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Craft lies in the making

Deedee Cuddihy visits an exhibition which shows everyday objects made from unusual materials. Objects of Our Time. Royal Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh Until June 8

This stimulating and beautifully presented exhibition - featuring everything from cardboard tables to bracelets made of latex gloves, mostly designed and produced within the past 18 months - was organised to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the London-based Crafts Council.

The emphasis is on art and innovation, so, alongside fine examples of silversmithing, pottery and weaving, visitors will find tin-sheeting sculpture and a child-sized dress constructed from white net with black metal rods (totally unwearable).

Do these pieces really qualify as "craft"? The answer is yes, apparently, for these days it seems anything that is not a conventional painting, drawing or photograph is craft. And that's what makes "Objects of our Time'' so interesting. The 60 people represented in the show, including the industrial designers, are all described as "artist craftworkers'' - almost all went to art school - and their ages range from 27 to 75 years.

Some produce traditional craft work: a straightforward earthenware jug, hand-thrown and wood-fired; a red rug made from handspun goat hair woven on a Navajo loom. Others have embraced new technology and used computer-aided design and machining as well as laser and photographic techniques to produce functional and decorative objects such as clocks, tableware and furniture.

One of the most startling and political works is a traditional, Bosnian-style folk costume (beautifully made, like everything else on display), decorated with computer-generated embroidery, depicting not benign images of fruit, flowers and animals, but truly hellish representations of the recent war, such as soldiers bayonetting babies in the womb.

What this exhibition demonstrates, above all, is how inventive these designermakers are, particularly in their use of recycled materials and the "twist'' they can put on ordinary, everyday objects. There is plenty of humour, too, with a melted radio and expanded polystyrene jewellery. Lois Walpole has produced a range of Grace Kelly-style handbags woven from strips of orange juice cartons and fastened with clasps made from bottle tops which are so trendy that clothes designer Paul Smith featured them in a recent fashion show. And take a close look at Lois Walpole's flawlessly crafted laundry baskets which are fashioned, not from what appears to be traditional wicker or raffia but from tightly rolled sheets of newspaper.

A company called Jam has made a range of robust but attractive chairs from lightweight aluminium ladders and enhanced a plain, wooden standard lamp (called "Go-lamp") with a handle, a set of wheels and very long flex.

One of the wittiest pieces is a solid and versatile table by 28-year-old Clementine Hope, who trained at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee. According to the teachers' notes which accompany the exhibition, Clementine designed and produced "tableTable'' as a result of trying to furnish her flat. It is made from MDF (medium-density fibreboard) and decorated with a screen-printed image of a Louis XV table. It is also a prototype for production, which will be sold as a flat pack. "Hope's aim is to design and produce affordable furniture,'' the notes say.

The show is free and highly recommended for small groups of secondary school and college students, because it provides, according to the museum's education officer Ewan Small, a unique opportunity to see the work of designermakers who are in the forefront of British contemporary applied arts.

Ewan Small advises teachers in art and design, and craft, design and technology departments to come on their own first, possibly on a Tuesday when the museum is open until 8pm.

For a copy of the free teacher's notes, contact Ewan Small on 0131 225 7534. For school bookings, tel: 0131 247 4041

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