Over the weekend I finished a test project. I’ve been exploring the limits cheap, cruddy, readily available materials can be be pushed – this weekend, it was pony beads. For those who did not attend day camp or raves, pony beads are large, garish plastic beads used to make horrible keychain fobs or PLUR bracelets. They’re clunky, in the way of materials geared for preschoolers still developing motor skills. They are useless decorative units churned out by the millions to encourage the creation of larger, useless objects (as assumed from the ‘lizard keychain’ pattern on the back of most bags). And yet, I hold out hope something good can come from this medium.
I wanted to start quickly and focus on potential color combinations while learning the very useful ‘square stitch’ technique – basically loom beading without the loom, and more flexible in terms of little bits hanging off here and there. Working with a material I’d not handled as much since day camp days, my thoughts turned to something else I hadn’t seen much since then – no, not Jurassic Park, though now that I think about it….but no. DOOM, the video game. Voila! Sprites are already cordoned into small squares, so I grabbed one for a Lost Soul and got to work.
I got about 4 beads to the inch, making this about 8 x 10 inches. It’s quite flexible, floppy but with some structure and body. I have absolutely no idea what to do with it (aside from making more and turning my living room into the Deimos Anomaly).
Here’s an animation of me putting it together. I think the table grain gives a better sense of scale:
After spending a good chunk of the weekend completing this, I asked the question haunting me since hearing it at a Silent Series event years ago - what’s the difference between this and my grandma crocheting from a kit?
The question was asked by a perplexed young man who, faced with a panel of young artists at the New Museum’s ‘Craft Hackers’ panel talking about how they utilized craft technique in their work, wanted clarification on the difference between what they did, and what his grandma, who apparently enjoyed buying kits to make things, did. The first and only response, echoed by the other panelists was this gem of a dodge: “(looooooooooooong silence) You know, that question is so important, I don’t think I can answer it.” Hah!
The short answer might be, they intentionally utilized the medium to get their ideas across, while his grandma didn’t bring a concept or agenda and simply wanted to enjoy the process. Still, what about something like my project, where I plucked a sprite created by someone else and reworked the color scheme in a completely different physical medium? Does it look boss? Of course it does, it’s a giant flaming horned skull. Does it mean anything? Nothing other than I thought this was an appropriate way to spend a weekend.
Two other thoughts come to mind – ‘Ghostworld’s ‘tampon in a teacup’ scene where, when asked what her painting of Don Knotts ‘means’, Enid says she doesn’t know, followed by an overeager classmate spinning absolute BS about her found-object sculpture consisting of a tampon in a teacup. I loathe the latter, spouting nonsense and creating meaning where none was intended. A classic example is the interview where a reporter asks Gus Van Sant if his Handsome Boy Gun School movie ‘Elephant’ was named because “no one wants to talk about the elephant in the room”. You can SEE his eyes light up as he says “Yeaaaaaaaaaah!” That’s it, that’s the ticket! But in an art world where Idea trumps Craft (does Jeff Koons even touch his own canvases any more?) what happens when an object is created just for the sake of creating? Just because it looks ‘neat’? Several months ago on a craft board, I came across an enormous cross stitch someone had done of a picture of their favorite band. It was absolutely photorealistic, in that they’d taken a photo and translated it into pixels and as close a floss color as could be matched. It sickened me, to think of the time and effort expended on recreating something that already existed with nothing added. So now you have a cross-stitch of a picture of your favorite band. What does this offer that the photo didn’t? The same thing I might say about my project, perhap, that it became a tangible, physical object.
I’ve nearly always defended Craft when it comes to the Arts vs. Craft – the personally involved, hands-on, tactile element that can be utilized to create art, but can also create serviceable, functional objects. It’s been said there isn’t any purpose to art, that’s why it’s Art. But if there is no idea behind it, does that qualify? Clearly repurposing work done by others ‘counts’ as art, as can be seen in any gallery today. But if something is just Craft, pure doing for doing’s sake, even if done well….
Well, that’s part of the reason I wanted to explore ‘crappy’ materials (so called by me). The Michael’s and Jo-Anne Fabrics are supposedly a world apart from the New Museums. Why is that? Is it just the materials? The environment they exist in? Spending any time in a ‘craft store’ the creeping sense of creativity gone horribly wrong surrounds you. So many kits and plastic gewgaws and seasonal merchandise made of the cheapest possible materials, all prepackaged and sold to you to earn your ‘creative genius’ badge by the same repetitive actions an assembly line robot does. Does that devalue the final product? Is it terrible that young man’s grandma gave him latch-hook rugs from kits? It’s just that the human involvement is at such a low level, robots took over this work except in situations where people voluntarily pay for the privilege of doing it themselves. While it’s true a kit has yet to come out to make your very own flaming demon skull (hmmmm….), is my taking an existing image and translating it via basic technique any different?
The next step of the project is to use the technique to create my own pattern, possibly as a wearable object, possibly just as a large wall hanging. I went to see the Gravity and Grace exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum this past weekend, and it was comforting to see the beauty that came out of simple repetition, basic materials, and sheer persistence (anything involving small units takes forever to put together, or at least feels like it). I’m not sure how I feel about art and craft at the moment, but I’m hoping just the act of willing something good (or at least visually/texturally interesting) to come from base materials helps clarify.