Press Room Details

Bravura: 21st Century Australian Craft
4 December 2009 - 31 January 2010

Art Gallery of South Australia

Art Gallery Magazine

Bravura acknowledges the performative aspect of craft - the transformation of ideas and raw materials in to a finished object. Craft is a way of doing things, of learned actions that exist in motion: objects are created through the action of the human body. The material is animated through skill, daring, brilliance and agility - a bravura experience played out in the studio. The skill of the creator's actions and with their chosen material is at the heart of much craft, and charachterises the seventy-eight works - in ceramics, glass, jewellery, metalwork, textiles, woven objects and furniture - selected for this major national survey exhibition of twenty-first century Australian craft. The accompanying catalogue and a number of new acquisitions by craft practitioners Stephen Benwell, Giles Bettison, Sandra Black, Merran Esson, Sandy Lockwood and Vipoo Srivilasa featured in Bravura have been made possible through the Maude Vizard-Wholohan Art Purchase Award, which this year focuses on the handmade, one-off craft object.

Forming part of the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, the objects selected for Bravura interrogate the concept of 'place' as represented in contemporary Australian craft. So why should such a concept of place be important in contemporary Australian craft? And what kinds of places are represented? Here is a place not defined by historical landscape painting traditions, nor is it cliched visions of Australia; the approach adopted here is subtle and abstract. Place is not confined to the literal representation of a town or a home. A sense of place can be psychological, shaped by patterns of behaviour, of belonging, connecting and reacting to the surroundings.

Craft practitioners, by necessity, respond to issues that are important to them and their work, and this often encompasses place and purpose - the changing of the seasons, the availability of material and environmental and geographical concerns. Their practice represents a need to express in objects what they find stimulating. The predominant methodology is an interest in locality, mediated through the physical properties of the materials they use and the skills to which these can be manipulated in to forms. Jeff Mincham, for example, is recognised for his preoccupation with the natural environs of the Adelaide Hills, his sense of place and responsiveness to the mutability of his surrounds across time and seasons having developed over half a lifetime. Break of season expresses, through colour and form, abstract concepts of mood, human intervention, and the endless cycle of nature. 

For glass artist Clare Belfrage the process and finished object is concerned with time, rhythm and movement. Her interest lies in the rhythyms found within geographical features and living organisms. In Shifting lines #1 & #2 the rhythm of her movements to create glass lines over the form become the rhythm of the pattern. Her fluid and organic forms speak to each other and become lush organic mounds, oddly reminiscent of worn down hills rising from the flat interior plains of our continent. Belfrage captures the essence of something we understand as being about place. 

The use of Australia's natural materials is of course one of the most direct ways to communicate issues of place. Often visually distinctive and unique to a regional ecosystem, the flora and fauna of Australia have shaped the development of Indigenous craft systems in this country. An ancient record of woven objects and body adornment exists in the rockart of indigenous Australians. The woven objects of Julie Djulibing Malibirr from Ramingining, North East Arnhem Land, display the traditional aspects of collecting plant fibres and dyes for making conical baskets along with a freedom associated with the creation of her own patterns. Her Mindirr basket is not a replica from a fixed point in the past, but rather a continuation of a dynamic craft form from Arnhem Land. In their creation of living and evolving objects, Indigenous communities invoke a sense of belonging and continuity, and facilitate the passing-down of craft skills to the next generation.

Whatever our nationality, we have never been more interested in experiences of place, wht the craft object, when containing recognisable symbols of place, becoming a meaningful substitute for the 'real'. They appeal when we believe that the craft practitioner has captured a quality , an authenticity of place for which we have an affinity. The object becomes a desireable link in our search to locate and experience where we have lived and travelled, as well as reflecting our future aspirations. Fundamentally, we respond to objects because we like them and their associations.

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