Content in this issue is motivated by the theme of SUBVERSION and examines a wide variety of ways in which the glass field hosts, supports and/or promotes the renegade spirit in relation to professional practice. For this issue, I spend time assessing a curatorial effort by Kim Harty entitled "StreetKraft" at the Royal Oaks, Michigan based Habatat Gallery. I was hoping the issue of GASnews would publish far earlier than it did as the exhibition opened in mid-August and closed in mid-September. Regardless, this piece examines an interesting gesture to merge the high-brow context of the blue-chip glass gallery and artists who place their practice (and material relationship) within the guttural modes of self-expression found in street art. There are many more dualities at play within this exhibition that made it an interesting focal point in my constant consideration of this time and place within contemporary glass...and I feel that those stand out in one's reading of this article. it almost demands a follow-up to address things that weren't part of the conversation; things like the brief return of graphics, Imagery and narrative within glass, the brief resurrection of loud, splashy color within conceptually-driven glass work and the socio-political commentary between regional street artists and the artists within StreetKraft about how much "street" may or may not truly present in this exhibition. But until then, this review basks in the yin and yang of StreetKraft's tendency to straddle the fence between reverence and sacrilege visually, conceptually and culturally.
Below is the draft I submitted to my Editor in its full, unedited version to serve as supplemental material to what is seen in the Winter 2019 issue of GASnews:
Of all the ways in which the word (k)raft has been scorned as only involving kitsch, misunderstood as only relating to the cheap and the mercantile, and has limited notions of hand-based practice only to the quiet, pious and pastoral comes an exhibition that noticeably turns all those misconceptions on their head.
Just outside of the artist utopia that Detroit is resurging to be is the neighboring community of Royal Oak, home to Habatat Galleries. It is here that StreetKraft had been hosted from August 18th to September 15th this past Fall and curated by Kim Harty, artist, writer and Assistant Professor of Glass at the College for Creative Studies.
“When I was invited to curate a show at Habatat I wanted to do something that would fit the time and place of the gallery,” mentions Harty. “Detroit has been bubbling with street art throughout the city, and in museums like the DIA and the Cranbrook Art Museum. I also wanted to assemble a show that was very visual, that had a strong sense of imagery, form, and color to bring the viewer into.”
In an effort to bridge Harty’s observations of a dialogue that could happen between Habatat and the street art scene of Detroit, StreetKraft was an exhibition highlighting instances of glass thinking from around the world that dwells in the conceptual underbelly of the street: the renegade vernacular of its visual language, its symbology (both real and imagined), its literal tones and its figurative textures.
Although initially seen by Harty as an opportunity to create connections between separate creative forces within her region, StreetKraft expands the conversation by inviting artists from a little bit of everywhere...including Detroit, but well beyond it, too. With seventeen artists from various corners of the United States, Poland, Australia and Japan represented in the show, ‘the street’ reveals a diversity of impetus within the work as widespread as the international standing of its participants.
Regardless of place, each artist is spoken to - and speaking through - ‘the street’ to explore ideas that evaluate, assess, predict and push a spectrum of issues related to contemporary culture. “I’ve also noticed a counter-cultural thread in glass that isn’t often acknowledged as a trend or theme,” Harty mentions. “Certainly, pipe culture is part of that, but there are many artists working in other genres that have subversive or political content to their work. I wanted to assemble a critical mass of artists to acknowledge the work that is being done and contextualize it together.”
The range of glass vernacular in StreetKraft is as varied as what the individual works are speaking to. Glass processes like blowing, neon, flat glass imaging, kiln forming and flameworking engage a few ties in conceptual approach: Leo Tecosky representative of a shared body of work in the show visually reinterpreting street markings, signage and other guerilla modes of linguistical coding. Emily McBride representative of a shared body of work in the show engaging the generally overlooked emblems of low-class iconography, mass production and other fixed tokens within the daily grind. Esteban Salazar representative of a shared body of work in the show visualizing – even prophesying – concern through city-scaped lens of a perhaps not-so-fictitious, future dilemma involving ecological and societal collapse. Caledonia Curry (aka SWOON) representative of a shared body of work in the show accentuating a romantic angle to the street; of finding and amplifying the extraordinary potential of elements hidden in plain sight within an urban scene.
The convergence of ‘the street’ and glass practice in StreetKraft does reveal itself to be a curious intersection to cross…full of interesting ironies between the two platforms of creative inquiry and activity. Various forms of street art, tagging and graffiti being unsanctioned gestures and, therefore, motivated by a sense of immediacy in one’s materials and process. Quickness is key, not only in what is done and how, but boldly in what and how the work visually articulates itself once done and discovered. Glass, on the other hand, is full of rules; not legally enforced, but rules governed by elements of time and temperature in order for anything to survive even its own making. Unlike the street’s immediate modes of visual communication, glass is – even at its quickest mode of processing - time intensive. And expensive. And fragile. Part of what makes StreetKraft such an interesting premise is that it resides in duality; a creative field that demands such sensitivity, consideration and protocol that glass does mingling with a creative field that’s primarily built on aggressive resilience, the gut and subversion.
And the sass. The shamelessness and brazen disposition of ‘the street’ crossing over into the sanctified character of how glass is approached, handled and produced for exhibition is interesting, too. The exhibition title invites further upheaval; not only integrating one of the dirtiest words in contemporary glass parlance, but subverting how the term “craft” is both understood by its believers and misperceived by its dissenters…simultaneously.
StreetKraft bypasses the notion of (k)raft as but an aesthetically rooted approach to making and demonstrates it existing best instead as a method of thinking by way of doing. Especially in terms of creative activity. Especially more so in terms of street-savvy, insurrectionally motivated matters of making.
It is here that StreetKraft claims (k)raft as a verb…not a made thing per se, but the idea of taking action. And if it has to be regarded as a noun, (k)craft as belief system of “fuck you” to the pomp and circumstance of glass, glass making, glass culture and maybe even the context of the blue-chip gallery context. You will not find things like finesse for the sake of finesse here, nor will you find high-end commodities that’ll go with the couch.
Instead, StreetKraft illuminates the philosophical roots of (k)raft under a highly contemporary lens of proficiently wielded sacrilege: making with intentions off the beaten path of the “exquisite art object” and, instead, on the hunt for empowerment…to artist and public alike.
The conceptual integration of (k)raft within the notion of ‘the street’ provides an interesting angle to a conversation we thought we’ve talked to death already. To help illustrate,
I imagine a twenty-something Basquiat, prior to becoming famous; an adept - yet still unknown - graffiti artist. I imagine him in action in the dead of night. I imagine the agility with which he accesses forbidden public surfaces to enhance. Each step towards his empty canvas a moment to finalize his plans to illegally modify it with his vision. And to modify it brilliantly. I imagine the dexterity with which this proficient, yet to be recognized street artist commands the movements of his can of bargain-bin spray paint. The quick wit of his message, the thoughtfulness of its placement and the timing of its social sting once discovered by an unsuspecting public at first daylight. In this fictitious moment – of me attempting to identify with someone I’ve never known by way of an art form I’ve never done in a moment that may never have happened – I begin to find parallels of similarity between the two very dissimilar worlds that glass and ‘the street’ are. The engagement of meaningful creative activity, of bodily performance as one chases their vision down, of making creative decisions in real time, in real space and in doing so with real impact internally and externally: this is where the power of (k)raft within StreetKraft resides.
On the surface, StreetKraft has much to convey. In this post-millennial, post-recession and post-#yeswecan political and cultural era, StreetKraft hosts glass-based thinking and making as a call to action. When present, the rough-and-tumble contributions to the show elicit a sense of urgency. But the slick and savvy contributions are red flags in and of themselves, representing the calm before an ambiguously predicted storm. And the relationship between a show like this being hosted at a venue like Habatat Galleries is worthy of a longer conversation of its own…
“I think [StreetKraft] demonstrates that there is a place for somewhat radical (at least in the glass context) work in commercial galleries,” says Harty. “This show is unlike anything Habatat has done before, yet it actually fits seamlessly into their space.”
Even so, StreetKraft doesn’t give a shit about formalities. Pipes exist here, as do sculptural objects, as do image-based works, spatial arrangements, sound-inducing kinetic works, the rough, the tight, things on the wall, things on the floor, things in your face. The correspondence between what is so alluring about ‘the street’ creatively and what is so intriguing philosophically about traditional notions of (k)raft is just so poetically ripe.
For starters, I’m drawn to the exhibition’s abstracted comparison of street art in relation to (k)raft’s historical associations with function; the hand and its gestures as a vehicle with which to “produce” a circumstance of “usefulness” in relation to broader areas of critical conversation. But I’m also drawn to elements of conceptual wordplay between the two seemingly different worlds: the impetus of street-inspired art to rise from objection in relation to (k)craft’s historical associations with the object and object making…
The immediate connotations of StreetKraft are interesting indeed. But its undercurrents are just so, so rich. For information and images of StreetKraft visit the exhibition catalog here.
GLASS Program of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.