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Berwick exhibition reveals craft with a social conscience

Hidden Agenda: Socially Conscious Craft, is a new exhibition opening in Berwick at the Granary Gallery this weekend

Todd-White Art Photography A Willow for Ai Weiwei, Wen Tao, Lin Zhenggang, Zhang Jinsong, Hu Ming
A Willow for Ai Weiwei, Wen Tao, Lin Zhenggang, Zhang Jinsong, Hu Ming

Craft used to have a rather rustic and cosy image, sitting somewhere not too far removed from hobby in many people’s minds.

Naturally, many makers and designers have fought tigerishly against this apparent slur on their professionalism, creativity and dedication.

Grayson Perry, with his Turner Prize win and TV profile, has helped to turn this notion round. So has Paul Scott, the ceramicist from Cumbria whose delicate willow pattern scenes are as likely to feature a pylon or a power station as a quaint little bridge beneath a tree.

In fact, nowadays, I tend to look out for this sort of contemporary refererence when confronted with any new body of work presented as craft.

In a new exhibition called Hidden Agenda: Socially Conscious Craft, coming to Berwick’s Granary Gallery at the weekend, I won’t have to look very hard.

The exhibition, curated by Berwick Visual Arts, the Crafts Council and artist Doug Jones, features work by makers and designers who use craft as a platform for social comment and provocation.

Subversion is very much the name of the game, with the overturning of lazy and outdated assumptions about craft top of the agenda.

Among the exhibits will be a new work by Doug Jones called Generation, which comprises 54 pairs of cast chicken feet individually finished by Jones and his team in a bronze foundry in China.

According to the Crafts Council, the work “explores several social aspects linked to its production, including the concept of fair trade and ethics in manufacturing and the correct sourcing and processing of materials, while respecting the tradition and authenticity of the craft employed”.

Jones chose 11 objects from the Crafts Council Collection, covering issues such as social injustice, propaganda and the use of materials. One piece, Hundreds and Thousands, by jewellery maker Angela O’Kelly, is made from circular cut-outs from The Financial Times, emphasising the importance of workmanship over the value of the materials used.

There is also an early work by Grayson Perry, a pot titled Mad Kid’s Bedroom Wall, whose imagery evokes a sense of menace.

Also on display are ceramic works by North East craft maker Karen Thompson commenting on issues such as hunting and the food chain.

James Lowther, of Berwick Visual Arts, says: “It has been really exciting to work with the Crafts Council Collection to select and exhibit these works at The Granary Gallery, and help us to achieve our aim of bringing works from national and international art collections to Berwick.”

Annabelle Campbell, head of exhibitions and collections at the Crafts Council, says: “Hidden Agenda was developed through our Curate with Us scheme, which enables us to work with curators and venues to draw on our nationally important collection of contemporary craft.”

“The exhibition brings together a range of works from a number of decades and many disciplines.”

Hidden Agenda: Socially Conscious Craft will be opened on Saturday by Annabelle Campbell at the Granary Gallery, 2nd Floor, Berwick YHA, Dewar’s Lane, Berwick and will run until June 1.

The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm. Admission is free.

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