Object as Witness: The Trading Project

Having spent the last eight years in a tight-knit art community and being on the verge of graduating I have come to the realization (albeit via a long and convoluted journey) that my views on art and craft are valid – that being part of a community is indeed about being part of a group of people with a common background or with shared interests; nonetheless, it does not mean having identical points of view. In fact I would suggest that having diametrically opposing viewpoints is part of the academic process! For instance, I am now comfortable arguing that concept does not have to be the defining characteristic of art, or craft for that matter. Nor does utility always have a place in a discussion about vessels. Instead, I believe that in many cases, for instance my own practice, it is the object itself that is the definitive presence. In other words, I don't consider it is necessary to argue that my vessels must be interpreted as carriers of profound intellectual meaning. Indeed, their significance is rooted in tacit knowledge – they are to be recognized on an intuitive and emotional level and more importantly they make connections on a physical level. They are meant to be held.

My graduating work is the culmination of years of exploring the form of small raised metal vessels. As such, I am part of an historic continuum, employed in an ancient craft utilizing age old resources – copper, silver, gold etc – materials extracted from the earth. At the same time my practice is informed by contemporary art and craft discourse – for this is a university. I recognize that each vessel serves as a metaphor for the body and spirit, a visual manifestation of external and internal life forces addressing the tensions that define us as imperfect beings. In my work I intentionally leave traces of my process of making: hammer marks, undisguised mended and un-mended cracks and other irregularities. My objects are stopped part way to completion, not decay. They reference our experiences – fissures within the natural landscape – or perhaps cracks in our personal armor. The vessels are witness to the passage of time – and perhaps with time the fading of memories.

My impending graduation from the ACAD community has encouraged me to consider my history and the relationships I have forged during this time as a student. Attending an art college was not a lightly taken decision and the path was anything but straight. My studies were defined not only by serendipity (who knew a course in ceramics would inform my praxis in metal - or that I would find metal work to be so seductive – or that craft theory would ever have a place on my book-shelf?); but also by my years as a geologist; and by the unexpected such as health issues that threatened not only the course of my studies but my life! Hindsight is the privilege of age and experience and having spent eight rather than the customary four years completing this degree I decided that my “graduating project” should not only be a series of objects acknowledging the completion of my studies; that these objects should serve as a document of the relationships that I have forged within this community. I have discovered that my preference is to make objects for someone I know, and arguably it is this personal connection that has long been important to the continued production of craft. Certainly, The American jeweller and Craft theorist, Bruce Metcalf states that craft functions as a vehicle to construct meaning and it gives substance and grace to individuals’ lives.

To this end, I initiated The Trading Project: Object as witness – what is to be an almost ritualistic exchange of precious goods and memories. The implications of slow activism – the opportunity to interact and discuss at a local level (within the community and with the art/craft object as mediator) is evident in this process. In this, my last term at ACAD, I have created a series of vessels (the exhibition) – each specific to the individual with whom I am trading. Each vessel serves as a witness – to my skills – to my ideas – to my practice – to the occasion – to a communal history – and will be traded for another object or service – equally valued by its maker. Art students have a tradition of trading works – but I wanted this occasion to be formalized yet redolent of the community. Those invited to participate include fellow graduating students from jewellery and metals, teachers and mentors who have been integral to my artistic development, other friends from ACAD, and even my surgeon.

The exchange ceremony – ritual perhaps – will take place at ACAD on April 25 2008 and will be documented. Following graduation the vessels will be widely dispersed, to various Canadian locales, at least three countries on two continents. Given their materials l it is likely that many will survive as artifacts long after written evidence of this project has been lost – although careful scrutiny will afford future generations a signature and an identification number.
My vessels are indeed autobiographical; however, I believe that for each of the recipients they are less about me than will be about our experiences as a community.

Vessel 64Vessel 59
Vessel 48Vessel60
Vessel 62Vessel 40