Up now at Current Space is a twelve-person group show exploring the topic of the handmade. The works in Division of Labor run the gamut from the repetitious graphite drawing practice of Renee van der Stelt, to a video piece by David Prince, Attempt at Perpetual Motion, depicting a man felling a tree, planing and sawing it down into a large wooden “slinky” and letting it loose on a shopping mall escalator. In between are works in wood, needlework, plastic, and wax; employing both traditional and more unconventional practices and materials. In every case, there is the implication of painstaking labor and handiwork. Take, for example, JK Keller and Keetra Dean Dixon‘s SUDDENLY, made by coating layer upon layer of multicolor wax and paint around molded letters spelling out the titular word. It resembles most of all a strange geological formation, and this kind of hybridity between the natural and the manmade emerged as a secondary theme in Division of Labor. Co-curator Christian Donnelly made a “P.E.T. Rock Formation” from hundreds of rings taken out of found plastic bottles, Jason Meyer and Marian April Glebes incorporated animal and insect parts into their works (Meyer’s Stayed Gone, rendered in molded and “rammed earth,” was also included), and Mike Rea displayed a jaw bone made out of finely carved and sanded wood.
In the pamphlet accompanying the exhibition, co-curators Christian Donnelly, Jason Meyer and Skye Gilkerson posit that, “In this time of mass manufacturing and outsourcing, making by hand can be a potent and rebellious act.” The current “return” to the handmade is often articulated in these terms, as a critical backlash against both the aesthetics of the hyper-glossy and mass-produced, as well as the total lack of connection consumers feel to the the manufacture of the goods they purchase and depend on. A less acknowledged aspect of this return is the melancholy of acknowledging all that’s been lost in between the inception of a more traditional labor or craft practice, and today. This is true in the arts, as it’s true with food, clothing, and other domestic goods.
What role can a given artist take today, when there are thousands of people all over the world practicing art, and even more with the tools to make works in video and photo, the likes of which were once reserved for the artistic population? When the preceding century was filled both with so much inspiring experimentation, and so much crass commercialism? The artists in this exhibition have chosen a strategy both personal and political, and the results are often quite beautiful (as well as sometimes humorous). Although the increasingly widespread emphasis on labor and the handmade in contemporary art has meant that themes (and cliches) have had time to emerge, the handmade still maintains a unique feeling. In the moment of encounter, these types objects are quite rich, and puzzling out how they were made immensely pleasurable.
Division of Labor is up until April 15th and is definitely worth the visit. Hours of operation are Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00 to 4:00, and there will be a closing brunch on Saturday.