Sunday, 22 January 2012

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

For some reason I felt a bit indifferent towards this exhibition before I went to see it, but I really, really liked it, and I would actually love it to be a permanent exhibition. Mostly because it was so busy and it would have been great to have more space to sketch and even just look at some of the pieces in more detail, seen as a lot of them had people constantly surrounding them.
The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman contained a mixed collection of art and artefacts that Grayson Perry had either made or collected/chosen from the British Museum's archives. It was almost like a Cabinet of Curiosities, with a mix of cultures, contemporary pieces and older objects.
Many of the pieces made by Perry contained contemporary themes and imagery but were crafted in such a way that visually, they looked as though they could have been made over 100 years ago. Such as the sculpture below, 'Our Mother', 2009.There are clear influences of African art yet the luggage the 'mother' figure is carrying is made up of modern day things such as radios and mobile phones. One of the main things I liked about the majority of pieces in this exhibition was the detail in the objects, you can stare at something and see nothing, but once you look a little closer, completely new narratives and ideas arise.
Around the exhibition were quotes by the artist himself, including "Do not look too hard for meaning here" and "Sometimes our very human desire for meaning can get in the way of having a good experience of the world." I find this to be especially true regarding art and exhibitions, it seems like people are more interested in the meaning and concept behind the piece rather than the piece itself. This isn't a particularly bad thing, most people when they make things usually have a concept and the actual piece is, a lot of the time, a vessel to translate the artist's ideas and opinions through to the audience. But this sometimes allows the craftsmanship of the piece to be overlooked.
One thing I noticed in the African Art gallery as well as in this exhibition was that throughout history, especially in non-western cultures, even though a lot of craftsmanship had been put into making certain objects, there would be no name to go with it. Even though these were not technically pieces of art, (pots, bonnets etc - they were made for a purpose) they still look aesthetically interesting or are intriguing in other ways that are similar to how we feel about pieces of 'art'. We all know that Grayson Perry made the sculpture above and that a lot of time, talent and care has gone into it but sometimes we overlook the fact that the same amount of time, talent and care had gone into making the various other artefacts from the exhibition. Some could argue that these artefacts aren't pieces of art because they are made for a purpose. Some could also argue that being in a museum/gallery surrounding makes a difference to how people view the object/artefact - adding value that would otherwise be ignored.
The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsmen is a celebration of these unknown 'craftspeople' (craftsmen feels like it leaves out women) and the various objects they have made and a reminder that the craft of the piece shouldn't be overlooked.image source
One of my favourite things from the exhibition - the earring with human ear remains still attached (location and date unknown).
I also really liked all the shrines, both the artefacts and the ones made by Perry and I think they might be something I look into more for a future project.

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