V&A: The Power of Making Exhibition
In collaboration with the Crafts Council
Free admission Until 2 January 2012
For those thinking of heading to the V&A or for those who know they can’t make it, here are a few thoughts. Sadly, I can’t post images but here’s the link if you want to take a look.
First thing’s first (it had centre stage for a reason), I have to write about ‘A prosthetic suit for Stephen Hawking’ by Michael Rea. This embodies every man-child’s fantasy – a crazy robot suit that would empower even the most feeble of geeks (no meanness is directed to Stephen Hawking in particular there), into a Demi-god warrior fit for a manga battle.
Crafted delicately and cleverly with minute pieces of wood, it could certainly withstand Samurai combat (well, at least for a bit). Okay, it doesn’t shoot rays but it is ingeniously built, a thing of testosterone-fueled beauty and it is ‘craft for craft’s sake’.
On to more typical crafting, not to be missed was a series of embroidered samplers made by a prisoner of war, Major A.T. Casdagli, while in captivity at Warburg, Germany in December 1941.
The most moving of all the pieces on display, these samplers are interesting for the skill and time applied to them but they wouldn’t pack a punch if it wasn’t for the message and the history they have woven into them.
Using threads scavenged from a Greek General’s pajamas and parachute material, Casdagli stitched his name (and secret Morse code messages) for posterity.
He’s son later said: “My father used to say that the Red Cross had saved his life, while embroidery had preserved his sanity.”
From the sad to the sublime, included in the exhibition was a DIY cross-stitch Fendi hangbag (gosh, where is my Christmas wish list?! The ‘Baguette needlepoint kit’ is complete with Fendi threads, needles, thimbles and a clutch ready to get to work on. Sadly there’s no ‘for sale’ sign though!
Christien Meindertsma’s large knitted Aran rug is crafted with massively oversized knitting needles and wool. It demonstrates that a skill is dependent on the scale and suitability of the material. Besides all that, it looks luxuriously cosy and being like a giant’s home-knit jumper makes you feel like a Borrower just looking at it!
Dalton Ghetti’s minutely carved pencils each have a tiny letter of the alphabet cut into their tip, showing that sculpture really can come in any form.
There was also a patchwork quilt that can digitally map the shape of any object laid upon it, but most exciting was a Manel Torres spray-on dress made using a material and technic he devised while at the Royal College of Art. The spray on fabric strands, which cling to one another to create a solid material, can be used to create many forms, from a dress, to upholstery, bandages or spray-on nappies, the exhibition suggests.
But the exhibition is by no means limited to fashion and fabrics – indeed innovation is the fore-thought of the collection.
Example one is the ‘Airbike’, the first workable nylon bike. A creation of EADs (those are the guys who design space shuttles and Airbus planes), the Airbike has clean, bold lines; it’s very white and very Shoreditch. Think iPhone 4 in white and on wheels.
But by far the blingiest two-wheeler was the ‘Downlow low-rider bike’ hand-built and encrusted with 110,000 Swarovski crystals. Long, stretched, sleek and decidedly shiny, it was more like couture jewelry than a ride to work. And think how long it would last in Dalston!
More on the subject of innovation, let’s discuss Sugru, which was shown at the exhibition, it allows a user to fix an item or form a shape with a material which dries on contact with the air. Once dry it’s malleable, washable and durable. Rather like Blu-tak and Super glue in one.
A highlight of the lot though was Oliver Herring’s ‘Alex photo sculpture’.
In his work, Herring photographed every part of his subject, Alex’s, body. He then printed, cut and fitted each image to make a life-sized model complete with tattoos, hair and naval. Bar the bright paper (which he tessellated like colour-pop autumn leaves), this was incredibly life-like (in fact I’m pretty sure it was Eminem!).
The curators of this collection want to get us lot thinking about the subject of craft and what it includes – from clothing to robots and anything inbetween. And it does just that, reminding us that the word ‘craft’ is not the secret password to the WWI, but another word for ‘skill’ or ‘make’, infact, it’s means to describe what makes us human, not merely animal.