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Shannon Stratton
Director of Programming, Threewalls, Chicago, USA

Magnified Vulnerability:
Handicraft in Art and Popular Culture
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The anti-heroic is a popular style at present and, considering the renewed interest in painting, this anti-heroicism is less about leveling an ‘old-boys network’ and more about dismantling the machine.

It is significant that ‘technology’ has been embraced by both men and women alike. Its coolness distances the viewer from domesticity, nostalgia, narrativity and the body, and because technology isn’t tactile, has left room for a ‘low-tech’ to flourish. As a result, the dominant dichotomy is no longer between art and craft, male and female - but between warm and cool, high tech and low tech, the accessible and inaccessible. Because of these reestablished binaries, ‘handicraft’ is released from past stereotypes and becomes a participant in a new, postmodern dialogue about nature versus culture. It is even palpable that with the rapid evolution of technology in the recent decade, the centuries old stereotype of the natural being associated solely with the female has dissolved: men and women alike want to be closer to the natural as the technological infiltrates and even consumes much of their lives.  

In today’s technological environment, a longing for the unmediated, the simple or the authentic has become norm. It may be a result of the first fully-grown electronic generation making its way through a world overwhelmed with information about the past. With no single decade to long for (all time melding together into a pre-tech lump),  popular culture has become significantly reinvested in all things grassroots and low-tech. Many ‘crafts’ are experiencing a renaissance, for example the fashionable, ‘handmade’ aesthetic with more and more twenty-somethings learning to crochet and knit, that may point to a popular reaction against the high-tech, the polished, and the cerebral by way of the intimate, romance and working class simplicity. Witness the birth of the ‘new romantic’.

As Romantics sought to deconstruct dualities like high and low, they gravitated towards landscape (considered an inferior genre in the earlier part of the century), and found in it a means to transcend pedantic depictions and problematize a fixed relationship between high and low. Likewise, the ‘new-romantics’  have gravitated towards hobby or low-tech materials and have embraced a consciously elegant sloppiness in order to transcend technology and frigid conceptualism. 

Rousseau saw man’s recovery from his fall from innocence, as being found through the exploration of his own natural predilections; when considering the work of the ‘new romantics’, it seems that we’re trying to recover the lost world in much the same way. The unquestionable faith put in technology over the last decade-economically, artistically, and culturally has resulted in man’s latest topple from innocence. It is through this new work, made with 'whatever is lying around’ and with whatever skills one has lying around, that an effort is being made to hone pathos in the emotional void left by technology.

As apart on my ongoing investigation into the ‘contemporary tactile”, Magnified Vulnerability will address the predilection in contemporary visual art practice to use outdated handicraft technology in order to address more complex narratives. Artists will include: Anne Wilson, Carol Jackson, Luanne Martineau, among others. 
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