Yet, in the last few years, we have seen a sort of backlash, with more and more people interested in rediscovering manuality, quality, pieces that last beyond mere trends and genuine craft.
In fashion we have seen a few houses and brands successfully relaunching themselves by emphasising the importance of the high quality handmade pieces in their collections, but we have also seen a reborn fascination with handmade things in other fields and industries.
“Power of Making”, an exhibition currently on at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, aims at discovering the skills and thrills of making.
Curated by Daniel Charny the exhibition looks at a wide selection of objects, techniques and materials proving that, while in some cases a beautiful handmade design like a Barnsby saddle shows the age-old skills of an artisan, other objects such as artificial eyes or technologically advanced prostheses, are perfect examples of how contemporary design can be employed to create innovative inventions to improve our lives.
The exhibition opens right on the door, with David Mach’s Silver Gorilla, a gorilla sculpture made from wire coat-hangers, greeting the visitors and continues with a selection of different objects including bespoke accessories such as Sarah Jane Williams’ surreal L-shaped suitcase, Marloes ten Bhömer’s techno couture shoes made employing rotational moulding and rapid prototying techniques, Kevin Cyr’s realistic die cast miniature van and Dalton Ghetti’s tiny alphabet carved in the graphite of pencil tips.
Fashion design is represented by a variety of objects, including a needlepoint kit by Fendi to personalise the iconic “Baguette” bag, Alexander McQueen’s S/S 2010 “Armadillo” shoes, the “Widow” dress - a piece covered in 100,000 silver pins that tackles issues of identity and vulnerability - created by Susie MacMurray, an orchestral musician turned artist, and Shauna Richardson's life sized “crochetdermy” bear, an innocuous form of taxidermy carried out by crocheting.
There are also examples of new inventions that may lead to further experimental materials in fashion design, like Heleen Klopper’s wool filler, ideal for mending holes in textiles, the spray on dress developed by Manel Torres and Elisa Strozyk’s wooden textiles.
One of the most interesting parts of the exhibition is the one dedicated to 3D printers, products that will revolutionise a lot of things in the near future, thanks to their ability to “print” not a text on paper, but a 3D object in space.
The exhibition includes the “Thing-O-Matic” by Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer and Zach Hoeken Smith’ MakerBot Industries, a compact and affordable 3D printer that mainly employs ABS plastic to "print" objects.
All the products showcased in the exhibition are made by adding, subtracting or transforming hard, soft or fragile and ephemeral materials.
Some pieces, like a detailed Lego model of a dissected frog, may catch the visitor's eye for the way an ordinary material mainly used by children to play, was decontextualised to create something unusual; other objects, like a carpet of remembrance for the Srebrenica genocide victims, will trigger instead emotional responses.
And while a lion-shaped coffin may leave many puzzled for its kitschness, most visitors, especially the youngest ones, will probably find fascinating Michael Rea's gigantic wood, rope and foam robot-like prosthetic suit for Stephen Hawking.
Unfortunately, not all the pieces included are in good taste (the hyperreal cake that looks like a perfect newborn baby is one rather disturbing example...) and while the aim of this event is actually very honourable, there are a couple of faults in it.
There are indeed too many objects and products crammed in a relatively small space and this doesn't allow you to see all the pieces as well as you would like (for example, a design by Sandra Backlund is perched on top of other exhibits, too far away from the eyes of the visitors to actually appreciate its beauty and craft).
Besides, at times you feel there was no critical logic behind the choices of the curator (and this gives you the impression of having flickered through the image folder on a teenager's iPhone rather than having seen a proper exhibition) or that the choices were made surfing the Internet and spotting images on trendy sites showing handmade, cool and unusual products and objects.
There are indeed quite a few designs that seem to be included in this exhibition mainly because continuously mentioned by high-profile bloggers and, while that’s not a crime (though what's next after fashion bloggers turning into fashion and accessory designers and collaborating with big brands, fashion bloggers turning into exhibition "curators"?), it's perfectly legitimate to wonder what kind of pieces would have been featured in the place of Charlie Le Mindu’s lip-shaped wig, Chicks on Speed and Max Kibardin's "E-shoes" or Thorunn Arnadottir's "QR U?" designs, if, rather than surfing the net, the curator had physically visited exhibitions all over the world or had met other designers and craftspeople in person (why one of the best examples of the "power of making", that is French couture, is not represented at all in this event?).
The doubt remains, yet, if you visit "Power of Making" try to take the best out of it, exploring in particular the recent technological innovations in contemporary objects.
"Power of Making" is at the Victoria & Albert Museum's Porter Gallery, Admission Free, until 2nd January 2012.
All images courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
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