Radical Craftsmanship

Radical Craftsmanship

In an increasingly digital world – where 3D printing technologies are becoming prevalent – a group of contemporary practitioners are working to keep the bespoke alive. Each year, over 75,000 people come together in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to form a temporary city and platform for cultural exchange: Burning Man. During a week of artistic endeavour, experimental large-scale installations are created and often destroyed, offering a unique experience which provides solutions to commodification by favouring handmade construction techniques.

A new exhibition at Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, Washington, brings together examples of such work. The collection highlights, as Stephanie Stebich, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director, notes: “The scale, the communal effort and the technical challenges inherent in creating works for the desert.” Examples include David Best’s striking site-specific, room-sized temple, which houses many of the installations on display. The artist is known for creating structures for the event throughout its history, offering an all-encompassing, immersive experience.

Other works include Marco Cochrane’s monumental figurative sculpture Truth is Beauty, Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti’s intricate pavilion Totem of Confessions and FoldHaus Art collective’s illuminated mushroom sculptures, Shrumen Lumen. A range of costumes, jewellery, video, archival materials and photography are also documented, providing a comprehensive look at the diversity and rich history of Burning Man’s creative production.

Extending beyond the institution’s walls, six additional installations occupy the parks of Washington, DC’s central business district. The outdoor extension gives visitors the opportunity to further engage with Burning Man’s ethos of self-expression and community participation, whilst exemplifying a burgeoning interest in the bespoke. As Nora Atkinson, the museum’s Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft recognises: “These artists represent the creative spirit of the contemporary maker movement and the ongoing importance of craft in the digital age.”

The exhibition runs until 21 January. Find out more here.

1. Aerial view of Burning Man gathering at Black Rock City, 2012. Photo by Scott London.