fri 24/10/2014

Power of Making, Victoria and Albert Museum | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews

Power of Making, Victoria and Albert Museum

There's something for everyone in this hectic celebration of craft and design

'Power of Making': Charlie Le Mindu's human-hair 'Blond Lips' riffs on Mae West© Manu Valcarce

Hands on! Power of Making has it all: one of the most surprising and exciting collections of contemporary stuff on view for many a while. Some is functional, from coffins to bicycles, wine caskets, guns, bespoke shoes. Some would not be out of place in a contemporary sculpture show: life-size predatory creatures include David Mach’s King Silver Gorilla made out of silver wire hangers, Shauna Richardson’s life-size crocheted brown Crochetdermy Bear (pictured below), while Ji Yonf Ho’s shark made out of tyres swims in the air above us.

Hands on! Power of Making has it all: one of the most surprising and exciting collections of contemporary stuff on view for many a while. Some is functional, from coffins to bicycles, wine caskets, guns, bespoke shoes. Some would not be out of place in a contemporary sculpture show: life-size predatory creatures include David Mach’s King Silver Gorilla made out of silver wire hangers, Shauna Richardson’s life-size crocheted brown Crochetdermy Bear (pictured below), while Ji Yonf Ho’s shark made out of tyres swims in the air above us.

As well as hand-done work there are lots of new machines, as artists learn to collaborate with 3D replicators, and other high-tech bits - part of the future evidently being machines which send data to other machines which then make the actual thing, untouched by human hand. Humans of course do the inventing and the programming; only now are we within sight of making a machine which can replicate human dexterity.

How did Daniel Charny, the outsider curator (tutor at the Royal College, inventor, product designer) and his colleagues make this anthology of high-tech and low-tech objects so fascinating and unexpected? The net has been cast wide from folk art to high fashion. From the work of artists, inventors, designers, scientists and craftsmen we see how things – ranging from the eminently practical to the totally useless, the gorgeous to the bizarre, the mysterious to the visually articulate – are made today.

power of making crochetdermy bearThe V&A is the natural home for this groundbreaking exhibition, as the collection was set up to provide exemplars for the practice of innovative and profitable design (just for starters, the museum houses Sir Alexander Issigonis’s drawings for the Morris Mini Minor, as well as Constable’s sketchbooks). Power of Making is the second triannual show in collaboration with the Crafts Council.

Here is a commemorative quilt from Bosnia, for Srebrenica, from an amateur collective, and there Andrew Loudon’s dry stone wall, showing four different building techniques. On view is a lion coffin from Ghana, Alexander McQueen’s Armadillo Shoes, and glittering in its glass case the metallic flow of Susie MacMurray’s marvellously unwearable ball gown for a widow made out of 100,000 dressmaker pins (no safety pins here).

Who would have thought that protheses would be so engaging? Well, it may come to us all. Among the array on view: David Carpenter’s artificial eyes for Moorfields Hospital, Aviya Serfaty’s very airy artificial leg made out of carbon fibre, air and a flexible skin, and artificial shins in various media; the glass artist Matt Duran with his mesmerising prototypes of noses for future transplant; Peter Butcher’s surgical implant which has embroidered flowers all round for the surgeon’s sutures; Damien O’Sullivan provides a Delft eye patch, fetching elbow crutch and the like; TouchBionics' i-LIMB electronic prosthetic arm, a marvel in which each finger can be moved separately by its wearer.  

Michael Thompson’s all-wood Splinter Bike, low-tech and obsessively hand-done, has broken the speed record (11.25mph) for wooden bicycles. It was made in a shed in Norwich. At the other end of the spectrum there are four collaborators and manufacturers for a lady’s version of the Bio Suit, the latest extra-vehicular space suit (just as all space journeys are ending, of course).  

dalton-alphabet

Some of the most subtle works on view are Dalton Ghetti’s three Pencil Tip Art pieces, a procession of 26 wooden pencil stubs (pictured above) standing to attention, each protruding bit of lead carved painstakingly by hand into a letter of the alphabet. Designer Charlie Le Mindu does a riff – Blond Lips - on Mae West, partly made of human hair, and as worn by Lady Gaga.

The whole considered glittering, gleaming heap of things is a mix of contemporary craft and the unconventional. There is furniture in the shape of John Makepeace’s wavy golden Sand Cabinet, traditional craftsmanship exemplified in the handmade bespoke shoes from Lobb of St James’s (founded 1849) and wicker coffins made from Somerset wetlands willow from the 200-year-old firm PH Coate and Son. To nudge us into the now, there is an alarmingly life-like and life-size edible Baby Cake, lying on its back, all dressed up in nightgown, cap and booties, by Michelle Wibowo.

Like it, love it or loathe it, there is not a single thing on view here that is not worth looking at. This compilation of 100 or so "makers", or artists, or craftsmen, or what you will, is more than fresh air: a visit makes you feel you are high from your very own tank of oxygen. I went for an hour and stayed for the day. Terrific.

This is one of the most surprising and exciting collections of contemporary stuff on view for many a while

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