When we talk about contemporary craft we often talk about the physical – materials, process, and function that is then fused with an accompanying idea. Sometimes these works of art are useful as they are beautiful, unique, or extraordinary.
Indeed the very word “craft” implies a handiness first and foremost, a learned technique where tactile knowledges trump art that starts from more conceptual beginnings or academic perspectives.
Of course this is all just a starting place to understand the difference between art and craft historically, for many works exist in both seemingly opposed worlds or none at all. This month at the Craft Council Gallery a new exhibition The Nature of Elegance is on view with ceramic works by St. John’s based artist Wendy Shirran and Halifax’s Miro Davis. The exhibition features a variety of pieces that operate both functionally and conceptually.
Shirran’s most successful pieces include Umbrellas a series of 15 ochraceous porcelain vessels that play upon an inverted mushroom form and Veiled Lades, a series of hanging pendant lights whose spongy shades are a clever incorporation of natural form and function.
Davis’s work on the other hand reads more as a series of traditional art objects though they too have lighted elements (Amber Fragments series for example). These works are much heavier hand sculpted stone-ware that feature cast amber glass of various flowers, insects, and honeycomb.
The exhibition’s accompanying text describes that “the work was conceived from the idea that all things in nature beautifully exist with function and purpose.” Putting my academic philosophical hat aside and my knee-jerk reaction to the concept of a universal beauty, I can get on board with this concept from an evolutionary point of view.
Certainly there are astounding patterns to be seen in nature and a fascinating history of design and architecture that mimics its forms. This seems to me where the works in The Nature of Elegance work best. Shirran’s Fibonacci centerpiece presents this idea perfectly.
From a technical perspective the ceramics in this show are on point. Where some of the exhibition falls short is in a few of the installation details, the choice of heavy gauge wire or how some nails, glue, and battery packs are visible. And though I may be too rational a viewer to appreciate some of the exhibition’s more emotional language, I applaud the Craft Council Gallery for blurring those definitions of art and craft within The Nature of Elegance.
This is a thoughtful exhibition on nature and the nature of design and material as it operates within these artists’ practices.
The Nature of Elegance is on view at the Craft Council Gallery, 59 Duckworth Street, until April 16.
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