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  • BROOM, 2013, CARL CLERKIN. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLERY SO LONDON

A show of fact and fiction

Teleri Lloyd-Jones previews Crafting Narrative

Over the past few years, the word ‘narrative’ has become very popular in design and craft. This rather pompous sibling to the simpler ‘story’ is often offered as a shorthand for work that engages with tradition and authenticity. But the Crafts Council’s new exhibition interrogates more closely the relationship between contemporary craft and narrative.

Crafting Narrative: Storytelling through objects and making, guest curated by designer Onkar Kular, brings together work by Hilda Hellström, Hefin Jones, Carl Clerkin, El Ultimo Grito, Martino Gamper, Dawn Youll and others. ‘I knew straight away that I wasn’t going to provide an overview of the subject,’ explains Kular. ‘Nor at any point did I say that we’re going to create a comprehensive survey of storytelling. I wanted to approach it as a research project, to draw a line through the topic – finding one area of interest and let that lead me on to another. It was walking through research, letting the natural process move me on.’

RECREATION, DAWN YOULL, 2013. PHOTO: DAWN YOULL

Stories are always part of an object’s life, be it the information panel sitting next to a museum exhibit or a tale told of a treasured heirloom, but Kular was keen to move away from such bottomless topics and instead focus on ‘practitioners who are looking at narrative in a more complex way, for whom it’s a natural by-product of what they do… We talk about narrative a lot in storytelling, but no one really knows what it is, how it operates. What I’d like to do is reveal how it works.’

For example, Kular has selected Materiality of a Natural Disaster, the project with which Hellström graduated from the Royal College of Art. It consists of vessels made from soil from a field belonging to the last resident inside the Fukushima Daiichi exclusion zone in Japan. For Kular, the pots – rendered useless by radiation – reflect a documentary process; they are material witnesses to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Materiality of a Natural Disaster, Hilda Hellström, 2012. PHOTO HILDA HELLSTRÖM

Fact and fiction sit side by side in Crafting Narrative, so from Hellström’s very real objects, we move to Hefin Jones’s fantastical Welsh Space Campaign. Again, a graduation project (from Goldsmiths College last year), Welsh Space Campaign is represented by a spacesuit made using fabric woven by Melin Tregwynt, the last remaining woollen mill in Wales, boots made by a traditional Welsh clogmaker, a pressure system made by a Welsh plumber and a countdown poem written by the current Eisteddfod chair (and former children’s poet laureate) Ceri Wyn Jones.

The Welsh Space Campaign, Hefin Jones, 2013. PHOTO: DAN BURN-FORTI

Like Hellström’s work, place is key, but for Jones, objects offer the production of collective narrative, and in this charming project we see a glimpse of an alternative national future for Wales. Elsewhere, Dawn Youll presents ceramic objects from her own personal landscape, and Zhenhan Hao collaborates with Chinese craftspeople, asking them to create their own work instead of the imitation more typically required of them.

Kular’s approach to curation has been holistic, and from the outset the presentation of the exhibition was his primary concern. Martino Gamper is designing the show, with a specially commissioned textile, woven by the London Cloth Company, used as the backdrop. One of the most interesting commissions is Cecilie Gravesen, who is writing a play using objects from the Crafts Council’s Handling Collection, including works by Edmund de Waal, Philip Eglin and Ultimo Grito – a project to be activated by visitors to the show.

Crafting Narrative promises a nuanced view of contemporary making, one in which story is central. But don’t expect a passive experience – because Kular is only too aware how subjective story-telling is: ‘I’d hate the audience to leave the exhibition thinking that everything had been answered for them.’

Crafting Narrative is at Pitzhanger Manor Gallery, Ealing, 10 September – 19 October

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