This year’s Jerwood Makers Open brings together five artists intent on breaking disciplinary boundaries, explains Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Five artists have been selected for this year’s Jerwood Makers Open: a ceramist, a papercut artist, a photographer, an embroiderer and a jeweller. But they could just as easily be called installation artists and interventionists. Respectively their names are Adam Buick, Nahoko Kojima, Maisie Broadhead, Roanna Wells and Linda Brothwell – but their disciplines are trickier to pin down. What you can be sure of is that you will see their most recent and often their most ambitious work at London’s Jerwood Space, from 10 July – 25 August, from reworkings of 16th century paintings to the world’s largest gathering of people rendered in stitch.
Now in its fourth year, Jerwood Makers Open prides itself – as the name implies – on its breadth and inclusivity, and this year’s selectors were as diverse as the entrants, with Edward Barber, half of BarberOsgerby, editor of Ceramic Review Bonnie Kemske, and David Falkner, director of the Stanley Picker Gallery, making up the judging panel. The selectors describe the final five as a group who ‘together tell a rich story about where craft is positioned today’: each artist was awarded £7,500 to create a piece of work for the show which pushes their practice in new and interesting ways.
One name is already well known to Crafts readers. Maisie Broadhead (see ‘A Family Resemblance’, Crafts No.232, September/October 2011) is using the Jerwood opportunity to create a series of photographs and objects that – though based on the Four Allegories of Love by Paolo Veronese – also reflect her personal history. ‘I wanted to do something that was more self-reflective… Having kids of your own makes you think more on your own childhood memories.’
Broadhead is keeping Veronese’s original titles (Unfaithfulness, Scorn, Respect and Happy Union) with each image touching on a particular element of love. In her hands, these 16th century allegories become reflections of a modern story, one of step-parents and half-siblings with a little 1980s and 90s fashion thrown in for good measure. In the past Broadhead has used family members as models, but this is the first time she has taken narrative cues from her own story. Memories may lie in the foundations of these images, but she is at pains to emphasise these are not to be viewed as a presentation of a reality. ‘Interestingly enough, it’s been a positive experience – I did a lot of leafing through old photographs and things. So the only thing I feel bad about is people perhaps seeing it as exposing something when I know it’s not. It’s just me making a story, as always.’
Broadhead’s photographs are exquisitely crafted, beginning with making props and sets (the part in which she has the most fun), taking bundles of images of her sitters, and then piecing together the puzzle of digital layers, before setting the shadows and light to get closer to its historical original. She trained at the Royal College of Art in Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery, and her practice often includes particularly fine props, sometimes the symbolic focus of the image. While commercially the photographs are why she’s in demand, the partnership of object with image is important to her: ‘I always think they’re stronger as a pair. It makes the image stronger, it’s not just a pastiche of a painting but a setting for an object.’
For Jerwood, these include a slumped piece of glass, used as a pillow in Unfaithfulness to suggest the fragile foundations of a relationship’s beginnings, as well as a blanket digitally embroidered with images of her and her sister in Happy Union.
Not only is history reworked in Broadhead’s imagery, it’s also re-enacted in the gallery space: her pieces sit alongside Linda Brothwell’s, and the two were neighbours at the RCA, their benches next to one another. Brothwell describes her practice as ‘obsessively hand-made’, creating bespoke tools to fashion bespoke objects which then perform some kind of repair in a public space – a Russian Doll of crafts. Not mending in its traditional, invisible sense, this is a narrative mending, to focus the mind on the meaning of place. So pavement cracks have been filled in with silver, a CCTV recording the act, while holes are embroidered over in the upholstery on underground seating.
Brought up near Sheffield, Brothwell heard that Portland Works, the group of Victorian workshops where stainless steel was invented, might be sold to developers (it has now been bought by its current tenants). She saw the building as a perfect site for Acts of Care, a long-standing project of interventions that sit alongside her documentation of the tools of endangered crafts. She decided to make almost 70 stainless steel shims, decorated with file-cutting, to be inserted into the cracks of the Works’ walls. So it’s a meditation on a place of making (her tools were forged at the Works) but there’s also a violence to it – in both the insertion of the shims, and the juxtaposition of old, crumbling wall with this hard, shiny metal interloper.
Brothwell hand-makes all the tools she needs to complete a project; her method of making is one of the most important elements of her practice. Each hammer and each chisel is designed for a very specific purpose. But she flinches at the notion that she’s a toolmaker: ‘It’s about our connection with objects, our heritage and dead spaces… and to surmise that I’m a toolmaker is a little easy. Also if I were a toolmaker I should be a lot better at it!’
For Jerwood, she’ll present the tools alongside photographs of the Works, and a book detailing the processes. Brothwell is well aware she runs the risk of fetishising these objects, highlighting the beauty of these tools, but she explains: ‘What I’m trying to talk about is the political aspect. We’re losing connection with how we relate to the world, with our heritage. I understand changes can be circular, but at this point we’re risking the chance of not being able to get it back… I’m putting my flag in the sand and we’ll see how it works.’
Papercut artist Nahoko Kojima has given herself a huge challenge. For Jerwood she is creating her largest piece to date: a life-size, three-dimensional polar bear cut from a single piece of paper. Kojima learnt kiri-e cutting in Japan, making her first piece at the age of five. She went on to study at Tokyo’s Kuwasawa School of Design and now her practice under the duo Solo & Kojima takes in graphics and video design but the creative centre continues to be papercut. Kojima’s focus is to push the traditional kiri-e into the contemporary, so a few years ago she began hanging her papercuts to create form and a sense of movement. She focuses on nature as her subject, ‘with trees or nature, everyday it’s changing, I can feel the motion.’ This sense of life is particularly important for her hanging pieces, with each blade of grass or tuft of fur placed for maximum effect. She particularly enjoys the challenge of working in just negative and positive shapes, and with no colour: ‘You can explain 2D, 3D, 4D, with just black and white. That’s what really interests me. These simple things are the most difficult.’
After numerous trips to sketch her chosen animal (she has a year-long passport to London Zoo), Kojima then plans her design. For her Jerwood piece, she has imported a piece of 3 x 3 metre washi paper from Japan. (The precious paper has, I’m told, been drying on a Japanese hill for months. As if the stakes weren’t high enough when the knife is in her hand, one wrong cut could ruin the entire piece.) Preparation is important, but Kojima also uses the process of cutting as the time to make design alterations, following her intuition. ‘When I start, I really want to finish quickly because I want to see it.’ She smiles: ‘But as I’m cutting I’m changing, it just keeps changing.’ And this process is long – the polar bear has taken four months to create.
Also pushing herself in terms of scale is Roanna Wells. She graduated in Embroidery from Manchester School of Art in 2009, and has since then been creating beautiful work exploring mark-making, patterning, and more recently mapping. Using aerial photography from internet searches, Wells traces over crowds, but removes everything else, from the focus of the crowd’s attention to incidental details like trees. She then embroiders woollen fabric with the resultant dots, building up a kind of abstract swarm, one that isn’t at first glance entirely legible. As she explains: ‘I did one piece of someone who had drowned on a beach, and it looked like a flock of birds, it looked beautiful – but when people realised the nature of the image it was kind of shocking in an interesting way.’
The Jerwood award has enabled Wells to commission her own aerial photography to work from. She headed to the banks of the river Ganges for the Hindu Kumbh Mela festival, the largest gathering of people on Earth, estimated at between 80 and 100 million, with up to 30 million people on any given day. Her experience (‘epic and intense’) deepens her making process as a record of the event but also turns her embroidery into a souvenir of her own pilgrimage.
Similar pieces had been planned of the Easter Service at the Vatican and the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, but Wells soon realised the eclipsing magnitude of Kumbh Mela. ‘Being there when the image was taken seemed to be the next step – I was really interested to experience it so I could have an insight into why they gather. I wanted to give more meaning… I realised that it had been such an overwhelming experience that I didn’t want to dilute it with the others, and I realised it was probably going to take me all the time to finish!’ This is Wells’s largest piece to date (3 x 1.5 metres): ‘It definitely feels like a next step up for me, it’s pressure but in a really good way.’
Ceramist Adam Buick is exploring geography in a different way. Having made his name with exuberant moon jars, Buick began experimenting with film and photography a few years ago, including a time-lapse film of an unfired jar out on the Pembrokeshire coast gradually weathering away. Inspired by the landscape, Buick wanted to work within it, so for his Jerwood commission he’s throwing a series of porcelain bells, hanging them in sea caves along his local coastline and photographing them.
The bells will be his contribution, an aesthetic (and sonic) celebration of his local environment – its beauty and how precious it is. This is the area that he grew up in, so he knows the best spots. The ceramist, who has a degree in archaeology, is drawn to such landmarks as standing stones, their relationship between object and landscape. He explains that they can be seen as a veneration of the landscape, drawing attention not to themselves but to their surroundings.
There’s an ecological undercurrent and also a streak of Romanticism to Buick’s project: ‘I’m unafraid of the sublime, the beautiful and the romantic in my work, because of my experience of the darker side of humanity in our daily lives – it is important to experience things that are contemplative and uplifting from time to time.’ His focus is on the aesthetics of the bells in situ, but as he says, ‘When people see bells, they want them to ring.’ So visitors to the show may get the opportunity to try one for themselves.
And this hints at one of the most revealing challenges for these five artists. Each one must consider carefully how to present their practice – the single object on a plinth makes way for a plethora of photography, film, sound and document. If we take Jerwood Makers Open as a barometer for current contemporary craft, we discover the most compelling work in the corners and crevasses of traditional practice.
Jerwood Makers Open is at London’s Jerwood Space from 10 July – 25 August 2013