A Modern Response to Indigenous Craft


Modern Languages brings together five international artists and designers who have been invited to explore Ireland’s indigenous crafts and relate them to their own contemporary practices.

Barbara Ridland
Barbara Ridland

Curator Katy West has brought together a diverse selection of creative practitioners from Ireland, Scotland, Canada and Japan: Ciara Phillips, Nao Matsunaga, Laura Mays, Barbara Ridland and Deirdre Nelson.

These five individuals form a disparate group. There is no strong visual or ideological connection between them. Nothing in the exhibition screams ‘Irish!’ or ‘Celtic!’ but this is precisely the point. West wanted them to respond to Ireland’s crafts in ways that ‘are far removed from Celtic cliché or preconception’.

Nao Matsunaga has achieved this in a very simple manner. He chose to focus on the ‘currach’, a traditional wooden framed boat covered in animal hide or canvas and treated with tar or grease. Matsunaga’s sculpture Forlorn Tree brings together the three elements of wood, canvas and sealant to create a stark freestanding object with no recogniseable form. Does this ambiguous piece mourn the loss of the tree or of the craft of making currachs?

Laura Mays and Barbara Ridland’s projects bring together form and materials in new ways. Mays chose to focus on the Sligo or Tuam, a three-legged chair in which the back leg extends up to form the back rest. She also examined the economy of the Stefan, the cheapest upright chair available from IKEA. The most exciting object on display is a Stefan 4 in which the forms of the Tuam and the Stefan are merged together and rendered in cardboard.

Cardboard is also employed as a material by Ridland. She has used strips of cardboard to weave traditional basket vessels, objects that have social and cultural significance both to Ireland and her native Shetland. Printed on three of these is the phrase: ‘vernacular containers declare who they are and the community they come from’. The baskets are no longer simply objects but have become anthropological evidence.

Though both working with textiles, Ciara Phillips and Deirdre Nelson used their materials in strongly contrasting ways. Phillips worked with Studio Donegal, manufacturers of hand-woven cloth. She developed a more intimate collaborative process in which she sat by the weaver and made design decisions as the work progressed. Rather than designing from afar, this method allowed a more dynamic relationship to build between designer, weaver and textile.

Deirdre Nelson is the only practitioner in the exhibition to explore social media and new technology. Each of her items is accompanied by a QR code. Scanning the code with a mobile phone allows you to access further information about the inspiration behind or implication of the work. Surplus was a particularly poignant object, a knitted money box: ‘save, rip out, reknit and re-invest’. The QR code leads to a short essay on Irish ghost estates in which there are over 300,000 houses lying empty after the economic downturn.

We reviewed the exhibition at the Lighthouse in Glasgow, it is currently at An Tobar.

Review by Francesca Baseby

See: Modern Languages
Until 2 November 2013
Argyll Terrace, Tobermory, Isle of Mull PA75 6PB
Open Tues – Sat 10am–4pm

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