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Emerging talent at Cork Craft Month
For the month of August the MTU Gallery at 46 Grand Parade is home to Emerge which showcases some of Cork's newest crafters.
Not exactly fine art, not exactly a trade, craft making is in an in-between spot. It is in some cases similar to pre-industrial manufacturing, especially when furniture and interior décor are involved. Its in-between-ness can often lead it to be bypassed or overlooked by arts institutions, or consumers looking for furniture.
This is not the case this month, however, as August is Cork Craft Month, and as part of that, twenty emerging local artists and craft makers will be taking part in the Emerge exhibition at 46 Grand Parade.
While the local arts scene has recently received positive news with the emergence of the Sample Studios Five Year Strategic Plan and the fundraiser for Camden Palace Arts Village, aiming to bring fresh studio space to the city, Emerge is different as one of the only exhibitions where you can witness brand new talent.
Curated by Turkish art historian and producer Ayşegül Yüzel, Emerge is an opportunity for new artists and makers to gain experience exhibiting work. For some of the makers it’s also their first ever exhibition. Director of Cork Craft Month, Ava Hayes, said that first step is very important for artists when they leave college.
“It’s all very new talent, and it’s a really important moment for them, and it’s important to have that steppingstone after college” she said. “Sometimes when you leave, creative college in particular, you really have that step off a cliff, so it’s good to pick them back up and set them on the straight and narrow.”
Ava, 25, graduated from the Crawford College of Art and Design only two years ago. A fine art painter, she went on to do a Masters in Art and Practice in the same college before curating Emerge last year for the first time. She says her experience with Emerge was revelatory and gave her more of an awareness of craft and its importance.
“I’m a painter, I’m very traditional in that way, like, I have to make my canvases, so I need to go into a wood workshop and make it. So it’s very hands on like that, I think most fine artists are like that as well, so I think it’s like having that awareness and openness that we’re all actually crafters in a way.”
She also believes that Emerge brings diversity to the city’s arts scene, and puts the focus on new and recent graduates from the city’s institutions, regardless of their craft. “I think that sometimes you see the same artists exhibit constantly in Cork,” she said, “it’s important to look elsewhere.”
Chris Tuohy is a prime example of a crafter who finds himself in the in-between spot of art and trades. A furniture maker, he graduated from Furniture Design and Making from Tramore Road Campus, Cork College of FET, (Coláiste Stiofán Naofa) two years ago. Before that, he worked in an office in Mahon, and similar to the factory worker of the age of mass manufacturing, he suffered from something similar to what Karl Marx identified as ‘alienation’.
“I used to work doing customer support, where you get forty calls a day, you answer the calls and at the end of the day there’s nothing to hold onto, so for me I couldn’t keep track of what I had been doing,” he said.
“And then at lunchtime, at the hour or half an hour or whatever it was, I’d go to the garage and I’d be there thumping away at bits of wood, and I made stools and things at the start. They weren’t great but they were something like, I could feel I spent however much time and now there’s a thing at the end and I did something, like, it worked.”
Like many, he would scroll through TikTok and Instagram watching videos of people making objects, which inspired him to start making.
“I had that sort of vicarious thrill of, look here’s someone making stuff, making things with their hands and at the end they have something that they made. That was really compelling to me, so then I was trying to figure out ways of being able to access that feeling,” he said.
“I could spend all my time on my computer watching other people doing stuff or I could just figure out how to do the thing rather than just watching.”
Chris believes that the Emerge exhibition gave him the direction he needed after college to feel as though there was a direction he could take with crafting. The value that people saw in his making and his craft at the exhibition gave him the belief that he was on the right path.
“Emerge was that sense that I was going somewhere, that’s what was valuable to me, because sometimes with arts and crafts, people have this thing, like a notion, sort of something fanciful that you’ll grow out of almost,” he said, adding that “having something like Emerge, with people I don’t know…see what I made and that’s something, there’s value with it in some sense so there’s some style and craft in what I’ve made.”
Emerge also leads its exhibitors into other opportunities. Last year’s winner, Jordan Whelan, had a studio in Benchspace, a creative hub for craft and design, for six months. The Emerge prizes include mentorship in the Cork Craft and Design shop in Douglas, which includes retail space, a six months residency in Benchspace, while the final prize is a year-long membership of Friends of the Crawford Art Gallery.
The proliferation of mass manufacturing and big furniture stores, along with the lack of a central space with crafters, makes it that artisanal furniture makers are overlooked or difficult to access to.
“The thing with furniture making is oftentimes there’s a cost for the quality, there’s a trade-off there,” Chris said. “It’s like that first step of ‘How do I access makers?’ is what blocks people from maybe taking that step of actually investing in it.
Chris thinks that at least with a shop, people are afforded a view of what’s being made, which is less intimidating than “approaching someone and going through that process and commissioning something that’s exactly what they want.”
Chris believes a centralised hub for crafters could go some way to resolving this and helping them find them more work and commissions. He thinks that crafters are too hidden and difficult to find, which could be resolved by having somewhere to sell their work.
“I think if there was a space and it was very public and obvious, that’s a space where you access things, it might help with that appreciation that makers in Cork can connect with the audience in the way that they’d like to.”
“There’s a lot of people who are making amazing stuff in Cork who I wouldn’t know because they’re down in somewhere,” Chris said, “and unless you know where they are or unless you know them already, then where to find them is sometimes challenging, unless you’re really invested in that.
Chris said if there was somewhere in the city centre where crafters could exhibit and sell and if it was well signposted it could make a difference.
Ava also believes that permanent spaces and studios are needed for artists and makers in the city. As curator of ‘Do You Remember Where the Window Was?’ at Stamp in the Counting House in the old Beamish & Crawford brewery, she saw how spaces could be temporarily opened up and giving access and space to artists and the public.
“I think the more spaces like this we have, the more likely we are to have permanent studios somewhere in permanent settings,” she said. “Stamp was fantastic that we were able to open the doors to the Counting House, so the more that we can do that the better.
The Emerge exhibition runs until August 24 at the MTU Gallery, 46 Grand Parade.
A reminder: Tripe + Drisheen will be taking a regular break from posting for the next two weeks as we take short break to catch a breath, and hopefully some sun.