While we’ve been accumulating more and more mass produced possessions and watching our high streets become increasingly similar, a quiet revolution has been taking place. But rather than pamphlets and placards, its weapons are knitting, crochet, and a return to traditional crafts. Craftivism is here, and at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, they're running an exhibition which examines the place it has in the modern world.
Far from being outdated or old fashioned, the UK DIY exhibition shows how craftivism is a very twenty-first century art form. Instead of being made obsolete by our technology-driven society, the internet has allowed craft to thrive. Creative projects around the world can connect with each other through blogs, online communities and online shops.
The exhibition, which celebrates the way craft is bringing back colour and individuality to the world around us, starts outside the gallery, with Manchester guerilla knitting duo ArtYarn’s tree cosies. Inside, artworks climb off the walls, take over the floors and hang from the ceiling.
It’s an inverted world where throwaway consumer culture doesn’t exist. Students from Manchester Metropolitan University put everyday materials to new, innovative uses, from necklaces made of tights to a candelabrum fashioned from mirrors and sink strainers. Furniture and glass bottles find new lives, as do aluminium drinks cans turned into flowers. Drinking straw sculptures burst from the walls and hang from the ceiling. Recycled skirts become a rag rug. The message is waste not, want not.
Craft goes far beyond the beautiful and useful, however. There’s a strong political vein running through the work, from a tank knitted as a protest against the Iraq war to the reappropriation of cross stitch to convey such slogans as Thug Life. Eva Broadhurst and Lucy Semper’s animated film Making the Most protests about Leigh’s lack of a train station and other basic amenities.
Faythe Levine’s film Handmade Nation sums up DIY as a 'lifestyle choice', interviewing women who are keeping alive craft traditions and starting up their own businesses. DIY, they explain, offers the chance to “create your own economy”. Aptly for a film based in Olympia in the United States, home of the feminist punk movement Riot Grrl, the women are empowered by DIY as it proves “everything is possible”.
What many artists featured in the exhibition have in common is a resistance to globalisation. DIY is a prime example of 'people versus the machine', a way to 'create your own culture' and 'regain control of your life as opposed to having a corporation feed you culture'.
The exhibition isn’t just a celebration of craft, but of the whole DIY aesthetic, notably fanzines. Journalism is changing, not least in how we get news and information. With the rise of citizen journalism and blogs, anyone can have a go. UK DIY reminds us, though, that there’s still something magical about the printed page that blogs will never replicate.
Right down to the paper on which they’re printed, fanzines are a labour of love which reflect all the hopes and ambitions of their creator. They're often intricately worked – the opposite of the immediacy of our fast culture in which news is out-of-date as soon as it’s published. They range from the professional and book-like to typed or handwritten sheets grainy from the photocopier, and take in topics as diverse as the brilliantly titled From the Imagination of a Ladysnail to Sugar Paper Zine, which details things to make and do and contains a cut out doll and recipes.
DIY is nostalgic, but in a fun and irreverent way. Rachel Wild takes inspiration from 1980s computer games, making space invader brooches. Wildcat Designs also partake in so called techno crafting; knitting 8-bit patterns in merino wool. Knit Happens prove that craft and rock n roll don’t have to be mutually exclusive by knitting Johnny Rotten gloves
The exhibition invites us to have a go, from tables dedicated to making jewellery and looms from plastic packaging to an invitation to embroider your name on cushions. Pom Pom International provide the instructions and materials to make a pom pom, which can then be hung on a tree and will eventually be put towards the world’s biggest pom pom.
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