Tension Project

This project was funded by DCCI

The Endurance of Craft

The meaning of craft has long been debated, contested and argued. Moving through history, it can be seen in the domestic and the everyday as well as the museum and the collector’s cabinet. It means different things to different people; it has taken center stage and has been marginalised. However, after centuries of re-invention and re-evaluation, it remains in our lives and is today, arguably, more valued than ever. It is, as Stephen Bayley has written, ‘a larger concern of caring about the nature of things’ ‘being suspicious of meretricious novelty, of investing passion in the everyday and enjoying absolutely everything every day because every day is all we’ve got.’ ¹

I first met this group of makers in 2013. Living and working in County Carlow, they work with materials such as textiles, metal, wood, clay and stone. Creating wearable and homeware pieces as well as sculptural objects, they formed a collective at that time called FORM, showcasing their work and regularly exhibiting with the purpose of not only raising the profile of individual members but of also increasing our appreciation of the handmade.

With a view to challenging the notion of what ‘craft’ means, while expanding the boundaries of their individual studio practices, the members of FORM embarked on a new project in 2020. Taking the word Tension as a starting point, they worked in pairs to create a new body of work. The collaborative aspect of this project added a new dimension, while the broad scope of the theme invited a wide range of responses ranging from emotional, physical, positive and negative to the notion of word play and explorations in material, movement, interaction and process. The resulting works are largely sculptural in intent; unique pieces, installations and, in some cases, site specific works.

Tension seems an appropriate theme for a craft-based project, especially one begun in 2020. It reminds us of the pressures we all faced in the last few years and the challenges of a collaborative endevour for craftspeople who normally engage in solitary practices. But, it also serves as a reminder of the restrictive language used to describe craft rather than presenting it, as Paul Greenhalgh once said, as ‘a fluid set of practices, propositions and positions that shift and develop, sometimes rapidly.’ Too often described in defensive rather than in inclusive and expansive terms, ‘it has been a history and philosophy of excuses and apologies rather than a confident striding out of a vital part of visual culture.’ ²

In pushing the boundaries of their own studio practices and documenting the results in this book and on film, the members of FORM have been expansive and brave. Confidently striding out and understanding that, when all is said and done, craft is simply a verb; it is about doing and moving forward.

Introduction by Frances McDonald 2022
1 BAYLEY, S, 2022, Why Making Matters. London: OH Editions
2 GREENHALGH, P. 2002. The Persistence of Craft. London: A&C Black Ltd.

Emma Jane Champley and Martin Lyttle
Emma Jane Champley and Martin Lyttle
Leiko Uchiyama and Martin Marley
Mary Bourke and Darragh Sinnott
Tomomi McElwee and Arian Tobin
Nicola Brown and Liga Valge