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slant

craft and commerce

Crafting session for Stephanie Syjuco’s The Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy), 2006–2008. Installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, 2008.

AT AI WEIWEI’S EXHIBITION at Tate Modern in London this past October, visitors tromping around in his installation of a hundred million handpainted porcelain sunflower seeds allegedly kicked up dangerous clouds of ceramic particles, prompting museum administrators to cordon off the work only a few days after its unveiling. Though the proverbial dust seems to have settled, the specter of outsourced labor that hovered over the masses of individually crafted seeds (made in Jingdezhen, China, a city known for its porcelain production) continues to inform debates about the ethics of hand-making in a global economy dependent on cheap factory labor. Ai’s work and the controversy around it are indicative of the disruptive nature of traditional handicraft within contemporary art, but also of the relatively easy containment of craft within institutional and market structures. Despite an

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