“40 Under 40: Craft Futures”

Renwick Gallery
1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
July 20, 2012–February 3, 2013

L.J. Roberts, The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Breukelen, Boswyck, and Midwout During the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era, 2011, polyfill, acrylic, rayon, Lurex, wool, polyester, cotton, lamé, sequins, blended fabrics, metal, plastic, and paper pins, 9’ x 9’ 6” x 11’ 6”.

This exhibition, which is curated by Nicholas R. Bell and features forty emerging artists working at the intersection of art and craft, has a title that provokes futuristic visions. In keeping with the current shift to digital technology, viewers might expect this show to champion an erasure of the evidence of the hand in production that was traditionally associated with craft. Indeed, there is little messiness here, but what one finds instead is an uncanniness that stems from the actual bodies that constantly intervene on the more controlled, product-oriented facets of craft.

Olek’s installation Knitting Is for Pus****, 2005–11, for instance, which takes up an entire room of the show, features live performers closely cocooned from head to toe in brightly colored knit body stockings and inhabiting a dystopian scene of other crochet-covered objects (a bathtub, for instance). Several works feature live models as well: In Stephanie Liner’s Mementos of a Doomed Construct, 2012, a woman wears a dress with fabric that is also constitutive of the nearly seven-foot padded dome in which she silently sits. Throughout the show, the irregularities of human flesh and movement collide with objects that would otherwise be destined for the rack or the pedestal.

This must be the future of craft for Bell: a sort of lived experience bumping up against rarefied or antiquated modes of cultural production. L. J. Roberts’s knit-and-sequined tapestry The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Breukelen, Boswyck, and Midwout during the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era, 2011, maps several contemporary queer collective houses in Brooklyn using a drawing by Roberts’s friend Daniel Rosza Lang/Levitsky and an illustration by Buzz Slutzky. Roberts’s inclusion of lamé and sequins—materials long associated with campy drag costumes—help affirm the show’s message that, in the future, craft will be less about the hand than about the entire body.

— Katie Anania