Making KnowingPosted on January 3, 2022
What are things we do not recognize or unconsciously undervalue in our lives? What are things that we put in the center? What do we take for granted? As I read scholars’ articles about ecology and human responsibilities in the Anthropocene—a period of time during which human activities have impacted the environment enough to constitute a distinct geological change, I wondered how to provoke people to recognize marginalized aspects in the world. In this blog post, I’d like to explore how women artists have delivered their perspectives from Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019 at Whitney Museum of Art.
Making Knowing introduces artists who have reclaimed visual languages that have typically been regarded as feminine, domestic, or vernacular such as weaving, sewing, or pottery. Whether crafts can be art is an argument that has existed for a long time in the art world. Many of the materials and processes used by these artists have been marginalized. Looking at their works, I could imagine how these artists embodied their recognition of invisible and marginalized aspects in the world. The subjects they chose and the techniques and processes represent how they wanted to provoke viewers.
Marie Watt brought Iroquois ironworkers, who built most of New York’s skyscrapers, into the museum by piling blankets in her work. Watt believes blankets provide access to social connections, historical traditions, and cross-cultural meanings. Some Indigenous communities often give blankets away to honor people for being witnesses to important life events. We can associate this awareness of history and social connection to what Fuentes reclaimed in Becoming Human with Others in the Anthropocene. He said, “We need to be more cognizant of these processes and impacts and recognize that nothing we do is only about us (as a species or individuals). If we are injecting the world with a human will, then we have a responsibility to manage the results for ourselves and for others.” As if he asserted that we often are oblivious of reciprocity in nature and human relationships, Watt invites us to notice the history of the city we live in.
Liza Lou demonstrated women’s invisible labor to the audience through the colorful full-scale installation. The overwhelming size of the work and the surface covered with sparkling beads catch the eye at once. Using the labor-intensive and time-consuming medium, she powerfully showed gender inequality in labor that has been granted. She paid attention to women’s work in the house as if disparaged underground fungal threads that help a forest and pass nutrition from trees to trees. Suzanne Simard took the lead in forestry and ecology by studying the importance of the mycorrhizal network, paying attention to plants interactions that male peers had ignored in the past. Just as Simard, considered non-mainstream, asked trenchant questions to the existing knowledge system, Lou inspires the audience with different ways of seeing.
It is also very meaningful that the Whitney Museum, one of New York’s representative contemporary art museums, held this exhibition. Crafts are mainly regarded as women’s work, undervalued, and have not been regarded as arts. Whitney shows responsibility within the art world by curating this exhibition, just as we reflect on human responsibility, living in the Anthropocene. The exhibition focused on the works demonstrate that craft-informed techniques of making carry their own kind of knowledge, crucial to a more complete understanding of the history and potential of art. It centered on women, artists of color, and queer artists who explored various crafts methods and materials among the collection of modern and contemporary American art.
Listening to these artists allowed me to think about interdependency and reciprocity around ecosystems we are part of. As Teresa Ryan said, “Everything is connected, absolutely everything.” I strongly encourage readers to visit Whitney and appreciate the works. It was very inspiring for me to view artworks made of craft techniques and learn the stories of the artists.
– J. Lee
1. Ferris Jabr. 2020. “The Social Life of Forests.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/12/02/magazine/tree-communication-mycorrhiza.html
2. Agustín Fuentes. 2015. “Becoming Human with Others in the Anthropocene: The Long View.” Engagement. https://aesengagement.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/becoming-human-with-others-in-the-anthropocene-the-long-view/
3. “Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019.” Whitney Museum of American Art.
4. “Anthropocene.” National Geographic Education Resource Library.
5. “Blanket Stories: Transportation Object, Generous Ones, Trek.” Marie Watt Studio.
6. Glenn Adamson. “Why the Art World Is Embracing Craft.” Artsy.