Now in its fifth year ‘Jerwood Makers Open’ features the work of five artists selected through a nationwide open call. The open, organised by Jerwood Visual Arts and shown at Jerwood Space in London, presents the chosen five artists with a substantial commission to produce new work for the exhibition that will eventually go on to tour nationally.
The focus of the work is to challenge and explore the intersection between the applied arts and contemporary visual art, to skew the lines between these formally disparate areas through open-ended experimentation. The aim of the open, then, is to bring together, within the realm of making, the skilled production of an object with a strongly conceptual component, making both equally apparent in the final outcome.
The first makers encountered are Silo Studio, a duo with a background in engineering and design. Their bowls of varying sizes are presented on plinths in the foyer of the building and are collectively titled ‘Newton’s Bucket’. The bowls each feature a different design of swirl-like patterns that appear sometimes cosmic and precise, sometimes tribal, painterly and primitive. The bowls alone do not really serve to drastically shift perceived perceptions of the applied art, they are instead very much what you might expect. What is more interesting is the video opposite that reveals the making process. The artists have constructed a technique inspired by Isaac Newton that casts the bowls but also allows manipulation of the material to create the spun decorative patterns. To this end they can be seen using tools to trace new patterns that give a strong sense of movement to these static objects. The video itself acts as a document of the making process, it brings to mind mid-century gestural abstraction oddly coupled with this very deliberate system of making rooted in the world of science and technology.
On the far wall Jasleen Kaur’s ‘Marbled Busts’ employ their medium as their message. The three large busts are colourful caricatures of the very western-centric tradition of the revered marble bust of a prominent male. Kaur casts instead in plastic, the medium of mass production, each figure featuring a pastiche marble-effect splash of colour. There is then, in her work, a mingling of high and low cultural references activated by the process of making and the material used.
In the first gallery Zachary Eastwood-Bloom’s ‘Partition’ is a very large and intricate structure made from ceramic that sections off the entire gallery. Comprised of row upon row of identically-sized black cuboids, the structure from a distance is imposing, even austere. Close up, however, the extreme fragility of the ceramic is apparent. Suddenly the structure seems very delicate, as if it could collapse in on itself at any moment. It is a wonderful juxtaposition brought about by the use of the ceramic and the vastness of the work. There is also a play between the technical and methodical construction of each identical cube, and the realisation that the structure is in fact handmade. The artist is then painstakingly mimicking the precision and industry of technology.
The work across the partition is Ian McIntyre’s ‘A Ton of Clay’. Hundreds of stoneware plates, seemingly rudimentarily thrown, reference craft and industry simultaneously in their imperfect form and in their sheer number. The clay seems almost malleable and still wet. Like its neighbour, this work is playing with the process of making by producing these plates with ex-industrial machinery. It is almost the inverse of ‘Partition’, its imperfections are in fact produced by industry.
The final work on show is Malene Hartmann Rasmussen’s ‘In The Dead of Night.’ It is starkly different from the other works in that it is a complete multimedia installation in which ceramics comprise a key element. The total effect is a kitsch hymn to the dark side of children’s fairy tales complete with flowers, trees and ceramic figures of rabbit-like creatures that at first appear amusingly benign but on closer inspection verge on the grotesque in their strange shiny proportions. The entire scene seems to evoke the opaque side of the human psyche, somewhere between early childhood imaginings and the outer reaches of the subconscious.
Some works here are of course more successful than others, particularly Eastwood-Bloom’s ‘Partition’ and this final work that most obviously engages with the visual arts in its use of mixed media and installation. These reveal the potential of artists and makers working within the realms of what has traditionally been termed the applied arts to challenge and redefine this area, producing work that has an emphasis on making but also on thinking. The end result is the production of objects fully engaged in a discursive and interdisciplinary visual arena.