Medium Resistance: Revolutionary Tendencies in Print and Craft

Medium Resistance: Revolutionary Tendencies in Print and Craft


David Rhys Jones, Encounters 2, 2005, ceramic with transfer printing, 3 x 3.5 x 17 in. overall.

The Icebox
Crane Arts Building
Philadelphia, PA
March 5 - April 3, 2010

"Medium Resistance" offered an intriguing snapshot of a certain kind of craftsmanship: ambitious, largely academic and unconcerned with traditional boundaries. The exhibit was conceived by Philip Glahn, Richard Hricko and Nicholas Kripal, all teachers at Tyler School of Art in, respectively, critical studies, printmaking and ceramics. The curators saw the latter two disciplines as forms of craft, which is not so provocative as it might seem. Both disciplines are rooted in skilled handwork, and both are under threat from the fashion for post-studio education. Despite its leftist rhetoric, the exhibit was a persuasive argument for the continued relevance of skilled work in the visual arts.

Those skills ranged from the highly traditional to the digital, and all points in between. The most conventional skill on display took the form of large woodcuts by Martin Mazorra, like his edgy Popular American Flightless Shit Bird. Here was proof that craftsmanship is not confined to the familiar craft mediums. Other works, like the maps compiled by Bill Rankin, spoke more about diligent research than any kind of handwork. ( But most works played in the space between art and craft, the hand and the digital domain.

An installation of 36 ceramic plates by Robert Dawson is a case in point. Each plate was printed with a segment of the familiar Blue Willow pattern. Presumably, the pattern was scanned and converted into a digital file before being transferred back onto china blanks. The work was an amusing rumination on historical ornament and how it might be refreshed for the 21st century. Colette Fu exhibited three huge, wonderful pop-up books, each assembled by hand-but all the imagery looked like it came from a digital printer. Both artists showed how old boundaries between mediums and techniques are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Furthermore, Dawson's and Fu's works suggest that the primary artist's tool is now Photoshop.

Other artists ignore the seductions of the digital. Piper Shepard's gorgeous wall piece of pierced canvas and thousands of corsage pins looked like it should have been fabricated by laser, but was in fact laboriously cut and installed by hand. The modest irregularities of handwork added a human presence that would otherwise have been lacking.

A 50-page color catalog is available from Crane Arts, [email protected] The essay is unfortunate--I was afraid that Mr. Glahn would start quoting Chairman Mao's Little Red Book at any moment. But the exhibit was outstanding. Borders in art are quickly dissolving, and "Medium Resistance" showed how the current trend toward hybrids can be a very good thing.

Bruce Metcalf is a Philadelphia-based jeweler.