectations of screws and contrasts them with our expectations of gold. This is not at all a novel strategy; jeweler and artist Caroline Gore, as well as Lisa Gralnick both use this strategy in their work. While adding gold and diamonds to a piece obviously increases its market value, the more elusive question that comes to mind when viewing this work is whether or not it increases its artistic value. Is there a correlation between artistic and market value?

In the case of Susan Collis' work, perhaps she is using a shared value system to validate a personal value system.

The concentration Collis' approach to materiality is in many ways antithetical to Tara Donovan, who monumentalizes everyday materials through repetition, creating a sense of wonder through disassociation from their context of use. Donovan's creations have an epic sensibility to them; although the are made from glue and buttons in the case of "Bluffs," or of a sea of disposable plastic cups as in "Untitled (Plastic cups)," our attention is drawn to qualities of these banal objects of which we were formerly unaware. The clear plastic cups, once cheap, and utilitarian, becomes luminous, ethereal,.and otherworldly.

Chief curator of the ICA Boston, Nicholas Baume says of Donovan,"Tara's work isn't ironic. It actually takes up the discourse of Minimalism. It's about creating a system, using a structure, and repeating incremental units that can go from the finite to the seemingly infinite." (Kino 2). Perhaps it is the sense of the infinite, the loss of connection to everyday things that Susan Collis' work so conspicuously lacks.

Susan Collis, Untitled
2010, Dustsheet, embroidery thread, Variable dimensions, Unique
© Cedrick Eymenier, Courtesy Seventeen Gallery
London & galerie frank elbaz, Paris

Susan Collis, Decent International
2010, Pencil on fabriano paper construction, 40 x 50 x 50 cm, Unique
© Cedrick Eymenier, Courtesy Seventeen Gallery, London & galerie frank elbaz, Paris

Susan Collis, Continue Whispering
2010, Walnut (wood), lapis, Cigar box cedar, macassar ebony, Iroko, white holly, oxidized silver (hallmarked), sterling silver, mother of pearl, pearl, white gold, aluminium, gold leaf...
Variable dimensions, in six parts, Unique
© Cedrick Eymenier, Courtesy Seventeen Gallery, London & galerie frank elbaz, Paris

Monika Sosnowska

Dream like quality to her work, engenders a suspension of disbelief (similar to los carpinteros) Also similar to Los Carpinteros is her material choices; she chooses materials that closely emulate her source material-- she does not rely on material transformation as subject matter.

What I'm most drawn to in Sosnowska's work is the gestural quality of the iron structures. This gestural quality runs contrary to the intended function of the architectural fragments. The curves and crumples she creates speaks to a material that is either under pressure from an exterior force such as gravity or is obeying its own mysterious logic-- in either case, the material looks as though it i

Monika Sosnowska
The Entrance
steel, MDF, paint, light

Monika Sosnowska
The Staircase
Installation view: K21 Dusseldorf

Monika Sosnowska
The Staircase
Installation view: K21 Dusseldorf

Monika Sosnowska
The Stairway
Herzliya Museum for Contemporary Art

Monika Sosnowska
Maquette for The Hole

Los Carpinteros

Los Caprinteros is a decades long collaboration between two Cuban artists Marco Antonio Castillo Valdés and Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez

Feels familiar and unfamiliar at the same time

The forms are familiar; a bed, a rack of men's suits, a pool, but each piece seems to freeze an object in a state of transformation, cutting open the proverbial chrysalis to reveal a liminal subject. When is a bed not a bed? What basic features must an object have in order to be considered a roller coaster?

They create a dream world where the tightness of their craftsmanship allows for the suspension of disbelief.

Work many times is overcome by its own cleverness, reduced to a pithy one liner that prevents the any deeper contemplation.

Like Collis' work, Los Carpinteros relies on our understanding of the signifiers placed in each piece; without this understanding, the meaning is lost. Collis relies on our collective cultural agreement that diamonds, gold, and ebony are signifiers of wealth. In La Montana Rusa, Los Carpinteros relies on our understanding of a roller coaster as a signifier of childhood and innocent fun.

Los Carpinteros
La Montana Rusa

Los Carpinteros
Piscina Casa

Los Carpinteros

So perhaps the most successful work has an ambiguous relationship to value; it keeps us guessing, defies our expectations


Kino, Carol. "The Genius of Little Things." The New York Times 23 Sept. 2008.

Milliard, Coline. "In the Studio: Susan Collis." Art+Auction March, 2010. 52-53. Print.

Niklas Luhmann "The Work of Art and the Self-Reproduction of Art"

Friday, March 11, 2011

Imagining possibilities for change in the space

what are some ways that the space could change? it could evolve, show its potential, decay, crack

make piles of paint chips, create a fiction of the space molting
expoiting the seams in the walls; create cracks where there are none
activate more aspects of the space, use more walls, more floor space

the plugs have the possibility of outlining, activating the space

have the suggestion that the space is behaving like an organic thing; that it is growing, changing, obeying a logic that is self contained; that it is invested in its own survival
the plugs are simultaneously part of and separate from the space; they are powered by the space

if, as gaston bachelard says, different kinds of domestic space are representative of varying states of mind, then what kind of mental state does the oppressive whiteness of a gallery elicit? it is meant to elicit nothing; it is meant to be seen as neutral, entirely bland, a bowl of plain oatmeal. it is a means to an end, and seeks constant self-effacement. this is partially a pragmatic decision; if visitors are paying attention to a particularly well-decorated room, they will have less time and energy to spend on the paintings adorning the walls. but this decision is also a denial of the body; a denial of the gallery space as a lived space; it is as if the space were saying 'i'm not really here- you're not really here for that matter, you're floating in a sea of nothingness, all that exists is the art'.

there is a power in the fragment; trying to view an object differently by looking at the pieces that compose it. in my most recent piece, fragments of outlets are cast in plaster duplicates of their whole counterparts, illuminating both the piece and the whole simultaneously; it is reminiscent of archeological digs that present pottery fragments or bits of friezes in the orientation they eould have in their complete form.

my work is an exploration into the points of connection between viewer and the built environment.