What is ‘Contemporary Craft’?

The Norwegian crafts field is focusing increasingly on academic theory and discourse. As an instantiation of this development, Marit Øydegard chairs a round table discussion with Jorunn Veiteberg, Knut Astrup Bull and Jørn Mortensen, on the question of how contemporary crafts are viewed as a distinct field of practice or in relation to fine art.

Continue reading “What is ‘Contemporary Craft’?”

Contemporary Ornamentation

Elise Hatlø: Grandma Goes to Tokyo, detail, 2011. Photographer: Kjersti Mørch

Contemporary Ornamentation

Text: Marit Øydegard

Jewellery artists Elise Hatlø, Heidi Sand and Anna Talbot feel ornamentation is underestimated. To them ornamentation is a vehicle for telling stories and expressing ideas.

 

Heidi Sand: Gut feeling. Photo: Sveinung Bråthen

Heidi Sand: Gut feeling. Photo: Sveinung Bråthen

 
Ornamentation is a specific field, yet it cuts across all the arts. It is the art we add to art, by means of shapes and patterns positioned on an object or building for the pleasure of the eye. Often ornaments are so familiar that we do not see them; they are almost like visual background music. Other times they suddenly claim our full attention. Ornaments have not always been favoured in the arts, but they have always been there and now are undoubtedly back.

Norwegiancrafts interviewed three artists, Elise Hatlø, Heidi Sand and Anna Talbot, and asked them about their own work with ornaments and the use of ornamentation in contemporary crafts.

Grandma’s tatting
Elise Hatlø (b.1981) studied metal art and jewellery at Oslo National Academy of the Arts and graduated with a Master’s Degree in 2009. Before this she studied market communication at Westerdal’s School of Communication and Graphic Design at the Mercantile Institute in Oslo. Hatlø has held several exhibitions in Norway and abroad and, for the second year in a row, is presenting her work atCOLLECT, an international art fair for contemporary objects held at the Saatchi Gallery in London.

 

Elise Hatlø: Grandma Goes to Tokyo, 2011. Photo: Kjersti Mørch

Elise Hatlø: Grandma Goes to Tokyo, 2011. Photo: Kjersti Mørch

 
Launched in 2004 as one of the Crafts Council’s flagship events,COLLECT is a prestigious exhibition venue that brings together selected galleries from around the globe. From Norway, Galleri Format and Galleri Kunst1 will represent 20 craft artists working in a range of media and materials.

Hatlø will be represented by Galleri Format. She is one of several jewellery artists in Norway who explores ornaments as means of expression in contemporary jewellery. She considers them as symbols of bygone eras. In her latest series of jewellery calledGrandma Goes to Tokyo, we can clearly see how opposites interact – how older, nostalgic expressions infiltrate and inform contemporary expressions.

For Hatlø, applying ornaments and complex details is a way to make her jewellery more interesting and to distance her expression from the methods and ideas of minimalistic art:

 

Elise Hatlø: Grandma Goes to Tokyo, 2011. Photo: Kjersti Mørch

Elise Hatlø: Grandma Goes to Tokyo, 2011. Photo: Kjersti Mørch

 
‘My work aims to give pleasure; it is something to rest your eyes on, detail on detail on detail. I hope people can discover something new in the work every day. Simple and pure expressions are not what I work with
these days’, Hatlø says.

In Grandma Goes to Tokyo, Hatlø explores what happens to the expressive quality of a grandmotherly type of needlework when it is combined with the dramatic colours that are so typical for a part of Japanese teenage culture known as Harajuku fashion. Her inspiration comes from ornaments and the aesthetics of old textile crafts. She is primarily interested in tatting patterns and how they change and become surreal and humoristic when combined with strong fluorescent colours. This exploration creates the form and basis for a series of necklaces and brooches.

 

Elise Hatlø: Ghost Town, 2010. Brooch.

Elise Hatlø: Ghost Town, 2010. Brooch.

 
Hatlø says she reckons her work is more accessible than most contemporary art: ’Those who do not find interest in art can still see the value in the craftsmanship. Furthermore, the ornament is easily recognizable and our thoughts can travel back in history.’

Nature’s ornaments
In another jewellery series, Ghost Town from 2010, Hatlø takes a different approach to older forms of ornamentation. She tells a story about an abandoned town in Bangladesh where nature has begun to take over man-made objects.

‘In my work there is always a message, a story that needs to be told. I do not want to tell this story through a lot of words, but through shapes, colour and the title,’ says Hatlø.

 

Elise Hatlø: Ghost Town, 2010. Brooch.

Elise Hatlø: Ghost Town, 2010. Brooch.

 
The jewellery expresses the beauty we can find in something overgrown. When a place becomes neglected, nature starts to bring the place back to its origin, and in the process a beautiful patina on wood and iron is created. In Ghost Town, Hatlø recreate, via jewellery, these particular colours and surfaces that take many years to develop in nature.

‘I work with ornaments as symbols of bygone times. To me they represent an era when people appreciated good craftsmanship and spent a long time making something as simple as a gate. Ornaments are therefore icons of happiness, and tell of something good and safe. Just like in nature’s own ornaments and grandma’s crochet and tatting.’

The pieces are made with electroformed and patinated silver and copper, with precious stones crocheted in with silk thread.

Hatlø has worked with ornamentation for several years now, and approaches it both as a message and an expression:

 

Elise Hatlø: Ghost Town, 2010. Brooch.

Elise Hatlø: Ghost Town, 2010. Brooch.

 
‘I have not intentionally tried to provoke people, but several times have been asked why I choose to work with beauty. By beauty, I think they actually refer to the ornaments. My answer is simply that ornaments are where the stories are to be found.’

She also points out that when it comes to ornaments, the history differs between fine art and crafts. The use of ornamentation is perhaps more usual in jewellery, but even in this field, there have been times when its use has been suppressed. ‘There are lots of ornaments in jewellery. But lately we have seen much research in materials, and many jewellers have made works that are on the verge of impracticality.’

 

Elise Hatlø: Ghost Town, 2010. Brooch.

Elise Hatlø: Ghost Town, 2010. Brooch.

 
But ornaments are also used in fine art, particularly within political art, Hatlø points out. ‘Ornaments beautifully visualize a culture or religion, yet without using words. Also worth noting is that styles and movements always return. Pure and simple minimalism will always, after a while, cause us to hunger for a more maximalistic expression. At the same time I think there is a difference between fine art and the crafts. Craftsmen have not been afraid of using ornaments, whereas artists working with other genres and art forms have sometimes felt it was taboo.’

Rhythm and contrast
Another artist who explores ornaments is Heidi Sand. Her artistic and visual expressions are largely conveyed through the use of ornaments and the construction of patterns. She creates a sense of lightness and delicacy through perforating metal. This is a time-consuming procedure that allows compositions to emerge between the positive and negative forms. Sand (b. 1957) studied in Oslo, at the National College of Art and Design, Institute for Metal. Later she attended State University of New York’s institute for jewellery and Haystack Mountain School for Crafts in Main, USA. She earned her Goldsmith Certificate in 1994.

 

Heidi Sand: Displacement. Photo: Sveinung Bråthen

Heidi Sand: Displacement. Photo: Sveinung Bråthen

 
Sand’s works are exhibited both in Norway and abroad and she is represented in several permanent collections. Among the major purchasers are Arts Council Norway, Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affaires, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Oslo, the West Norway Museum of Decorative Art in Bergen, and the National Museum of Decorative Art in Trondheim. In addition, Sand has coordinated several international exhibitions of Norwegian jewellery, and was formerly the director of RAM galleri. She is now head of the Metal and Jewellery Department at Oslo National Academy of the Arts.

The moods of ornaments
From 10 March to 17 April, Sand’s works were featured at RAM Galleri in Oslo, in an exhibition called Internal Landscapes. This solo exhibition consisted of fully wearable jewellery in various sizes and formats. The title of the exhibition and the titles of the objects – examples are X-ray and Pulse – invited viewers to contemplate what is internal versus external to the human body.

 

Heidi Sand: Pulse. Photo: Sveinung Bråthen

Heidi Sand: Pulse. Photo: Sveinung Bråthen

 
Sand sees ornamentation as a universal language:
‘When building an ornament, the designer is free to choose one or more elements and repeat them at will, so there are no limitations on an ornament’s appearance. In some of my works I have referred to “rose painting” (rosemaling) or gathered inspiration from nature and geometry. In later works the ornament structure is inspired by the human body’s inner landscape, its microcosms and organs.’

Sand uses ornamentation to achieve a certain expression, and combines ornaments with form and structure.

‘Designing ornaments involves evaluating how forms cohere, and the relationships between shapes, lines and negative spaces.’

Sand remarks that ornaments have a range of qualities rendering various temperatures and moods. She gives an example:
‘An ornament with regularly repeated shapes brings peace to the eye; a more aggressive, irregular design will create unease. It would therefore be totally wrong to claim that an ornament’s only purpose is to create joy and pleasure.’

Ornaments reflect the epoch in which they are made, and Sand’s work entitled Displacement shows exactly this, for it is undeniably contemporary. Sand says:
‘Ornaments have always been part of the art of the period in which they are made, wherever patterns and repetitions occur.’

 

Heidi Sand: X-ray. Photo: Sveinung Bråthen

Heidi Sand: X-ray. Photo: Sveinung Bråthen

 
But Sand has observed that the concept of what an ornament is has been wrongly described in the art discourse as an element of beautification, and that an ornament can only be a decoration for an existing form or function.

‘It is an odd, almost conspiratorial theory, not to recognize ornamentation as a method for developing artistic expressions.’

Displacement, like other pieces in the exhibition Internal Landscapes, is made of brass and Formica ColorCore. The piece challenges us with the aesthetics and internal functions of the human body. Its title also underscores the challenging aspect, and opens a door to new and unexpected perspectives – the wearer carries on the outside what is happening on the inside. The almost Pop Art shape gives the jewellery an obvious contemporary look.

Fairytales and a narrative expression
When discussing ornamentation, one cannot forget Anna Talbot (b. 1978). She has an extensive education, having studied art and design at Leeds College of Art and Design in the UK.

 

Anna Talbot: Black Baroque Fishermans Friend, 2011.

Anna Talbot: Black Baroque Fishermans Friend, 2011.

 

After this she pursued humanities courses including comparative literature, art history, folk culture and mass culture at the University of Bergen in Norway. Talbot earned her BA in silversmithing, jewellery and applied crafts from London Metropolitan University in the UK. In 2009 she finished her Master’s Degree at Oslo National Academy of the Arts, Department of Metal.

Talbot has held several exhibitions in Norway and abroad. Like Elise Hatlø, she is presenting her works at COLLECT in London for the second year running. Talbot is inspired by fairytales, nursery rhymes, songs and stories, and she aims to tell stories through characters, colours and materials. Talbot uses ornaments as tools for achieving a certain look, but also as expressions in their own right.

‘In some cases I am happy to play with ornaments as pure beauty and as visual expressions. I feel privileged to be able to work within a field that can use methods from a range of art forms.’

 

Anna Talbot: Hans&Grete, detail.

Anna Talbot: Hans&Grete, detail.

 
Talbot uses ornaments to tell stories:
‘When working with fairytales and a narrative expression, I focus on how the ornaments contribute to the story by communicating a mood or a message,’ she explains.

Even animals, birds, woods and trees find their way into her works, not to mention words and whole sentences.

She uses strong colours and different surfaces to illustrate and create atmosphere:

 

Anna Talbot: Green Baroque Läkerol, 2011.

Anna Talbot: Green Baroque Läkerol, 2011.

 
‘The most ornamental aspects of my work have been interpreted by others as typically Norwegian, but the people who say this have a rather unclear view of what “Norwegian” is. My inspiration comes from fairytales, stories, song lyrics and the like, both Norwegian and international. Compared with other artists, I think I use a rather international visual language.’

Ornamentation, Talbot says, is rarely a matter of pure national expression; we inspire and influence each other.

‘Ornaments travel widely. And especially within my field of work, we are interested in what is going on elsewhere in the world.’

 

Anna Talbot: Red&Brown Riding Hood.

Anna Talbot: Red&Brown Riding Hood.

 
Meanwhile, despite ornamentation being integral to all cultures, Talbot finds it frustrating to need to legitimate her work and working methods, especially with terminology developed for the field of fine art.

‘We need our own terminology and theory for the contemporary crafts field. We must be brave enough to stand on our own feet and not twist and bend to fit our work to suit theories minted for the fine arts. If we persist in using this nomenclature, we will always be seen as the subordinate little sister, or merely as decoration.’

Beauty and myth – art and ideas team up

It has been 25 years since Inger Johanne Rasmussen last exhibited at the National Museum of Decorative Arts (Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum) in Trondheim, Norway. Now she has returned with grandeur. Monumental textiles cover the walls of the large gallery space in a solo exhibition called “Retellings and Myths”. For this project, Rasmussen has collaborated with Terje Nordby – a playwright, radio celebrity and “mythologist in private practice”. The textiles themselves tell stories, but through Nordby’s reflections, they take on an added dimension.

Inger Johanne Rasmussen in her studio. Rasmussen uses felted wool and foot clothes, many of military origin, which she dyes and uses to create what she herself refer to as ‘inlaid textiles’. Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

Beauty and myth

Text: Marit Øydegard

It has been 25 years since Inger Johanne Rasmussen last exhibited at the National Museum of Decorative Arts (Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum) in Trondheim, Norway. Now she has returned with a solo exhibition called ‘Retellings and Myths’. This time Rasmussen has collaborated with Terje Nordby – a playwright, radio celebrity and “mythologist in private practice”. The textiles themselves tell stories, but through Nordby’s reflections, they take on an added dimension.

Inger Johanne Rasmussen (b. 1958) studied textile arts at the Norwegian National College of Applied Art and Design in Bergen, graduating with a ‘hovedfag’ (roughly equivalent to a Master’s Degree) in 1994. Prior to this, she studied at other schools including the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm (1983-84). Even though Rasmussen has consistently worked with textiles, her artistic expression relates also to painting and other craft traditions.

 

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: Used coat (Brukt frakk), 134×64 cm, 2010 Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: Used coat (Brukt frakk), 134×64 cm, 2010 Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

 

Visual variety

Over the past years Rasmussen has held many solo exhibitions in museums and galleries and participated in group shows around the world. She has created numerous commissioned works for hospitals, schools, churches and Norwegian embassies in Brussels, San Francisco, Tokyo, Beijing, Buenos Aires and Singapore.

Her last solo exhibition, entitled Retellings and Myths, opened on 22 January 2011 and consists of a large number of monumental textile pictures. Her motifs can easily be associated with textiles found in the home, for instance bedspreads and tablecloths, yet the patterns are intensified and considerably enlarged. In terms of visual expression, her works are rich in colour and the motifs range from geometric patterns and squares to organic, sinuous flowers. But despite this variation, the technique and materials are the same. Regarding Rasmussen’s choice of motifs, she says; ‘’Many people think working with flower motifs is something a serious artist doesn’t do, but from my perspective, if you want to provoke, go for flowers rather than blood’‘. Rasmussen uses felted wool and foot clothes, many of military origin, which she dyes and uses to create what she herself refer to as ’’inlaid textiles’’. She sews them by hand. It is therefore not the visual expression but the format and technique that create coherent unity in the exhibition.

Collaborative process
Viewing these monumental textiles is like getting a glimpse of a myth you partially understand, in a language you barely know. Despite the dreamlike images, they are easy to relate to, as they call to mind stories and fairytales or memories of visiting grandma as a child. The large textiles appear quite overwhelming in their colours and patterns, but their familiarity makes them approachable. Inspecting them up close, new aspects emerge which contribute to the story.

 

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: The land between dream and realiy (Landet mellom drøm og virkelihet), 208×303 cm, 2010 Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: The land between dream and realiy (Landet mellom drøm og virkelihet), 208×303 cm, 2010 Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

Yet another component adds to the experience of the exhibition: the recordings by writer and radio-celebrity Terje Nordby. He has written texts for six of the textile pictures and recorded readings of each of the 6-9 minute-long passages. In the gallery you can listen to the texts through headphones, download them on smart phones or listen to the texts whilst looking at the textiles on YouTube. The texts generally concern well-known myths, and Nordby, through discussions with Rasmussen, manages to forge connections to the pictures. Nevertheless, these texts by no means reduce Rasmussen’s works into mere illustrations. Rather, they complement the textile pictures in ways that challenge us to piece together the different parts. Rasmussen gives us a clue: ‘’the connection isn’t in the way the textile pictures are conveyed through colour, style, figure and form, but it can be found in their content’‘.

 

Inger Johanne Rasmussen in her studio. Her colouring technique allows a sort of flare, which adds light, life and depth to her pictures. Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

Inger Johanne Rasmussen in her studio. Her colouring technique allows a sort of flare, which adds light, life and depth to her pictures. Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

 

Radiance

By calling her textiles ’’retellings’’, Rasmussen let us know she is conscious about her methods. She reassembles elements from various stories and memories, and in this way perpetuates the meaning of the elements but also expands it by adding a new perspective. As Rasmussen herself says, it is essential for an artist to find her own story if she wants to realize what is important. As such, ’’retellings’’ may be interpreted as a process of reflecting on the materials she uses, but also on the themes, figures, patterns and shapes.

Rasmussen’s decision to use foot clothes from an army depot was first and foremost due to their visual and technical qualities. She has now started adding materials from other sources. Woven and felted wool is highly suitable for creating the magnificently luminous shades that are so characteristic for her work. In comparison to a painting, where the colour is on the canvas surface, Rasmussen’s colours penetrate the fabric and result in a saturated luminosity. Her colouring technique also allows a sort of flare, which adds light, life and depth to her pictures.

 

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: Practice piece (Øvestykke), 226×282 cm, 2010. Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: Practice piece (Øvestykke), 226×282 cm, 2010. Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

 

Words

Inger Johanne Rasmussen refers to her works as textile pictures, but “Retellings and Myths” is just as much about words. Her reason for using words is, she says, because words are tools with which to think. By reading and writing, our thoughts become clearer, and this is a necessary aspect of a creative process. Prior to taking on the project of Retelling and Myths, she had a notion that ‘’my thoughts are far from being as sharp as my scissors, and if I don’t start to use my brain, I will go dim’’. Consequently she began researching the origin of her work.

Rasmussen’s textiles are overwhelmingly beautiful, but they contain much more than the immediate impression of beauty and technique. They are stories. Beauty is an important part of course, but it was only when she heard Nordby’s radio show Myth Calendar, that she realized what her work was really about. Rasmussen felt that everything fell into place; it made perfect sense to relate the textiles to older texts and myths. She consequently wrote a letter to Nordby, asking if he was interested in collaborating with her, and they started talking.

 

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: Dark tree (Mørkt tre), 213×297 cm, 2010 Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: Dark tree (Mørkt tre), 213×297 cm, 2010 Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

 

Apollo and Dionysus

Rasmussen remembered an old saying from when she was an art student: ‘’art is between chaos and technique, beauty and ugliness’‘. We all operate between these two boundaries, she says, ’’but the real meaning of the sayings was revealed to me when I heard Nordby discussing Apollo and Dionysus’’. The balance or conflict between the two characters from Greek mythology is highly relevant for the arts.
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest and wine ritual; he represents both madness and ecstasy. He is strongly associated with satyrs and centaurs and represents femininity, chaos and nature. Apollo, on the other hand, is associated with autonomy and order, prosperity, strength, masculinity and progress. Nordby draws on Nietzsche in stating that it is the tension between the feminine and the masculine that brings progress. If we have too much of Dionysus or Apollo in us, things will go badly wrong.

 

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: The road (Vegen), 213×297 cm, 2010 Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

Inger Johanne Rasmussen: The road (Vegen), 213×297 cm, 2010 Photo: Torgny Skogsrud

 

Beauty, fairytales and myths

It is evident that Rasmussen and Nordby have been having deep discussions about the meaning of art and their own particular part in the contemporary art scene. Nordby questions whether it is possible to interpret contemporary art in relation to ideas about Dionysus and Apollo, especially in an age where we live in awe of timetables more than we worship gods. To bring progress to our daily life or the world in general, Nordby suggests, it is not enough to be strictly organised: we also need chaos. We need art, myths and fairytales in order to live a full life. This idea of balance between order and chaos is even evident in Rasmussen’s method of working: ‘’I make chaos, tidy up, then make chaos again, and tidy up. I continue this balancing act as I try to get a balance between the two’’.

Throughout Modernism, abstract and non-figurative art were dominant, and then Post-modernistic art came along and started commenting on itself. People began to ask what art was, as if it was an element. ‘’But art must be what it is; it’s essential that it allow contemplation. We need stories’’, Nordby stresses.

Inger Johanne Rasmussen and Terje Nordby agree: it is high time for artists to resume commenting on subjects outside the field of art. What is art for? – this is a question participants in the artworld must continue to ask.