Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Woman's Hour Craft Prize

I paid a visit to the V&A to see the new Exhibition Road Quarter entrance designed by Amanda Levette Architects, and the Woman's Hour Craft Prize exhibit showcasing the most exciting practitioners of contemporary craft. This clay piece - Triumph of The Immaterial by Phoebe Cummings was a show stopper. The meticulous attention to detail in the unfired clay sculpture was ridiculous - full of an endless variety of textures, and worthy of comparison with the floral compositions of Dutch still life painters such as Rachel Ruysch and Jan van Huysum. Cummings creates site-specific pieces, so this fountain installation will be gradually eroded by water and last only as long the exhibition. A fitting reference to the transience of life as referenced through Dutch vanitas painting. It was my favourite piece in the exhibition, and not surprisingly was recently announced as the winner of the innaugural £10,000 Woman's Hour Craft prize. Roy Greenlees - Executive Director of the Craft Council said:

“Phoebe’s work is truly original. It encompasses performance art and studio ceramics and defies easy categorisation. Working exclusively with raw clay to create site-specific pieces that change subtly day-to-day, her staggeringly beautiful work asks us to celebrate rather than mourn the passing of time. She challenges ideas of what craft is with work that is almost impossible to possess but delights in the physical process of making and shows a highly skilled understanding of the material. And so despite stiff competition from 11 other exceptional makers, she has been awarded the inaugural Woman’s Hour Craft Prize.” 

Here, here! Good as the other entrants were, Cummings is a well deserved winner.

Cummings responded by saying: "I am overwhelmed to have been chosen from such a strong and diverse shortlist. The Woman’s Hour Craft Prize has done a huge amount to raise public awareness and discussion around contemporary craft and the breadth of practice it encompasses. Making work that is ephemeral and performative isn't always the most straightforward path to take, so the recognition and support of the prize will have a big impact in enabling me to continue pushing my work forward. I plan to use the money to make a usable work space at home - no doubt my family will be overjoyed that they can finally reclaim the kitchen table."

Also worthy of note was Haeckel To Aplidium, these strange hybrid specimens of flora - the products of the imagination of Laura Youngson Coll, inspired by the microscopic investigative works of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). These eerily beautiful alien-like works are created from vellum amongst other materials, and raise environmental concerns.

 Hans Haeckel - illustration from Monograph On The Radiolara, (1862)

I had seen examples of pieces of jewellery by Romilly Saumarez Smith in magazines, and this exhibition was a great opportunity to see these interesting works in the flesh so to speak. They intrigue me as they are created from a variety of found objects, which are then combined with precious metals and put together by specialist jewellers under Smith's direction.

Neil Brownsword hails from Staffordshire, and uses the traditional crafts of the ceramics industry long synonymous with the region. Along with film and performance he creates works which celebrate and preserve the historical and declining aspects of the ceramic industry of this area. These were like wonderful, sentimental relics of the Victorian era.

There is more work of noteworthy craftspeople in this show, and a visit is well worthwhile to see the meticulous workmanship of individual artisans which is increasingly being celebrated as an artform in the world of craft. 

Woman's Hour Craft Prize
until 5th February
Sackler Centre for Arts Education Room 220
V&A Museum
Cromwell Road