Between tradition, discourse and technologies


Opening: 14.11.2019, 7pm
Curated by: Barbara Steiner
Co-Curator: Alexandra Trost

About the exhibition

Categorisations, definitions and boundaries can help to find one's way in a complex world, but sometimes they lead to exclusions, divisions and hierarchizations. Art history, too, is full of hierarchies that continue to have an effect to this day: tradition and modernity, art and craft, free and applied art, "high art world" and "low art world", European and non-European art. Although these definitions have repeatedly been successfully challenged by artists, they can still be found in everyday life, in institutional practice and in the art market.

This exhibition asks what a fruitful dialogue between art and craft might look like and places both in a larger social context. It mediates between contemporary art, craftsmanship and new technologies, traces cultural transfers across national borders, explores intermediate areas and transition zones. The importance and appreciation of the craft as an essential component of material culture, cultural identity and community is thereby connected with social and economic conditions in a globalised world.

With works by Azra Akšamija, Olivier Guesselé-Garai, Plamen Dejanoff, Olaf Holzapfel, Antje Majewski, Jorge Pardo, Slavs and Tatars, Haegue Yang and Johannes Schweiger.

About the artists Expand Box

AZRA AKŠAMIJA examines how cultural experience and knowledge can be exchanged and preserved. As the bearer of this experience and knowledge handed down over generations, craft plays an important role here. Monument in Waiting, a kilim woven by Bosnian women, tells the story of their displacement and mass murder in Bosnia­Herzegovina. Wanderjahre #1 und #2 explore cultural transfers within the context of labour migration. Yarn-dez-vous, a quilt made of textiles from the Middle East & North Africa and the USA, can be transformed into blouson jackets. Diaspora Scroll, a growing archive, uses textile art as a resource in order to understand cross­fertilisation between cultures and promote a cross­border dialogue. T-Serai serves as a portable shelter and is inspired by the tent traditions of the Middle East & North Africa region. The modular design of tapestries uses recycled clothing sourced from overproduction in the global textile industry. The foundation of Future Heritage Lab allows the artist to be active as an academic, to collabo­ rate with people across disciplinary borders and to work with concrete projects—such as in the Al Azraq refugee camp (Jordan). Art exhibitions provide Akšamija with a platform to raise awareness of the cultural and emotional needs of refugees, but also to reflect our own position within a global system of inequality. In addition, the exhibitions provide a source of funding for further activities. The Future Heritage Lab works closely with communities affected by conflicts and crises.


In 2010 PLAMEN DEJANOFF established a foundation including five buildings in Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi. These were returned to his family in the course of a restitution process by the Bulgarian state. The foundation also owns a number of collections to which items are constantly being added: approximately 18,000 historical documents on the history of Bulgaria, 190 works of contemporary art and more than 2000 books about art, architecture, fashion, film and design. The foundation’s aim is to anchor contemporary art in public awareness in Bulgaria. To this end the foundation realises specific art projects by the artist, such as Bronze House and Foundation Requirements. They refer to traditional interior fixtures such as were, or still are in fragments, to be found in Dejanoff’s houses. For his ceilings, floors and doors, Dejanoff uses an ‘interlocking’ technique that is rarely employed today—the parts are held together with pegs and brackets. Reconstructions of these architectural fragments are shown at international exhibitions. In this way, the artist links Bulgarian handcrafting traditions with contemporary art. By using the structures and mechanisms of the globalised art market, Dejanoff’s foundation projects attract attention to this craft and also to a region on the periphery of Europe. The revenue generated flows back into the projects in Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi. Legal frameworks, PR and financing models are an integral part of the art projects.


In each place where it is shown, OLIVIER GUESSELÉ-GARAI’S Woven Line produces new connections between craft traditions in West Cameroon, the exhibition location and his own artistic practice. For La Mur murmura, a basket weaver from West Cameroon, a traditional Styrian ropemaker, a hairdresser in Graz who specialises in African hairstyles and the artist himself work together. They shape materiality in their own ways and exchange knowledge and experience in and about their work. Guesselé-Garai sees his own and also joint works with ANTJE MAJEWSKI as bridges that create transitions between art and craft, between tradition and modernity, and between European and non-European cultures. Taking the example of Cache-Sexes, the throne of Sultan Ibrahim Njoya and traditional basket weaving in West Cameroon, in their multi-part installations Guesselé-Garai and Majewski focus on the shifts in the status of handcrafted things—from their ritual, spiritual use and anchoring in everyday life through to aesthetic objects and sought-after collectors’ items. In their practice, the two artists seek to avoid categorisations that separate. Hence in Czarny Pragnienie and Homage to the African Square Meter by Guesselé-Garai, the abstract art of Western Modernism is hybridised with the handcrafting traditions of cache-sexes. In Majewski’s videos and paintings, such as Mandu Yenu (Reversed) and Panier de Poulet, there emerges a principle of dialogue that acts on and processes cultural impulses.


OLAF HOLZAPFEL is interested in the physical properties of materials: how do these define landscapes, social spaces and handcrafting traditions? Beyond this, he looks at the cultural, communication and economic functions that materials such as straw, reed and hay have for communities. The interdependence between the concepts transferred to the materials and the—at times resistant— properties of the material form the starting point of his works. The abstract-constructive models are developed by the artist on a computer. During their realisation it is the size of the straws that define the motifs, and the length of the wooden beam that determines each architectonic construction. Holzapfel works with local crafts-people such as the Wichí, an indigenous people in Argentina, or the Sorbs, a West Slavic ethnic group in eastern Germany, on specific projects. His works mediate between contemporary art and sometimes centuries-old craft traditions, between digital and analogue technologies, and also between nature and culture. The artist investigates the potential for conceiving an in-between and moving within it. In doing so he challenges demarcations between cultures, the individual and society as well as conventional dichotomies such as  city/countryside  or nature/culture. When Holzapfel integrates landscape pictures— such as Johann Kniep’s Ideal Landscape of 1806 or Tina Blau’s Szolnok of 1873/74—within his presentation, among his chief aims is to demonstrate how landscape was formulated and constructed in and through painting.


JORGE PARDO SCULPTURE is not a classical artist’s studio, not a classical handicraft workshop, and not a classical industrial enterprise. Even though the company name is composed of the artist’s name and ‘sculpture’, architects, carpenters, painters, engineers for lasers and CNC technologies work there in a division of labour structure. For an industrial company the production capacities are too small, for a manufactory the share of manual work is too small. The quantities range from one to 40 pieces. Pardo combines different production logics: digital image processing, computer-aided serial production, manual work, subjective decisions and specifically placed gestures. Without distinction, the same principles are applied to painting, design and architecture. The objects serve to trigger dynamics, ‘make the machine run, really rotate’, and raise the question of ‘what the object is’. What gestures are needed to challenge certain notions—of art, the artist, and exhibiting, for example;  in what contexts do objects take on what meanings; in what ways can they be used, and when, by whom? And: Where does the work of art begin, where does the work of art end? Elements, materials and processes are used in such a way that they trigger discursive processes. The large shelf, which shows works from different years, is a 1:1 replica from the studio in Mérida. There it serves to determine freight volumes.


JOHANNES SCHWEIGER is interested in the physical properties of materials such as felt, linen or jacquard for particular processing techniques like weaving and felting and their social contexts. Nostalgie für Obsoleszenzfreunde explores the shifting perception of linen, which went from being a simple fabric to a sophisticated home textile and so the expression of a neoconservative lifestyle. Schweiger had linen cloth rewoven on historic looms in Mönchengladbach, a city in what was once an important textile region of Germany. The new version of the historic original in white makes this a projection surface for the images and meanings that we associate with fabrics. In Jockdom, Emphase der Flatness Schweiger uses felt, which appears in the handicrafts corner, in medieval fairs and also in fine art, and is tied to corresponding increases and decreases in value. In a series of works, the artist looks at the possible ‘gayness’ of textiles. He asks in what contexts materials, titles or forms of presentation become ‘charged with gayness’ and charts the shifts from hippy culture to gay culture into mainstream fashion and back. An example of this is Sample Schlaufen, a mood board for a fictitious (men’s) collection with a focus on ‘strips’ and ‘fringes’. Other examples include Industrial Permanence: Basic Tissues 2, White Linen, Fake and Economic Imperative LR 8000, which present two important ‘craftswomen’  of the 20th century— Marie Likarz-Strauss and Lucy Rie—, placing them in a contemporary context.


In their books, installations, objects and performance lectures, the artists’ group SLAVS AND TATARS dedicates itself to complex cultural and religious interdependencies, borders, contact zones, imports, exports and the overwriting of cultures. Craftsmanship is an important field in which these appropriations, superimpositions and reformulations take place and can be perceived. Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi’ite Showbiz shown at Kunsthaus Graz ranges from the Sarmatism* of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Iranian Revolution, to the collapse of communism in Poland and the ‘Green Movement’ in Iran, and also places the relationship between the two in a broader geopolitical context. In this cycle of works, Slavs and Tatars’ interest in craftsmanship is expressed in the sense of ‘citizen diplomacy’. Because arts and crafts are anchored in everyday life, they have a subliminal effect and can become inconspicuous bearers of cultural-political understanding and even a criticism of ruling systems. The objects shown in the exhibition were created in collaboration between Slavs and Tatars and Iranian and Polish craftsmen and women.
* Sarmatism, also referred to as ‘Polish orientalism’, is a term describing the culture of the Polish gentry in the 17th and 18th centuries. They traced their lineage back to the Sarmatians, a confederation of various tribes of Iranian horsemen.


The Intermediates by HAEGUE YANG show the artist’s engagement with traditional straw weaving and its strong connection to society and rituals. The anthropomorphic bodies of the sculptures sit on geometric steel frames, yet curve in a sculptural way. Their surfaces become hairy and ornamental. The group Umbra Creatures by Rockhole was created between 2017 and 2018 largely with works  from the sculpture series The Intermediates. In addition to artificial straw, they contain various objects: Turbine vents, bells, artificial plants, and plastic twine. A creature is crowned with boards collaged on both sides. With its motifs of high-tech flat screens on Chromolux paper and holographic vinyl film, electronic products appear as fetishes. The creatures elude any unambiguous identity and appear intentionally opaque. The different materialities become a conceptual vehicle of a hybrid identity. Weaving with straw, palm leaves or banana leaves is firmly anchored in and connected to local communities. Despite numerous differences, they can be found in many regions of the world. Yang’s works refer to notions of authentic folk art, and the use of artificial straw frees them from a protective conservative approach. Yang proposes ‘a universal synthesis through mediation that can only be created in the space between the individual cultures.’ The wallpaper Multiple Mourning Room (2012, in collaboration with Manuel Raeder) creates a space around the Umbra Creatures by Rockhole. The fluidity and opacity of the weightless and non-hierarchical arrangement ultimately discloses a diasporic space.

Along with the exhibition ARTS ⇆ CRAFTS a catalogue, designed by modern temperament and with drawings by the artist Anna Gille, is published. It is available in English and German language in the Kunsthaus Graz Shop.