Hot Mess presents a broad selection of contemporary and modern works from a range of artists, all of whom could be described as “makers.” These practitioners range from emerging artists to established canonical figures, but their common factor is an interest in the materiality and process of making. While much of contemporary societal interaction and discourse has retreated into the digital realm, there has also been a resurgence of interest in craft and object-based practice, although in a way that eschews hierarchical models in favour of a democratised, inclusive approach.
In 1962, George Kubler wrote the following, in his seminal text on the history of material culture The Shape of Time: “Like crustaceans we depend for survival upon an outer skeleton, upon a shell of historic cities and houses filled with things belonging to definable portions of the past.” This vision of humanity’s relationship to our tangible culture has been dramatically reconfigured by both the vagaries of post-industrial society, in which the objects an average person owns are far too disposable and arbitrary to form the kind of artefactual exoskeleton Kubler envisions, and by the rise of the internet, which pushes society towards the abandonment of physicality itself.
In this context, how does an artist function as a craftsperson, and how does their work handle the uncertain status of the object? Hot Mess contains everything from traditional ceramic bowls to bespoke toy action figures, from found-object assemblages to bronze casts to embroideries. Rather than a hard shell that adheres to and defines our way of thinking, perhaps these objects are a kind of diffuse field or constellation, each a unique node in a network that connects disparate ideas and identities.
Don Driver’s sinister 1992 work Carnival 2 sits alongside Peter Hawkesby’s Finn McCool’s Cot and Finn McCool’s Rattle (both 2019), presenting two different but complementary approaches to assemblage. Where Driver’s work is loose and allusive, deploying its found materials as both signifiers and as formal elements, Hawkesby’s ceramic-based assemblages are meditative and elegantly composed. However, both speak a common language of ritual and pageant.
Hannah Valentine’s bronze work Anytime (2019) comments on the contemporary obsession with fitness and health, while also deploying the materiality of its metal components to create a playful sense of tension. Meanwhile, Karl Fritsch’s Ring (2018) deals with materials in a different way; it is a small vase-like object cast from a kilogram of pure silver, with the remnants of casting plaster still clinging to its oxidised surface. Ring's materiality is intrinsically tied to its value, a relationship that Fritsch often exploits in his works to subvert the expectations placed on jewellery.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, Denis O’Connor’s Mystery Wheelie Ware (1983) likewise takes an idiosyncratic approach to the tradition of craft, in this case ceramics, by incorporating text and imagery into an otherwise conventional bowl-form.
Vital, energetic, robust and often subversive, these works assert the importance of craft and materiality in contemporary practice. Ranging from the sublime to the absurd, the works in Hot Mess show that the craft of making still has the capacity to surprise and inspire.