On 12 May 2015, three weeks prior to Build Your Own opening, it was announced that London-based design and architecture collective Assemble had been nominated for the 2015 Turner Prize. Early reports had Assemble as slim favourites to win the prize and this prediction reflects a shift in how contemporary art practice is being perceived by the viewing public. Socially engaged practice and a merging with traditional and contemporary craft is growing and this is no more apparent than with the 2014 Artes Mundi prize, which was won by Theaster Gates.
Exhibiting ‘Homework’ (2015), a collaboration between Assemble and designer Will Shannon before they (potentially) win the coveted award, is obviously a massive coup for FACT. It is something that should attract a wider audience, but if that is not enough this exhibition offers a genuine connection to its audience and particularly to the residents of Liverpool.
Build Your Own is an exhibition of four new commissions that explore the connections between craft, technology and community. It is what was described by curators Lauren Parker and Clare Cumberlidge on the opening night as a “live and ongoing conversation”.
In the space, the exhibition begins with the interactive display of Rachel Rayne’s ‘Neurotic Machines’ (2015). The interactive elements of this display are closely aligned to that which you might find in an aging museum trying to reach out to the kids; but it works and perhaps owes much to the exhibition design of Simon and Tom Bloor. The intention of this work, to bring gardening and urban farming into the post-internet age (through collaboration with The Raspberry Pi Foundation), is relevant and exemplifies the ethos that the Craft Council is conveying by co-producing Build Your Own: “collective production and skill-sharing”.
Linda Brothwell presents ‘Acts of Care’ (2013 – ongoing), a project which focuses here on ‘The Lost Letters of Liverpool’. Brothwell has sympathetically revived iconic building signs in the Dingle area of Liverpool by replacing and restoring missing letters through a combination of traditional English and Polish techniques and designs. Her display here combines crisp documentation of the project along with the beautifully crafted tools that she uses in the process, and thoughts on how to produce your own tools.
The exhibition flows almost seamlessly into ‘Desktop Prosthetics’ (2015). The process of production and the tools needed for the job is given deeper insight by this project from DoESLiverpool through examples of the practical uses 3D printing has to offer. It is a box ticker in terms of working with local practitioners and providing for the less able, but the project sings and is a real crowd pleaser.
This having been said it is ‘Homework’ that really lifts this exhibition and it is clear for anybody to see why they have received the accolades. The work is informative yet compassionate: Will Shannon and Assemble have shown a caring for people which, though present in the other projects, is most sincere here.
Build Your Own’s real power lies with engaging and empowering its audience to venture into the world and make for themselves with what these artists are sharing; engaging the audience through doing and leading by example.
James Harper is an artist, curator and writer based in Liverpool.
Build Your Own: Tools for Sharing, FACT, Liverpool
4 June – 31 August 2015