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Radical Acts: Why Craft Matters

We tend to define craft as a process or a physical object; it can also be time-honoured knowledge and a force for positive impact. But can it really be radical?

Following 2019’s Useful/Beautiful, curator Hugo Macdonald and Harewood House have once again set out to create a ground-breaking exhibition rooted in craft and craftsmanship. The Harewood Biennial returns with Radical Acts: Why Craft Matters in Harewood House, an accredited museum and charity located just outside of Leeds.

Radical Acts: Why Craft MattersOn show from 26 March until 29 August 2022, the Harewood Biennial 2022 explores narratives of social and environmental purpose via the work of 15 contemporary craftspeople, designers and initiatives.

The theme of the show evolved throughout 2020, a year of seismic change, and the 2022 Biennial explores why craft is a ‘radical act’ helping us to address urgent crises in life and society today, as well as looking to a future where we might live in a more environmentally and socially-responsible way.

“The word ‘radical’ comes from the Latin ‘radix’ meaning ‘root’. In Radical Acts, craft is presented as a bridge between our roots and our future. Each participant tackles an urgent issue of our modern lives with a resourceful attitude and hopeful intent.”

Hugo Macdonald, curator

This biennial exhibition is about craft with social and environmental purpose, spanning fields from furniture design and homeware to textiles and metalwork, showcasing works that demonstrate how these crafts can be used as a force for social, cultural or environmental good.

‘Leftovers Table’ by Retrouvius

‘Leftovers Table’ by Retrouvius

Each exhibitor tackles an urgent issue of modern life with a resourceful attitude and hopeful intent, using their craft to reflect on human connection, social equality and representation, climate change and conservation, material potential and natural resources, land use and landfill. These are projects that seek to restore the equilibrium of our relationships with each other, with our habits and our habitat.

The works on show this year, including eight specially commissioned site-specific works, also trace and build on the great craftsmanship in the 18th-century country house. Rather than simply using Harewood as a backdrop, many of the works are a direct response to it. This ranges from commenting on objects within its collection to confronting the history of the house, which was built using wealth derived from the West Indian slave trade.

As well as tackling deep-rooted sociocultural issues, many works at the biennial aim to confront the growing climate crisis, examining the reuse of materials and circular design.

‘Sylvascope’, by Sebastian Cox

‘Sylvascope’, by Sebastian Cox

A specially commissioned project from architectural salvage and design studio Retrouvius recreates the leaves of Harewood’s Victorian walnut dining table with reclaimed materials, addressing the subject of reuse in construction and architecture, while product, furniture and interior designer Michael Marriott’s kiosk installation directs our attention to the extreme impacts of our throwaway culture and is filled with objects made using found materials that had been discarded.

Textile artist, Celia Pym introduces a mending library installation which champions mending as an act of care and of renewal and an inherently social process. The library displays the results of a series of interactions – people came to her with their damaged clothes and, following a discussion, she engaged in a careful process of repair, using colourful threads to embrace and highlight the item’s imperfections and age ‘as part of life’s story’.

Outside, Sebastian Cox’s treehouse, Sylvascope, is made from wood felled on the estate to be a symbol of the ‘radical act of cutting down trees’ advocating for better management of woodlands with attention to underground ecosystems and wildlife, rather than just re-planting.

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Categories:Interiors & Lifestyle