Hand crafted by a mouse

Invest in the best: Collect at the Saatchi Gallery is leading a hi-tech revolution
One of the best places to see contemporary craft is at Collect, the annual selling exhibition mounted by the Crafts Council at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibition brings together 31 international galleries and the cream of their portfolio of artists, working in everything from bamboo to brass and ceramics to cloth. Craft is a growth sector of British art and this is one of the finest places to view it.

Vanja Bazdulj’s Margarita Chair(left); Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley’s Bowl Table (right)
Vanja Bazdulj’s Margarita Chair is built from industrial felt and rubber (left); Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley’s Bowl Table is created in blackened oak (right)

Craft these days is not just about traditional materials or processes; craftspeople are increasingly using cutting-edge technology. For example, Michael Eden, a potter for 20 years, is at the forefront of using rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing. Layers of high-quality nylon with a mineral coating are laid down to a program that he has created to make pieces that are often a contemporary take on 18thcentury ceramics.

"Sitting at the computer with the mouse in my hand instead of at the wheel with a throwing tool, I am able to instill the same energy and life into the virtual object as I did when working with clay," he says. "It has allowed me to make objects that were previously impossible, giving me almost total creative freedom."

Katie Bunnell’s Stitched Bird Beaker (left); Hitomi Hosono's porcelain boxes topped with feathers (right)
Katie Bunnell’s Stitched Bird Beaker was made using digital technology combined with hand forming (left); modern Japanese maker Hitomi Hosono can create porcelain boxes topped with feathers (right)

Other makers are also exploiting this new autonomy. Ceramicist Geoff Mann digitally translates the pattern made by blowing on tea to cool it, into a rippling design incorporated into the form of his teacups, some of which have been bought by the New York's Museum of Modern Art for its collection.

Katie Bunnell also uses digital technology combined with hand forming to make a series of double-skinned porcelain beakers, while Tavs Jørgensen employs a new digital method, reconfigurable pin moulding, to make delicate glass bowls that seem to balance on pinpoints of glass — quite impossible to do with traditional techniques.

Rudolf Bott's vessels and cutlery
Renowned German maker Rudolf Bott casts silver and a range of traditional and translucent new materials to create vessels and cutlery

Nor can Drummond Masterton's silver be achieved by the hand alone. He uses a CNC milling machine as a craft tool to create the complex, multifaceted 3D interiors of his bowls. New technologies also seem to stimulate new collaborations like that of textile designer Ismini Saminidou, who works with digital Jacquard looms, and woodworker Gary Allson, who uses a digital router.

"The designs for my woven pieces are developed using the 3D digital information generated when Gary mills the timber. They are used to create lines, shapes and forms that become textile weave structures and are woven on the Jacquard loom," explains Saminidou.

Juliane Scholss’s Breakfast Bouquet
In stainless steel and silver, Juliane Scholss’s Breakfast Bouquet


For traditionalists there are more conventional approaches at Collect, though the resulting aesthetic isn't necessarily predictable. This year sees a number of galleries specialising in Far Eastern makers taking part, including for the first time, one from China. Craftspeople based in Japan, for example Naoki Takeyama and Suiko Buseki, often use traditional Japanese materials and techniques such as cloisonné, lacquer and bamboo, but the results are surprising.

Hitomi Hosono, a Japanese maker who lives in London, specialises in hand-built ceramics that look like vessels made of tiny leaves, with more than a hint of 18th-century Sèvres porcelain.

Tavs Jørgensen’s Large Pin Bowl, in float glass
Tavs Jørgensen’s Large Pin Bowl, in float glass, would be impossible to make using traditional techniques

This year Hitomi is experimenting with staining the porcelain black to create dark, mysterious boxes. Dark is a bit of a theme this year with ebullient ceramicist Kate Malone, known for her fruity colourings, working in a dark, almost iridescent glaze that she has developed in her chemical researches to make vessels adorned with glistening black balls.

Even metal gets to be black. Adi Toch uses a patinated silver-plated gilding metal for her contemplative metal bowl. The patination is dark, but has colourful highlights and linear engravings which guide the viewer to peak inside, where it contains hundreds of tiny ball bearings that form an almost fluid substance.

Naoki Takeyama’s cloisonné bowl (left) and Suiko Buseki’s bamboo vase (right)
The Japanese are using traditional processes with surprising results, as with Naoki Takeyama’s cloisonné bowl (left) and Suiko Buseki’s bamboo vase (right)

Black is popular with wood workers, too. Makers use scorching techniques to give real impact and visual strength to their work. Good examples are Friedman Buelhler's blackened, brushed and sandblasted oak containers, Mark Ricourt's scorched beech fluted vessels, Malcolm Martin and Gaynor Dowling's chiselled forms and Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley's bowl table a, bowl carved into a massive black oak table.

Michael Eden’s Viniculum II vase
Michael Eden’s Viniculum II vase is made using nylon with a mineral coating


Furniture is also the subject of several experimental installations. Vanja Bazdulj creates chairs that look like cartoon letters of the alphabet, using a material compound of industrial wool felt and rubber. She tailor-cures sheets of different density wool felt, which she assembles and tightens into place with rope to make individual, rather cheerful seats that are actually much more comfortable than they look.

Similarly inventive is Geoff Crook and Peter Jones's chair, Rhizome, which is their physical comment on the organic development of human creativity. The chair is made of welded forged steel pods that interlink. Each pod contains something different, from growing salad to a film of the making of the chair. Craft encompasses very different elements, but at Collect they are all under one roof.

* Collect is at the Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York's HQ, King's Road, SW3, from Friday 11 May until Sunday 13 May, 11am to 6pm, then Monday May 14, 11am to 4pm.

Tickets are £15 (advance tickets are £10 each). Two standard tickets plus a catalogue are £28.44.

Call 0844 481 8898, or visit craftscouncil.org.uk/collect

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