Commemorate

2012 is a big year for looking back and moving forward – apparently. The Craft and Design Collective interpret the brief

According to the Northern Irish Tourist Board, 2012 is our time to shine. If there isn’t a new venue being opened, there’s something old being remembered. Sometimes, in fact, both things happen at once. Surely you’ve seen the ads?

So, in honour of 2012, the Craft and Design Collective invited their members to submit work in response to the prompt: commemorate. The result is a 12 piece exhibition, whittled down from 23 submissions by Judges Kim Mawhinney and Elise Taylor of National Museums Northern Ireland, currently showing at SpaceCRAFT in Belfast's Fountain Centre.

Some of the art on display is eye-catching, some whimsical and some just plain obscure. The one thing they all have in common, however, is that they are very well executed. Whether something appeals on a conceptual level or not, the skill that went into creating every cabinet, pot and hat can’t be denied.

zelouf+Bell’s 'Famine Cabinet' visually dominates the exhibition by virtue of size and position. Taller than your average-sized art critic, it sits in pride of place against the back wall of the gallery space. Crafted of European oak, it is a solid larder-style cabinet. It also appears to be – value as art aside – a very functional bit of furniture.

Stenciled figures by Will St Leger – Dublin’s answer to Banksy, the curator explains – decorate the doors. Rendered in soft-looking graphite grey, the figures are based on Rowan Gillespies’s 1997 'Famine Memorial'.

Bare feet and gaunt, hollow-eyed faces – raised pleadingly to the skies – sit incongruously against the consumer culture status symbols clutched in their arms: a handbag sized chihuahua and a bag from Fallon and Byrne (a gourmet food emporium in Dublin).

It is a particularly evocative piece in this post-Celtic Tiger world. All the status trophies in the world, but the cupboard is still bare... Conceptually and physically, 'Famine Larder' is a hard piece to challenge. It packs a lot of commentary into a deceptively simple, aesthetically pleasing package. Yet, at the same time, it is too upfront in design to invite lingering consideration. if you return to this piece, it is to admire the workmanship.

Tara J Murphy’s ‘Best-before’ is harder to interpret. Created partially in response to the death of Murphy’s father and uncle while mountain-walking, her tin-can top brooches are opaque. They are almost reproachful in their mass-produced anonymity.

Perhaps they are a condemnation of a throw-away society, or commentary on the idea that grief is to be dealt with before the best-before date. The size and oddly organic plastic frills of the brooches makes them ostentatious, in your face. Each brooch is stamped, without commentary, with the date that the artist’s family members died.

The meaning behind Lowry’s ‘Vessels (of remembrance)’ is even harder to pick apart. The row of pate de verre vessels, with lace curtain detailing imprints, represents a short life ‘behind closed doors’. They are similar to the piece she showcased in the Sense of Place exhibition in SpaceCRAFT during August Craft Month 2011. The texture of the glass seems coarser, though, and the colours are darker, more opqaque.

Catherine Keenan’s ‘Wild Flowers I, II, & III’, meanwhile, are beautiful blown-glass pieces, but conceptually fail to grab my interest. Emma Majury’s ‘Commemorative Butter Sandwich’ print is much simpler, but there is sentiment to it that appeals.

The high-tech torc created by Rachel McKnight also catches the attention again and again. It wouldn’t be out of place on the runway of a high fashion designer show, but the 100 glass bubbles to mark the anniversary of the Titanic situate it solidly in Belfast.

Other pieces include Matthew Liddle’s Moomin-esque teapots, Shannon McShanes delicate, hoodoo bags of reclaimed pottery and Suzanne Weir’s wonderful, cleverly subversive ‘Time Keeping’.

Weir’s board of heavy, notched clock-in cards – the lower classes rendered in dull terracotta, while the upper classes are shiny and patterned – is well-done. That both upper and lower classes are randomly mixed suggests the social leveling of the disaster, when class did not matter so much as it had at dinner.

My favourite piece, however, is Edna Kenny’s ‘Sea Salt Tears’. It is a commemorative hat for the 2nd and 3rd glass passengers on board the Titanic. It is a decorated straw boater, adorned with black lace, dyed ostrich feathers, a jeweled brooch and a whole bird’s wing. A photograph of a fictional ‘Emily’ wearing the hat accompanies the picture.

It isn’t quite Augusta Longbottom’s entire vulture hat (Harry Potter) but it is considerably more dramatic than most people would wear nowadays. Yet it is clearly a hat to be worn, weekly if perhaps not every day.

Commemorate is a striking collection, showcasing the range of craft-forms contained within the Craft and Design Collective. It is interesting to see where the makers’ minds went with the challenge of the prompt.

There is even a chance for a bit of audience participation. If there is a particular piece you would like to commemorate, you can vote for it. The artist that gets the most votes wins a prize. 'Sea Salt Tears' got my vote.

Commemorate can be viewed at SpaceCRAFT until April 28.