Contemporary craft in Melbourne is street wise, informed about art history, political and fun. It is not fluffy, twee granny craft, but radical, cool craft. To understand how radical contemporary craft can get see: Radical Cross Stitch, “seriously seditious stitching”.
“A more interesting role for the word ‘craft’, perhaps, rather than leave it marooned as a pejorative cultural refugee, is to return to it updated to its function as a politicised response to modernization.” Paul Greenhalgh The Modern Ideal (V&A Publications, 2005) (p.93)
In this political response craft is: un-alienated labour; it is vernacular/ethnic rather than global; and eliminating perceived class hierarchies in the arts and society. Craft is still seen as a political resistance or a personal antidote to the worst effects of modernism. Contemporary craft is often marketed as an ecologically responsible form of production and a way of creative recycling. The variety of recycled materials used in contemporary jewellery is amazing. Contemporary craft is also marketed a way of showing support to an ethnic group or a local artist by purchasing their vernacular versions rather than a modern globally available Ikea version. (In an extreme version of this political vision, another hierarchy emerges where craft is ethical and the fine arts are, in contrast, amoral.)
To make a living from their craft hobby is the ambition of many workers. Some do ‘down-size’ their lifestyle to become full-time craft workers in preference over a larger salary. The more professional of these contemporary crafts are for sale in Melbourne’s alternative art boutiques (see my entry on Art Boutiques). There is a great variety of unique jewellery, accessories and other craft items of fashion in Melbourne. But it is not just the professionals who are doing crafts; many women are doing crafts as a hobby (and it is mostly women as most of the young men are doing street art see my entry on Gender & Street Art, not forgetting that street art emphasises many craft techniques from calligraphy to stencils).
How much of the idealistic politics of craft is a reality? Morris & Co. hand blocked printed wallpaper merely replaced one form of repetitive work with another. The industrial work places of the ancient and medieval world are not good models for a good life. The art/craft distinction is interpreted by socialists as a class hierarchy and by feminists as a gender hierarchy but the hierarchy of arts and crafts has largely disappeared in contemporary art galleries, they are often seen side by side in the same gallery. However there still are hierarchies within crafts (that are still being challenged by both contemporary art and craft): the hierarchies between respectable crafts and other crafts, for example, imagine the outcry if a high-school needlework class swapped sewing needles for tattoo needles. And although craft does promote the regional, the vernacular styles and technique there has also been international modern and contemporary craft styles, from the Arts and Crafts movement and Art Nouveau onwards, that replace the vernacular.
Political arguments, aside, due to the interest in contemporary craft there are a lot of really interesting craft blogs, The Melbourne Stiches and Craft Show 2009 had a craft bloggers corner, where people could talk to craft bloggers and look at the craft blogs online. Here are a few craft blogs that I’ve found interesting:
Melbourne Jeweller – information, reviews and thoughts about Melbourne’s jewellery scene.
Craft City Melbourne – a directory of local crafty favourites, written by a number of authors (they welcome contributors) and organized by suburb and pursuit.
Polka Dot Rabbit – another interesting craft blog from Melbourne.
Embroidery As Art – for the textile artist.
Glass Central Canberra – more than just glass art
Page 63 of your Manual – Sayraphim Lothian artist’s craft blog
Thanks to my wife Catherine, who enjoys cross-stitching and greeting card making, for the inspiration and additional research.