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crumbling ecologies: craft, community, fragility

Craft and community are intertwined concepts, but both are under threat. Our affection for all things handmade has not been enough to preserve the fringes of arts education during tough economic times.

Artist Jasmine Targett noticed this, and from it sprang a sprawling, delicate project that brought countless crafters together. What emerged was her series Crumbling Ecologies, a nod to the precarious place arts education currently holds in Australia, and the loss that we could suffer should we neglect it.

If the craft community has truly been dwindling though, you couldn’t tell it from the crisp night that saw the project debut in Melbourne. Streams of people wound their way downstairs into Craft Victoria’s warm exhibition space, floating around the soil and porcelain that make up Targett’s work. People were cosy, excited, and keen to congratulate her on a job beautifully done.

The centre of the project is her piece Crumbling Ecology, a work that was completed in the Monash Ceramic Studio, the last piece to be created in the space before its closure. The installation is made up over 35,000 hand made porcelain geraniums, created one by one by various members of the craft community in Victoria and NSW.

These lie piled softly and silently on the floor of the studio space, delicate pieces that form different shapes and structures together. In Melbourne, geraniums sit on the border of plant and weed, with their sheer numbers contributing to their “pesky and outdated” status. Yet Targett has played with their place in our lives and created something fragile and beautiful, in a way that both explores our preconceptions of are as an “outdated” mode of art, but also makes us consider conservation of nature and art alike.Viewers are encouraged to take a flower from the floor home and pay what they think it is worth, in a move that had everyone comparing the shapes and structures of each geranium, excitedly trading pieces.

“Because they’re closing a number of craft based studios at different universities, I wanted to find a way to bring the community together before it was too late,” Targett says. When she sent out calls for those interested in collaborating, she was surprised at the number of people from different states that were keen to help. While arts and craft courses were being slashed across the nation, there was still a large group of people interested in extending projects outside of university classrooms.

Attacks on arts education would affect the artistic and social connections of the many women who lead crafty projects within Australia, something highlighted in her use of flowers encased in furniture belonging to the old Monash studio. “I think that women are quite good at being social, and sitting down and doing quite detailed kind of work,” Targett says with a smile. “It’s not about having to go outside and build great big things. It’s about appreciating the small things, and learning about other people through making and doing things together.”

Craft Victoria’s gallery curator, Debbie Pryor, agrees. “I don’t think it’s a conscious thing, that so many women are involved,” she laughs. “But it is important for Craft Victoria to allow comment for things like the closure of craft studios. And to see craft as a part of visual design, as building a community.”

Crumbling Ecologies reveals popularity that remains for craft, in a very social setting. Watching people kneel cautiously on creaky floorboards, touching at tiny leaves and flowers with pulsing veins, is an immensely encouraging sight.

It’s a reminder that our arts community is made up of delicate and valuable parts, and that all environments can be preserved with the collaboration of people.

The Crumbling Ecologies Project: Craft Victoria, 27 April – 9 June 2012

(Image credit: 1.)

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