'Manufractured' exhibition takes mass-produced objects and tames them into art.
Contemporary artists could show the writer of Ecclesiastes a thing or two. They directly challenge the oft-quoted lament, "There's nothing new under the sun" by constructing eloquent and unexpected art out of ordinary, mass-produced objects such as pocket combs and plastic bottles.Skip to next paragraph
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Artists have incorporated recycled materials such as glass, metal, and plastic for decades. The difference today is a focus on the use of brand-new, straight-off-the-shelf consumer goods, says Steven Skov Holt, who, along with Mara Holt Skov, his wife, organized the exhibition "Manufractured: The Conspicuous Transformation of Everyday Objects" at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Ore.
The 15 artists in the exhibition manipulate consumer goods such as street maps, spools of thread, toy soldiers, and cellophane tape. They cut, stack, tie, fold, stitch, and mold the materials into new forms, often using painstaking handcrafting techniques. Their process finds parallels in the world of rap and hip-hop music, in which street noises and samples of other music are captured and remastered to create a unique sound.
Steven, who uses the example of hip-hop music in his introduction to the exhibition catalog, doesn't mind people making a link between the creative process of rap and that of contemporary craft. "Craft should be so lucky" as to enjoy the enormous popularity of hip-hop, he says with a laugh.
The couple teaches design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Steven's background centers on industrial design and Mara's involves art history. They were cocurators for a previous exhibition on "Blobjects," about items designed to mimic the rounded, human-friendly shapes found in biology.
Here they make a compelling case for a new art movement taking shape, born out of a necessity that many artists feel to both co-opt the trappings of consumerism and to comment on the culture at large. The couple has observed a blurring of boundaries among the art disciplines and the emergence of a working style that borrows heavily from the traditions of craft and handwork, but welds it firmly to modern-day technology and concerns. Steven coined the term "manufractured" to describe the breaking apart that mass-produced objects undergo during their transformation from banal products to extraordinary creations.
The resulting art can be viewed on several levels: as simply beautiful objects, as social commentary, and as inspiration for future product design. One could envision Mitra Fabian's elegant, translucent vessels from her 2005 "Proliferation Series," made by layering strips of cellophane tape, as the prototype for a new kind of portable lighting, for example.
These artists, by living in an industrialized society that churns out billions of perfectly uniform widgets daily, can also become driven to emulate that machinelike perfection in their work. Some of them use tools like computers, but others attempt to reproduce that sense of uniformity with their own hands.