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Zooming Toward The Future Of Craft

invitation for jewelry design show at the Fuller Projects

For at least one weekend, the center of the metals world will be Bloomington, Indiana. Neither a geological conference nor a hard rock concert, the metal to be discussed and showcased during the symposium and nine complementary exhibitions is the stuff that provides the raw material for fine art jewelry. Using metals as a starting line, the forum promises to encompass the broader world of contemporary craft.

I want to see a painting aspire to the level of a piece of jewelry. Why isn't it the reverse?

Forging A Gateway Into Craft

Two years in the planning, supported by a number of university grants and private funders, Zoom:Examining the Future of Craft is a two-day symposium that's been organized by the Indiana University Metalsmithing & Jewelry Design Guild featuring workshops and presentations by artists, researchers, curators, and dealers from around the US and abroad. With more than 150 participants from around the country registered a month beforehand, Zoom has demonstrated its relevance within the contemporary craft scene.

Although metals and gemstones figure prominently in the work of some of the participants, other presenters work in polymer clay and resin, circuitry, LEDs, and microcontrollers. The scope is so large, it begs the question: what does craft mean now?

"That's a loaded question," agree MFA metalsmiths Aric Verrastro and Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro, two of the symposium's organizers.

" As long as the hand of the maker is evident," states Pontillo-Verrastro, "I see it as being contemporary craft, or well-crafted artwork."

"In the past, our field was just metal, and gemstones," explains Verrastro, "and you stuck to that. But now, it's developed to the point that you can use any material inside and outside of that. That's why we're bringing all these outside workshops, which seem like they don't relate to metal, but they do."

Shifting Boundaries

Boundaries have disintegrated between all of the traditional craft mediametal, glass, fiber, wood, ceramicand new materials and technologies have served to connect them in unpredictable ways. In an essay introducing Shift, one of the exhibitions coordinated with Zoom, Robert Baines writes, "In this current era new transmission lines of knowledge combining historic methodologies and practices intersect with new materials and technologies." On view at the Grunwald Gallery of Art October 18-November 21st, The Shift exhibition will feature over 70 works of art by 25 international artists working within and around the field of art jewelry.

Two related exhibitions run concurrently at the Grunwald:Â Metal, Inkorporated, a traveling exhibition that pairs metalsmiths and printmakers; and These Moments Existed, a solo exhibition by Australian jewelry designer and 2008 IU MFA Sim Luttin.

Additional exhibitions in the Fine Arts building include a show of work by those attending the conference, in the Fundamentals Foyer; a show highlighting a private collection of jewelry and related objects in the Fine Arts Library Foyer; and an exhibition of work created in the IU Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design Department in the display cases outside of room 201.

The Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center hosts two related exhibitions: Crush II, a contemporary jewelry invitational; and The Object Must Be Destroyed, featuring the iconoclastic designs of Kelly Novak.

Verrastro and Pontillo-Verrastro team up for a one-night show they're calling newNormal at the Fuller Projects space in the McCalla School building (525 E. 9th Street) October 18th from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. Exploring issues related to gender and fertility, the metalsmiths have availed themselves of a vast warehouse of materials for the jewelry they'll be exhibiting: driftwood, faux fur, canvas, and acrylic paint take their places next to copper, enamel, and silver.

Beyond The Art/Craft Dialectic

When it comes to contemporary jewelry design, Pontillo-Verrastro points out, "even though you're not using traditional metalsmithing materials, you still see that evident and apparent hand of the jeweler on the piece. Whether it's related to the detail, the touch of the artist to the work, if it's appropriated as a singular piece of jewelry, how it relates to the bodyit could not be metal at all, but it's somehow related to that jeweler's touch and that craft sensibility."

In the traditional hierarchy of the arts and crafts, fine arts such as painting, sculpture, and engraving got top billing while the crafts encompassed the more homespun or industrial fields, a taxonomy doubtlessly informed by class and gender. Nonetheless, those priorities have tended to persist.

"There is still that bias," concedes Verrastro.

""Be afraid of the 'c' word'," is advice Pontillo-Verrastro has received in the past.

"Craft has always been controversial," he shrugs. "Trying to raise a crafted object to the level of high art will always be up for debate. So we may as well take back the term, and make it our own.  I want to see a painting aspire to the level of a piece of jewelry. Why isn't it the reverse?"

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