Brigitte Ho, Robyn Jensen, Alison Munn, Eleanor Stewart, Carmen Thompson: EMERGING

Sunday, May 25, 2014 ― Thursday, June 26, 2014

EMERGING is an exhibition of 5 artists/designer-makers who have recently graduated from contemporary craft programs in the province: Vancouver Community College Jewellery Art and Design Program (Alison Munn 2014 and Carmen Thompson 2013), Capilano University Textile Arts Diploma Program (Brigitte Ho 2013) and Kootenay School of the Arts Fibre Studio Program (Robyn Jensen 2013) and Jewellery and Small Object Design (Eleanor Stewart 2013).
These emerging artists are all young, self-directed, motivated, and have begun to develop a sound body of work in both production and one of a kind work.

At this time it is impossible to separate these young graduates from the programs/ schools they have attended. The influence of their instructors and mentors run deep, directing their development of expertise in knowledge and practice. Woven of sensitive collaborative relationships that advance the aesthetic maturity of both students and teachers alike, it is essential that we also acknowledge these programs and the instructors, celebrating their impact and influence on the wider craft community, past, present, and future.

In a time of budget cuts and upheaval in our provincial colleges, and with pressure from the government to train people to work on the proposed large LNG industries, the Vancouver Community College Jewellery Art and Design Program has been fortunate to receive continued funding. Their program is celebrated for its strong traditional roots in jewellery-making. In 2012 and 2013 however, two well-known art schools/programs in the province were either suspended or downsized. Capilano University in North Vancouver suspended the textiles, ceramics and studio arts programs last year (2013). In 2012, the Kootenay School of the Arts at Selkirk College was renamed Kootenay Studio Arts and the old programs and course content in clay, fibre and jewelry and small object design were downsized to a 10-month certificate in studio arts. These new programs were renamed the ceramics, textiles and jewellry studios, leaving the metal programs in blacksmithing and casting intact. These past programs at both Capilano and Kootenay School of the Arts were historically celebrated for their traditional and contemporary hands-on studies and business practices. Sadly three of the five exhibitors have graduated from programs which have either been removed from their alma-matter colleges or renamed.

(The CCBC was notified on May 22, that Selkirk College has decided to return to a two year diploma program, with a Studio Arts Certificate in first year and in September 2014, Selkirk will introduce a second year of studies which “will combine suitable pre-existing courses in other Selkirk College programs” such as Art History, Writing, Digital Web, Marketing, Peace Studies, and Women’s Studies, “with a directed studies requirement that will see students spend at least 18 hours a week in their chosen field.” This will broaden options for students to continue their education at other university and college programs after graduating from Selkirk College. )

Although this diploma is not the same as the one offered at the older Kootenay School of the Arts, it is a welcomed decision for craft education in the province, providing both a diploma in Studio Arts (with a major in hands-on studio studies while gaining credit for transfer in other areas) and an Open Studio Advanced Certificate for those in the community who wish to utilize the studios to develop new bodies of work and portfolio development under supervision of faculty. This means the facilities will remain open to the wider community and programs will continue, and hopefully, the potential will be nourished and encouraged to grow.

As the artists exhibit their work in EMERGING, these young makers are both reflecting the effects of these changes will have on the future of contemporary craft practice in the province as well as celebrating the vital opportunities they were given as students.

Reflection is important in times of transition. It takes courage to want to make more ‘stuff’ in this current post-modern digital era and to live in an environment described by an astonishing array of things. The reflections of these artists in such a world symbolize the decisions which every individual must make, no matter what their vocation. The artist has always been a seeker of meaning. The designer has consistently been concerned with good design as it relates to how well an object functions in the world and the maker has, throughout time memorial, been connected to the techniques and skills of the hand and heart. Passions for and attachments to each material’s physicality are also as important to the creative journey as the concept and techniques used. Each maker is connected to their materials and tools in a visceral way.

The materials, with which these artists work, however, are not limited to the substance out of which they create their work: it is the whole world in which inspires, influences, and directs. And indeed these are interesting times to live.

The sociologist, Richard Sennett, in his 2008 book, The Craftsman, made a case for homo faber or ‘man as maker’. Using examples of the workshops of the medieval guilds and the studio of violin-maker Antonio Stradivari, Sennett set out to prove the 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant’s dictum that “the hand is the window on to the mind”. It is only through making things, he says – by trying and failing and repeating – that we gain true understanding of the world. He is not, like some latter-day John Ruskin, arguing that handmade things are better than machine-made ones. He is simply saying that skilled manual labour – or indeed any craft – is one path to a fulfilling life.

The student exhibition, EMERGING, illustrates the skill, imagination, and the vitality characteristic of both traditional and contemporary craft in the province, even though some fine contemporary craft programs have been eliminated. In its broadest sense, craft refers to the creation of original objects through an artist’s disciplined manipulation of material. With the accumulation of working knowledge, skills and practices of reflection, it is hoped, each artist’s work will continue to develop in the interplay between tradition and the search for innovation.

These 5 students are concerned for their future and the future of their mediums, yet, craft, by its very nature represents a unity of hand and spirit, which connects and prevails within all humankind and reaffirms the human element in daily life. Craft has been called the most socialized of the arts, and has more often than not been organized in small dynamic communities. This is the strength for its future in light of educational programs closing and downsizing. Amid mass production and current trends there is, in the end, a broad legacy and network, which this writer has faith in. Already there are small movements throughout the province, encouraging renewal, re-invention and positive impulses to keep hands-on practices alive and vital. In the end, the essential human elements will prevail. This province and country and the wider world are on fire politically and environmentally. As these students stand on the threshold and prepare to meet the world with their enthusiasm and their skills in delivering a more meaningful possibility, let us stand with them, celebrating their art and their poetic visions as a continuum in the broader lineage of makers, artists, and designers.

“Nowhere in life is more difficult than in the Arctic, yet when life there is reduced to its barest essentials, art and poetry turn out to be among those essentials. Art to the Eskimo is far more than an object: it is an act of seeing and expressing life’s values; it is a ritual of exploration by which patterns of nature and of human nature are revealed by man (the human touch).”
Edmund Carpenter, Image Making in Artic Art 1950’s

Listen to our interview with Curator Maggie Tchir

The Natural and Manufactured Landscape
Eleanor Stewart and Carmen Thompson
The land, whether natural / wild or manufactured / man-made with its abstracted forms have highly influenced both Carmen Thompson and Eleanor Stewart’s jewelry work.Eleanor Stewart lives in northern coastal British Columbia where nature is reflected in her daily life. Whether working as a jeweller or a culinary chef, Stewart brings the land, the wild flavours and forms, both literally and metaphorically into her creations in her food and in her silver jewellery. Her work is delicate yet presents strong impressions, as does the natural landscape wherein she lives. She speaks to the idea of fluidity between ‘salt and stream – a wealth of water giving life to beauty’.

Carmen Thompson on the other hand, works not only with the natural world but with inspiration born of manufactured landscapes. Architecture speaks to her with its bold and graphic abstract forms. Manufactured rails and trains also fascinate her because they signify moving forward and the ever changing landscape. She works in sterling silver using soldering, piercing and polishing.
View interview with Carmen Thompson here

Cycle of Life – Seasonal Journeys
Robyn JensenRobyn Jensen is inspired and reflects on the repetitive cycle of the seasons. Living in a forest, on a mountain in the West Kootenay, she lives close to nature. Jensen works with woven cloth and is nurtured by natural processes such as traditional spinning and winding the fibres before colouring them from wild-crafted dyes and pigments. She always chooses natural fibres, from both animal and plants; wool, silk, linen, and cotton blends. Embellishment in embroidery and beadwork are final touches that speak to slow cloth, traditional rhythms personalized with the idea of journeys in time and space.

Her flowing wrap skirt Autumn, reflects both the fall season and adulthood, when the fruits of labour are gathered and shared. The skirt’s soft pinks are a mirror to the blossoms and berries of the season. The collecting of resources at this time of year is for the benefit of the community. It is also about thinking beyond oneself, and to future generations that Jensen speaks with deep concern about the state of contemporary and traditional craft.

“As a weaver, it can be quite disheartening to work in a world where people would rather pay 5 to 10 dollars on a scarf, mass-produced in sweatshops made from man-made fibres, made halfway around the world and now conveniently available for purchase in places like Wal Mart”. Jensen continues, “Masters within their fields are beginning to reach retirement, and often there isn’t anyone interested in learning and continuing the long tradition of craft. Much knowledge is being allowed to simply disappear. I am grateful for the chance I have had to spend time with mentors within my field. I plan to do my part in keeping traditional craft alive, connecting with others as motivated as I am. I believe that if, even one person, feels a connection and learns the magic of hand-made and intentional work, then I must be doing something right!”

All five exhibitors share this sentiment of network and community and how important it is to the success of one’s studio practice.