Three commissions for Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters, the inaugural Harewood Biennial exploring the role of craft in culture, identity, and society
‘Why does craft matter today?’, is the question the inaugural Harewood Biennial, curated by design critic Hugo Macdonald, poses when it launches at Harewood House in March. Of the 26 exhibits which will be shown throughout the house, Useful/Beautiful will feature three commissioned, site specific works from renowned craft pioneers Anthony Burrill, Faye Toogood and Max Lamb.
The exhibition Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters aims to challenge preconceptions, spark interest and inspire debate around the role craft can play in culture, identity and society. The works are from some of the most exciting and diverse contemporary British-based makers, across fashion, textiles, woodwork, glass, ceramics, metalwork, furniture and paper. Useful/Beautiful is a multi-generational overview of excellence in craft today, demonstrating artistry in a unique way. Each room of the 18th century Treasure House will host a different exhibitor whose work responds in some way to their site, for example Andy Singleton’s paper sculptures will hang in the Main Library and Jenny King’s Irish embroidery will be shown alongside one of Erdem’s dresses in Princess Mary’s Dressing Room.
Of the three commissions, graphic artist Anthony Burrill will install a four-sided, six-metre high scaffold tower in front of the façade at Harewood, entitled ‘WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN’. Burrill will cut and traditionally hand-print a sequence of statements on the four sides to encourage visitors to think about what craft represents beyond the physical object. More than just a spectacle, his tower sets the scene and pitches the tone for the exhibition.
Burrill says: ‘I’m excited to have the opportunity to make a large-scale typographic intervention in such an amazing location. To make a piece of work that responds to the beautiful Georgian facade of Harewood is a huge privilege. My work is concerned with craft as much as it is with messages, both form and content should work together to produce meaningful work. I hope my commission for Harewood will both engage and provoke the audience.’
In her commission, designer Faye Toogood will bring together the archives of her Toogood fashion label with the furniture of Studio Toogood to tell a rich story of contemporary British craftsmanship through the lens of her practice. Taking over the Gallery on Harewood’s State Floor, Toogood will fill the entire length of the room with standard industrial shelving, in stark contrast to the rich Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale interior. With over thirty furniture elements, clothing and objects, from one-offs to limited editions to small batch production, the collection represents a celebration of contemporary skills, and sparks an intriguing dialogue between past and present.
Toogood says: ‘Craft is essential for the creative industry. Through craft we can make one-offs, go into small scale production and create well-made objects and garments. All of our designs are influenced through our direct engagement with local craftsmen and manufacturers. I love to push their boundaries and create works which have the distinct hand of the artist as well the craftsmen involved.’
For the final commission, Max Lamb has designed a handmade rug from discarded Yorkshire wool for The Yellow Drawing Room as a celebration of local materials, skills and industry. More local still, Lamb is hand-dyeing the rug himself using natural dyes sourced from the abundant trees, plants and vegetables in the gardens and grounds of Harewood. Following considerable research, together with Harewood’s head gardener Trevor Nicholson, elements harvested include oak bark, birch bark, onions, ivy, mahonia and alder cones. Lamb will dye the wool himself in his studio using a combination of tie and dip-dyeing techniques.
Lamb says: ‘I’m attempting to dye 100kg of wool by myself using natural materials harvested in winter. There is a danger I could end up with just a brown rug, but it’s the lack of control over the final outcome whilst learning the chemistry of these natural dyes that excites me.’
Located in the heart of Yorkshire, England, Harewood House is a compelling platform for the show; layers of heritage craftsmanship provide historic context and intriguing contrast for examples of what we call craft today. This exhibition places Harewood House firmly on the cultural map. Originally built as a show house, bringing together commissions from some of the finest craftspeople in the region, including Thomas Chippendale and Robert Adam. With excellent access to the vibrant cities of Leeds and York, and only two hours from Edinburgh and London, Harewood is perfectly positioned to spearhead a conversation in what role craft has in grounding our present experience, and what potential it has to shape our future. Formerly the home of Princess Mary, Queen Elizabeth II’s aunt, the House is an educational charitable trust. The six-month exhibition will be accompanied by a full programme of supporting events and activities.
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