Made In Northern Ireland

Craft NI exhibition heralds a dynamic of change for the NI arts and crafts industry

In June of this year, Craft Northern Ireland will be travelling to Washington DC as part of the Rediscover NI programme with a new exhibition of contemporary and traditional Irish crafts entitled Made In Northern Ireland: A Dynamic of Change.

Acting in tandem with Interface, a research branch of the University of Ulster’s School of Arts and Design, Craft NI have sought to incorporate the work of artists from all over Northern Ireland working in different mediums within the arts and crafts sector.

Made in Northern Ireland: A Dynamic of Change will be showing in Washington’s Crafts Marketplace, a dedicated retail space for crafts, from June 15 to August 31.

The same exhibition will also be shown under a different name, Making Changes: Contemporary crafts in Northern Ireland, in Belfast’s Ormeau Baths Gallery from August 2-31.

The exhibition will consist of three distinct sub-genre exhibits: Re-Inventing Linen, Contemporary Souvenir and Sublime Design: Made In Northern Ireland, with each exhibit focusing on the differing technologies, techniques and influences which have helped to shape our arts and crafts through time.

Karen Fleming and Trish Belford of Interface and Megan Johnston of Craft NI will curate each exhibit respectively.

Like any culture with a rich and distinct artistic history, the Irish have always been proud of their traditional arts and crafts.

From the northernmost tip of Co Donegal to the southernmost toe of Co Cork, craftsmen and women have worked earnestly through the centuries to keep the age-old indigenous arts and crafts alive; crafts which have helped to define and maintain the distinct Celtic aesthetic associated with Ireland and which have contributed greatly to the socio-economic cohesion of the island as a whole.

Like tartan in the Highlands and coloured beads in the Sahara, the Celtic forms perpetrated through arts and crafts in Ireland are recognisable the world over.

Fine art practices such as willow weaving, linen production, metalwork, carpentry, ceramics, embroidery and jewellery making have all prospered in Ireland through the ages and are now flourishing in a global market infatuated with all things Irish.

In the modern market place, new artists from every corner of the country are continuing on the ancient fine art traditions of their forebears whilst rendering them afresh for a contemporary audience, using modern techniques and incorporating multi-cultural influences from around the world to create something that reflects modern Ireland.

Organisations like Craft NI have taken on the remit of encouraging growth in the Irish arts and crafts industry.

Formed in June 2005, Craft NI acts as a catalyst for the development of the design-led contemporary craft and applied arts sector in Northern Ireland.

Their programmes, activities and initiatives support and promote the sector as an integral part of the region’s economic and cultural infrastructure.

Made In Northern Ireland: A Dynamic of Change incorporates the work of NI artists, and includes pieces made by foreign artists living and working in NI today.

Joe Kelly, Director of Craft NI, helped to organise the exhibition.

'We’ve got a whole range of different artists involved, from skilled craftsmen to fine and applied artists,' Kelly reveals. 

'The craft sector is broad, and one of the things that these three exhibits are trying to show is that arts and crafts are constantly changing in Ireland.

'Over the last 40 years, the crafts sector has become more and more influenced by the art world. Traditionally, craftspeople would have been in possession of certain traditional skills. The whole sector is now opening up to new techniques and mediums. We’ve tried to reflect these changes.'

With Re-Inventing Linen, Karen Fleming revisits an industry which played a central role in the economic foundation of modern Irish society.

Now almost defunct due to Eastern competition, the Irish linen industry nevertheless provides a wealth of information regarding practical processes involved in fabric production. Re-Inventing Linen examines our changing attitudes to fabric over the centuries.

Contemporary Souvenir is curator Trish Belford’s journey through the history of keepsakes and kitsch, re-evaluating the attraction that certain Irish souvenirs possess and the memories that they invoke, and also questioning tourists as to what aspects of NI society stand out in the 21st century.

Sublime Design: Made In Northern Ireland sees American curator Megan Johnston challenge and inform the public perception of craft as an art form, concentrating on the different areas of current craft practice employed by NI artists in 2007.

Whether you prefer the old techniques or the new, Made in Northern Ireland: A Dynamic of Change promises an interesting overview of the state of arts and crafts in Northern Ireland at the current time.