Hot Hands - kunsthåndværk i samtidskunsten. Skovgaard Museet Viborg
Hot Hands - Crafts in Contemporary Art. Skovgaard Museet in Viborg. 2024

Material-based art challenges the boundaries between craft and traditional art

The table is set for 13 people. On the carved and painted wooden plate in the shape of a woman, 13 plates, triangular with curved edges and decorated with individual motifs of human figures and symbols, breasts and legs without torsos, are placed. The champagne glass-like ceramic goblets are to be drunk from, and the heavy metal cutlery next to the plates is highly ornamented.

During the exhibition period, the table setting will be accompanied by readings from the sensuous art cookbook with the macabre title ‘The Preparation of a Man’.

It’s an undeniably long way from artist Anna Stahn’s work ’13 guests’ to P.C. Skovgaard’s Golden Age art at the Skovgaard Museum in Viborg.

Hot Hands - kunsthåndværk i samtidskunsten. Skovgaard Museet Viborg
Anna Stahn, 13 guests.
Photo: Skovgaard Museet

Resource crisis puts material-based art on the agenda

The exhibition is called ‘Hot Hands – crafts in contemporary art,’ and features works in many genres from eight young Danish artists, namely Anna Fuglsang Houkjær, Anna Stahn, Asger Harbou Gjerdevik, Frederik Næblerød, Ihsan Saad Ihsan Tahir, Klara Lilja, Maria Zahle and Olivia Rode Hvass. The common thread in the exhibition is that, like crafts, the works are crafted in a multitude of materials not necessarily associated with traditional art – textiles, ceramics, polyfilla, wood and metal, to name but a few. An expression of material-based art, which is the practice where materials and their physical properties play a central role in the creation of the artwork, exploring the potential of materials and their relationship to the surrounding world.

Tanja Toft Rix-Nielsen, curator at the Skovgaard Museum talks about the exhibition:

“The main title Hot Hands can be interpreted in several ways. It can be about a hot passion and desire for unique works like those in the exhibition. And of course, working with your hands also makes you physically hot! It’s also about what’s ‘hot’ today. For one thing, there is a huge popular interest in working with arts and crafts, such as ceramics. You can see this in the number of participants at the country’s pottery schools and various cafés that offer pottery experiences – it has almost become a mainstream pleasure to make pottery,” she says.

“But more seriously, it’s also about sustainability and resource consciousness being a very ‘hot’ topic, and that shines through in many of the works in this exhibition – how to be sustainable as a young artist today and how we treat the earth’s resources. For example, Asger Gjerdevik has made his work in recycled zinc,” says Tanja Toft Rix-Nielsen.

he exhibition shows that material-based art is on a par with traditional art now - these artists don't differentiate between one and the other.

Current trend: genre boundaries are blurring

There’s talk of material-based art becoming more and more popular. Was this a conscious choice when you defined the exhibition?

“It was interesting for us to bring together these contemporary artists who use their hands a lot in material-based art, but it’s not only because of their use of different materials that they are interesting. The exhibition shows that material-based art is on a par with traditional art now – these artists don’t differentiate between one and the other. It’s becoming more fluid, which is also a trend you see with other contemporary phenomena. For example, in relation to gender identity. People aren’t so concerned with automatically placing things in traditional boxes.”

Skovgaard Museet. Hot Hands
Photo: Skovgaard Museet

What is the reason for this fusion of genres?

“Both artists and viewers today want authenticity in art, and you can get that by mixing materials and different techniques to create your own personal expression – you are not one thing or another, but you can and do many different things. And many of the artists in the exhibition work in more than one medium. For example, Anna Stahn is a writer, painter and ceramicist, and she uses all these elements in her practice and in the work with the 13 guests around the table.”

“So for many, it’s about getting out of the box thinking, where you’re either one profession or the other. It’s not so much about whether it’s material-based or not, but more that it’s part of your artistic practice – for example, painting is also included in our craft exhibition, as painting is also a craft that is created with your hands.”

Materials science at introductory level from the academies

Tanja Toft Rix-Nielsen explains that all the artists are academy-trained artists, with one exception, where one of the contributors is self-taught and a future theologian.
You would typically think that material-based work is something you work with in arts and crafts programs. Do you have a sense of whether the artists have learned anything from the art academies about working with material-based art?

“They’ve definitely been introduced to material-based art at the academies, but it’s only afterwards that they’ve figured out how to use it.”

“For example, there’s Maria Zahle in the exhibition. She has had her own scaffold loom since 2017, trained at art academies in London and has published several literary works. With this cross-aesthetic background, she has thrown herself quite freely into the work of weaving and plant dyeing. Her process is intuitive and she creates surprising combinations of materials such as linen and bronze that help shape the final expression of her work. Her works are shaped in the ‘now’, while working at the loom, rather than planned in advance. Her technique has become more sophisticated over time, but she doesn’t have the ideal of perfection that many artisans are shaped by.”

“It would have been different if she was a trained weaver. This is a more experimental, playful approach. I think the same thing happens if you put an artisan to make traditional art.”

With your experience from this exhibition and the art world in general, what value do you think craft brings to art?

“Craftsmanship and material knowledge adds a unique dimension in terms of craftsmanship and personal interpretation. You wouldn’t be able to get the same expression if it had only been drawn or painted. It enhances the experience and creates depth, so there’s something tactile, physical, when you choose materials and techniques from craft – it enhances the artistic experience.”

To put it a bit crudely, artists go into working with craft materials and processes as amateurs. What do you think the strength of the craft schools is in that perspective?

“They are there so that skilled craftsmen can create a practical aesthetic solution, such as giving us a good ergonomic chair for a good home that you can sit on and look at. Or creating a beautiful wedding ring from sustainable materials, an object with a new expression and a practical purpose, because that’s not what artists do. Artists create a connection between the intellectual and the physical through an art experience that conveys the experience of something inner that comes out in a way that you can’t use for anything practical. I know who I would go to for a wedding ring. At least if I had to be able to fit the ring or it wasn’t going to break…”

Will we see more of this? Artists working more material-based with inspiration from crafts?

“I definitely think so, also because materials and resources are limited in the future. We need to utilize what crafts can do with material-based practice – whether it’s textiles, metals or wood. The sustainable focus can easily be used in both artistic and craft practices. We need to focus on that – not as a trend, but as the future.”


Hot Hands – Crafts in Contemporary Art can be seen until May 20, 2024 at Skovgaard Museet in Viborg. The following artists are represented in the exhibition: Anna Fuglsang Houkjær, Anna Stahn, Asger Harbou Gjerdevik, Frederik Næblerød, Ihsan Saad Ihsan Tahir, Klara Lilja, Maria Zahle and Olivia Rode Hvass. Read more

Theme: The changing educational landscape

Danish craft and design schools have been in a state of flux for a number of years. Political reforms, cutbacks, name changes, cash-strapped thinking and the climate crisis have influenced how craftsmen and designers are educated. Formkraft gives column space to different voices to get a nuanced insight into the opportunities and challenges these changes bring to the field. Right now, the Schools of Design are negotiating the outcome of the latest candidate reform, and Formkraft follows up when the schools have something to say.

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Reinventing craft


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