Is there a line between art and craft?


‘If you drop a stitch, or forget the code, it all unravels – and so does your mind’
Artist Nicky Schonkala has had a big month: she was responsible with Ralf Haertel for the much admired knit graffiti on the Alice Springs Courthouse; she collaborated with Dave Nixon on an exciting video work, Dimension Elevator Mk2, shown as part of the Watch This Space exhibition, Shift, and now Common Threads has opened, again at Watch This Space. It’s not quite a solo show as she has chosen to collaborate with artists working in other disciplines to extend its scope – poet Kelly-lee Hickey, pianist Liz Archer and dancer/choreographers Dani Powell and Miriam Nicholls – but it is her textile art that is very much centre stage, purposefully treading (or blurring) a line between art and craft, asking the question of herself and viewers, what is art and what is craft? Is there a difference and how do you decide? Fellow artist PIP McMANUS addressed these questions when she opened the show last night:
What I love when I walk around this gallery space is the elemental presence of the human hand, which emanates from each and every work.  Hand and mind threaded together in complex yet meditative rhythms – as weavers and basket makers have done for many thousands of years.
If the most honest and humble of trades is the interlacing of two sets of yarns, then it is also the precursor to the most sophisticated advances in binary technology.  But let us step back a little in the time continuum.  The ancient world was not nearly so bogged down in the mire of angst around the artist/artisan divide, as we twenty-first century practitioners. And if you are fortunate enough to have experienced the wonders inside the Egyptian museum of antiquities in Cairo, or the Louvre in Paris, or the BM in London or the Met in New York – you will not find craft objects gathering dust in the basement while High Art and Technology jostle for air in the upper floors.  The finest exemplars of our cultural heritage reside seamlessly, side by side, as did our ancestral art practitioners.  Vessel, textile, sculpture and fresco inhabiting home, palace and temple, in blatant agreement about their mutual raison d’etre.
Now you may think that I am stretching the point here – but, no, I insist….  There was back then a given and inherent dialogue between form, function, material and intention.  It was a part of the natural fabric of societal discourse.  We have here a brilliantly engaging conversation across time and across disciplines.  To quote from one of Kelly Lee’s poems:  “ I chase your tail until it encircles me.” The endless interlacing of woven cloth is such an exquisite metaphor for the quantum conundrums of our universe.   One yarn intertwining with another in a seemingly infinite sequence – a coded layering which is indeed acknowledged as the authentic antecedent of the information technology which has so radically transformed our worlds today.
Look carefully into these immaculate stitches of conversation.  If you drop a stitch, or forget the code, it all unravels – and so does your mind.
I could wax lyrical about each and ever objet d’art here – the shimmering weaving, the crusty rusty baskets and those edgy in your face slogans which even make me love shag pile!  For me there is no QWERTY question about art and craft.
There are always varying degrees of skill and insight in any discipline.  Schonkala is a master making the the most of her materials and her ever-inquiring mind shines through in the finished artworks we see here.
But you need to understand one thing that belies the apparently seamless, faultless, finished pieces.  The making of these coded offerings requires time – lots of time, and dedication.  An honest encounter with honest materials, that circles back to fundamental preoccupations that we, human societies, have always explored.
Whether we look back at the trajectory of for example, clay, my own primary medium – now employed in the fabrication of the latest super conductors – or the digital flow on from the one zero/on off binary code of the Jacquard loom – be sure of this:  these earliest of art forms will continue to invigorate and inform our lives.
You may have noted that there are a lot of gorgeous desert hues humming around the walls.  I urge you to add your own, in the shape of a little red circle.
Shows until October 20. 
Pictured, top left: Dancer/choreographer Miriam Nicholls responding to the work at the opening last night. Above right: Furrows Wrap by Nicky Schonkala. Above left: Pip McManus opening the show.  Photos courtesy DAVE NIXON.


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