Paul Donnelly exhibition at the Clay Studiomore
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Crafted Form in Stockholm
Whatever the words used, over the last decade a rich dialogue about craft’s changing goals, aesthetics and values has been incited by a visionary group of Stockholm residents.
In English we use the word “craft” as a verb and a noun, referring to myriad ways of making and many different types of objects. In Swedish, there is no such all-encompassing term. There is konsthantverk, which means craft that aspires to be like art, and there is hantverk, which refers to hobby handicraft. The act of crafting is called hantverka and not konsthantverka.
Whatever the words used, over the last decade a rich dialogue about craft’s changing goals, aesthetics and values has been incited by a visionary group of Stockholm residents. In 2007 a new name for their focal point emerged: formhantverk, or crafted form. As Zandra Ahl, known to be the enfant terrible of the Stockholm craft scene, and her collaborator, ceramist Päivi Ernkvist, wrote in the foreword to their book Crafted Form (craftedform.se), they coined the term to refer to “activities that are on the borders of and in dialogue with crafts and design, [with an] emphasis on communication and discussion of issues.”
In Stockholm there are many vibrant spaces to experience formhantverk, most of them run by makers themselves. Founded in 1998, Galleri IngerMolin opened its doors right when Stockholm's new craft movement gained momentum. “I show what I believe to be the strongest, most distinctive, or most moving elements in contemporary crafts,” dealer Inger Molin declares on her website. She was one of the first to recognize Ahl, who was then a highly provocative student at Stockholm’s Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, by including her in the gallery's inaugural STARS exhibition. Launched in 1998 and continues on an irregularly programmed basis, STARS highlights the best emerging work in the city. Over the years Molin has spotlighted locals such as Per B. Sundberg, a glass and ceramist who worked for more than a decade as an Orrefors designer, and Maria Boij, a ceramic artist and member of the dynamic craft collective WeWork-InAFragileMaterial (WWIAFM). While Molin has a slight focus on ceramics, Håkan Lindgren's contribution to STARS 2009 included a tiny hole in a wall that visitors were invited to feel with their fingers, and Märit Runsten's alluring 2009 solo debut consisted of sewn, stuffed textile sculptures.
At Crystal Palace the focus is explicitly generational, not material. The gallery, founded in 2007 by Katarina Sjögren and Jun-Hi Wennergren Nordling, represents young makers such as Ahl, now a ceramic and glass professor at Konstfack; Leif Holmstrand, an artist who works with knitting, crocheting and hooking; and Åsa Jungnelius, a glass and ceramic artist and wwiafm member whose recent work leans toward sculpture.
“We don't label the work we represent,” Sjögren explains, “and I think that’s a generational thing. Our generation grew up thinking of craft as a meeting spot.” While Sjögren maintains that the space is a commercial art gallery, she also says that, “our mission is to question the structure of a gallery... it’s hard to pin down, but that's the point. We want to be open to our surroundings and to what interests us.” Like IngerMolin, Crystal Palace reserves the right to irregular programming. “We want to use our skills as cultural producers to find other ways of representing people, like by curating shows outside of the gallery,” Sjögren says.
Platina, a jewelry gallery located just a short walk from Crystal Palace, also advocates an experimental approach. Founded in 1999 by jewelry maker Sofia Björkman, the space initially looks like a regular shop, but opens up to a large gallery and studio space that can offer exhibitions and seminars. According to Björkman, “at Platina you will find no ordinary manufactured jewelry. Instead you'll meet with protesting jewelry, storytelling, gossiping, chanting and crying jewelry.”
Uglycute, a collective consisting of two artists, Markus Degerman and Jonas Nobel; an architect, Fredrik Stenberg; and an interior designer, Andreas Nobel, also offers exhibitions, workshops, lectures and seminars inside a multi-purpose space. Since they started working together in 2000, Uglycute has created ’zines, objects and interior designs that reevaluate accepted truths about craft aesthetics and meanings. Recent Uglycute public programs have included a seminar on French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and a release party for the art and theory magazine Merge.
The largest space dedicated to contemporary craft is about 20 minutes outside of the city, in the tiny, seaside town of Gustavsberg. Dag Landvik, who owns most of the historic ceramic and porcelain factory buildings there, asked Caroline Södergren, the director of his glass workshop, to create a contemporary gallery out of the building where factory workers used to pray. Södergren persuaded ceramic artists Maj Sandell and Agneta Linton to develop and run the space, named Gustavsbergs Konsthall. Sandell, the artistic director, and Linton, exhibition producer, opened the spacein 2007 and have hired a team to help them produce five to eight museum-like exhibitions per year.
“The craft field in Sweden is very strong and fast moving, but there was no institution to advance our discussions,” Linton explains. “There have been very good isolated efforts, but we wanted to do something more long term.” With over 1,200 square feet of space, Gustavsbergs Konsthall has been able to host major contemporary craft exhibitions, such as the 2009/2010 “Tumult - A Dialogue on Craft in Movement” show, which included historically significant works from the 1960s and ’70s alongside a site-specific, three-dimensional board game created by WWIAFM. Other exhibitions have included the contemporary glass overview “Red Bear Green Goat” and “Hit My Eye,” a film and video screening of works about the performance of craft. Gustavsbergs Konsthall also runs a vital Ceramic & Glass Expo, which is a reasonably priced store of books, videos, and classical and avant-garde ceramics and glass.
The membership-based studio program G-studion is located around the corner from Gustavsbergs Konsthall. Several artists who work at the Konsthall, such as up-and-coming ceramist August Sörenson, have studio space there. Located in three interconnected former factory buildings, these studio spaces provide community, kilns and access to the public through several open houses per year. Once accepted into the program, the G-studion residents can stay as long as they like. Rent subsidies are available from the government to those who live in Stockholm.
Back in the city, there are other spaces to look at contemporary craft, but they are itinerant and unpredictable. You have to train your eyes to find bright spots of tactile color, maybe around a bench, a streetlamp or a bike rack. There are two local groups responsible for this knitted graffiti-Masquerade and Stickkontakt-and the definitive way to tell them apart is to check the nametag tied into their homemade fabric. From their playful work to the driven efforts of Zandra Ahl, Stockholm is a city of makers who have taken crafted form into their own hands.
Sabrina Gschwandtner, a New York City-based artist and writer, is the author of KnitKnit: Profiles + Projects from Knitting's New Wave (2007).