Thinking through Making: Celebrating 80 years at Rycotewood

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Although Thinking through Making ended just over a couple of months ago, it provides us with an opportunity to openly discuss the exhibit. What were Rycotewood trying to achieve? What’s with all the chairs? Can I sit on them?

In short I must answer the following (but don’t worry I’ll try and explain in some further detail later).

Rycotewood were aiming to facilitate an exhibition of celebration and acknowledgement of design through experimentation, thought and process. The chairs are a symbol of this work over an 80 year span that showcases not only internationally renowned furniture giants, but the work and sanctity of recent graduates too. And no, you cannot sit on them.

For those of you who didn’t see the exhibition, let me try and explain its logistics. The Glass Tank itself is a long and lengthy gallery space encased in glass- hence our name. Yet, however beautiful the blend of concrete, glass and basalt is, our space comes with its own limitations. Limitations like a scarce amount of hanging space for 2D works, due to this we must erect temporary walls for our exhibitions which somewhat interrupts the flow of the gallery. Therefore with an exhibition like Thinking through Making, the space is able to breathe when installation, sculpture and minimalism are the bare tools the artist has to work with. These three elements not only work within the gallery space itself, but they highlight the materials, structure and sheer beauty of the gallery. Thinking through Making embodied all three of these elements- a holy trinity of curatorial gold for the Glass Tank. It was an exhibition that sang.

Thinking through Making exhibited seventeen chairs in the Glass Tank. These chairs, all by different designer-makers, were placed on a run of plinths that occupied the central plane and complete length of the gallery space. A ‘catwalk’ of sorts. Opposing the gallery, across the atrium, Thinking through Making continued to show four glass cabinets, each filled to the brim with sketchbooks, notes, prototypes and experiments. All of which are in service of the ‘thinking’ that brought the exhibition together. Adjacent to these four cabinets a projection of looped images of Rycotewood students, designs and finished furniture plays throughout the day.

All elements of this show pay respect to the idea of the designer-maker. The designer-maker can be described as an artist, an engineer, a craftsperson and a scientist. It is someone who embodies research, experimentation and artwork in an amalgamation of energy and perseverance. This is what Rycotewood are trying to communicate to the public. This is what they articulate clearly.

So people can make furniture, albeit beautiful furniture but why is that something to be praised?

Well, there are a number of reasons that I will try to explain for you now.

  1. Chairs are common. These ones are beautiful. Chairs are very common. Everyone knows what a chair is, we use them daily and are highly familiar with their functions. So when you see one in a gallery, a familiar object that is, it makes the whole experience all the more interesting. You don’t feel devoid of the whole experience because you have found some common ground with the exhibitor. And since the contemporary art scene is not always accessible, it can be difficult for people to enjoy it. Yet, this exhibition is accessible and relatable. You do not need a Masters in History of Art to enjoy the pure beauty of craftsmanship. I even hope that the accessibility of this exhibition will encourage those who are timid around contemporary art to give other exhibitions a try.

  2. Rycotewood’s serious programming of events. Alongside these seventeen chairs, Rycotewood decided to produce a programme of events to coincide with the exhibition. Walking tours, steam-bending workshops and panel discussions all amalgamated to create this exciting programme of events. But, the wonderful thing about these events is that they bring new education and new light to the very chairs you have already seen and formed an opinion on. The extra-curricular calendar of activities, or satellite events as they are usually referred to, help to educate the viewer around the immediate exhibition topic to widen their knowledge of the subject overall, leading to an inevitable better understanding of the work and exhibition itself. So, the more the better, the more varied the better, and that is exactly what Rycotewood did.

  3. But isn’t craft a dying breed of the arts? Absolutely not. If anything craft is overdue a resurgence. With everything in our world relating to technology in one way or another, people turn to craft, materials and the ‘old-fashioned’ as an escape from our screen filled lives. Seeing people’s ability to master techniques instils a sense of inspiration and motivation in us. ‘If they built that with their hands, what could I do myself if I put my mind to it?’ In conclusion, Thinking Through Making was not only well received within the University or as an exhibition or even for its concept. Thinking Through Making, allowed the viewer to connect, appreciate, question and actively participate with their work which is by no means any easy feat. We should be celebrating craft and the designer-makers behind it because they inspire us. In utilitarian objects like a chair or a lamp, things which most could describe as mundane, we take them for granted.. Having designer-makers and the craft industry spinning these objects into beautiful items, it gives us a chance to not only appreciate the item itself, but our luck in having an item like that to behold. Not something that we pick up and throw away in an instant, like so many other things in today’s society. We cannot lose the appreciation when so much love care and hours upon hours of research have been built and designed into it.

Thank you to Rycotewood for exhibiting with us and inspiring us.