Explores Relationship between Craft and Dining

With the demand for locally sourced goods and handmade products on the rise, terms like “handcrafted,” “craftsmanship,” and “artisanal” are household words in the food industry and marketplace. Art-and-food-fusion events are increasingly prevalent, while “craft,” in this arena, denotes customized products and services. In response to these trends and recent scholarship, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) presents “Dining and Discourse: A Discussion in Three Courses,” an exhibition that looks critically at the intrinsic relationship between craft and dining.  On view February 6 – May 10, 2015, the exhibition features 26 emerging and mid-career artists working in wood, glass, ceramics, fiber, metal, and mixed media. Curated by HCCC Curatorial Fellow, Kathryn Hall, the show challenges contemporary notions of functionality, status, and aesthetics by moving beyond the presentation of the beautifully set dinner table to spark discussion about the past, present and future of craft. Organized into three dining-room vignettes—”Role Play,” “Hunter-Gatherer,” and “Opulence and Excess”—”Dining and Discourse” reveals new flavors within the age-old partnership of craft and food, as contemporary makers find inspiration in the dining experience.

“Role Play” addresses the formal concerns of dining-room furniture, utensils, and wares through material, line, color, and form.  The artists in this vignette bring a new sense of purpose and identity to the dinner table, calling attention to the social and practical aspects of sharing a meal. Inspired by Le Corbusier’s modern design principles, Studio WAC’s “Obus Lofts’ Dining Table” presents a creative solution to hosting a small dinner party. Designed for five people, the layout of the table breaks up formal seating arrangements to promote conversation and social interaction.  With two corners of the top bending towards the floor, the piece’s asymmetrical design confronts the functional boundaries of dining-room furniture.

“Hunter-Gatherer” recognizes the growing presence in popular culture of the self-sufficient, resourceful, and environmentally conscious mindset—a modern adaptation of the survivalist. Through the lens of contemporary craft media, this vignette considers the topic of sustainability in craft and food, as well as the traditional display of man’s dominion over nature. For instance, with a handle made from pig bone and copper, Seth Gould’s “Non Si Butta Via Niente” meat cleaver is a stunning embodiment of the environmental mantra, “Do not throw anything away.”

In contrast to the first two vignettes, “Opulence and Excess” exhibits a playful explosion of color, ornamentation, and material exploration. Historically, commissioned wares and dining-room furniture asserted the power, status, and personal beliefs of their patrons through the use of precious materials, embellishment, and technical execution. However, as tastes have evolved, old aristocratic styles that were once revered—like the Baroque—have become kitsch in mainstream culture. Borrowing from the history of decorative arts patronage, the artists in this vignette have restored value to period styles by adapting them to a contemporary context. For instance, Nanda Soderberg showcases his highbrow-meets-lowbrow style with handmade glassware. The artist transforms recycled beer bottles into Venetian-style goblets and tumblers, adorned with a touch of gold leaf.

Above all, “Dining and Discourse” aims to generate discussion about the historical and contemporary relationships between craft and dining. Visitors are welcome to participate in the discussion through related programming and by visiting the exhibition’s Tumblr blog. (Full details will be available in February, 2015, on the exhibition web page at http://www.crafthouston.org/exhibition/dining-and-discourse/).

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