Review: Future Forwards at Bluecoat Display Centre

Words, Jessica Fenna

Bluecoat Display Centre presents another thought-provoking exhibition, ‘Future Forwards’, showcasing the role of innovative technologies in the world of craft and applied art. The exhibition explores the seemingly paradoxical dichotomy between the quintessential handmade object that is so closely associated with craft and the seemingly anonymous computerised world of digital technology, which many would view as the antithesis of the ideals of craft.

Bluecoat Display Centre has been at the forefront of pioneering contemporary craft since its opening in 1959, this exhibition cements its position as a gallery of importance as a purveyor of significant applied art.

All artists featured in the exhibition are creating pioneering work at the intersection of handmade craft and technologically based work. The works on display are a visual testament to the relevance of applied art whilst simultaneously highlighting the potential scope of work defined as such.

It is a fallacy to state that craft should be relegated to the confines of a twee, vintage, nostalgic notion. Rather, craft can be thought provoking, pertinent to an informed view of the modern world.

Highlights include the intriguing work of ‘Beatwoven’ who produce couture fabrics through the visual representation of music (utilising coded audio technology to translate sound into geometric shapes). The work creates a dialogue between codified, digitised music platforms and traditional weaving techniques, the traditional handmade techniques skilfully blended with new technologies.

A particularly strong group of work that skilfully demonstrates the exhibition’s theme are the 3D printed ceramic pieces of Joan and Jack Hardie using their home-made 3D printer which ‘extrudes very thin coils of soft clay and presses them down in layers, like a coil pot.’ The vessels are designed with computer software and the clay is prepared by hand, the poetic synergy between technological innovation and tradition craftsmanship is perfectly encapsulated in the pieces; that nod to pottery’s traditional aesthetic with a contemporary twist. The design process still heavily relies on the couple’s decades of experience with the medium; in order to achieve viable designs they must rely on their knowledge of the behaviour of the medium, their experience has driven the building of the printer and has informed the clay mixes they use.

This exhibition therefore demonstrates the importance of the human influence in craft, in spite of the heavy use of technology it is only with the expert knowledge of the craftsman built over a long period of time that the work is successful.

‘Future Forwards’ was curated by Bluecoat Display Centre Gallery Officer Frances Gill-Smith and runs until the 22nd April.