Earlier this season, the Museum of Contemporary Craft celebrated its first anniversary since the 70-year-old institution moved from the outskirts to the heart of town. The museum simultaneously reinvented itself with a name change (from the Contemporary Crafts Museum and Gallery) and a reinvigorated approach.
Historically tied to a definition wrapped up in materiality and a dedication to making things by hand, craft has been perceived to be on the decline since the industrial revolution. It was rather brazen of our local institution not to follow the suit of similar museums in New York and California who have pointedly dropped the word "craft" from their names within the last decade, but to instead re-embrace the term, and in so doing proclaim their commitment to providing exposure to the experimental definition-busting that is contemporary craft.
Manuf®actured: The Conspicuous Transformation of Everyday Objects is the fullest expression to date of that commitment, exposing artists whose work renders distinctions between craft, art, and design increasingly irrelevant. The 15 artists, curated by former I.D. magazine editor Steven Skov Holt along with partner Mara Holt Skov, share the commonality of using traditional craft techniques to transform manufactured goods into new mediums for conceptual designs, thwarting the expectation of utility in craft.
The word "conspicuous" is apt; all of the works on display are visually striking, and operate on multiple levels of "wow factor." Art fashion designer Cat Chow's floor-length gowns and skirts are made from continuous lengths of prefab zipper, while Jason Rogenes' towering polystyrene sculpture pays homage to the overlooked beauty of industrially designed packing material. Meanwhile, the ornately organic wigs that Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir creates from braided human, horse, and synthetic hair not only stand alone, but are digitally manipulated and rendered two-dimensionally as wallpaper, turning on its ear the notion that craft and technology are mutually exclusive.
Although many of the pieces are elevations of refuse—re-imagined tin cans and used facial peel, for example—the show's focus is less eco-art than the interplay of variegated boundaries. Here's hoping it's an edge the museum continues to explore.