As an umbrella term, "craft" covers a wide range of mediums and practices, ranging from the construction-paper and pipe-cleaner variety to boundary-testing works of art that happen to employ traditional craft media such as glass, ceramics, or textiles, with a diversity of finely made functional objects occupying the spaces between.
The Manitoba Craft Council's annual juried exhibition, Small Mediums at Large, collects work from 16 artists from across that spectrum and from across the province.
As the title playfully suggests, the unifying theme this year is size. With nothing appreciably bigger than a breadbox, the works' intimate scale emphasizes both their handmade quality and their accessibility. Unlike a monumental bronze, a video installation, or actress Tilda Swinton pretending to sleep in an oversized aquarium (an actual thing that happened), these are objects you might be able to imagine living with, a point underscored by the decision to mount the show at Tara Davis Studio Boutique, which specializes in hand-crafted jewelry and d©cor.
Every object in the exhibition demonstrates fine workmanship and skilful use of material, but works by Willy Carleton and Shawna Munro stand out as objects that you or I might feasibly make. Carleton's Thea and John, a bowl crocheted from wool and an unwound Anne Murray cassette tape, sweetly commemorates a wedding anniversary, while for Heart Punch (The Stolen Bride), Munro fills a mason jar with the remains of a romance novel blown to bits with the aid of a heart-shaped hole punch, a piece exploring the artist's relationship with her mother. Occupying a place between the scrapbooking aisle and conceptual art, both pieces are examples of how to make personally meaningful objects out of what's at hand.
S/M/L also features an crew of variably cuddly dolls, including Takashi Iwasaki's beautifully carved wooden Prince of Jupiter and a trio of horrible horses with janky legs and swollen, detachable tongues by veteran artist Diana Thorneycroft.
Hillary Smith and Kelli Rey each contribute ceramic curiosities. Rey hand-builds abstract reliefs riddled with small cavities meant to seem as though they peer back at you, while Smith's delicate porcelain forms evoke anatomical structures, which she houses under glass bell jars, creating a tableau that's equally lovely and macabre.
I'll confess a particular fondness for works that present an absurdist twist on functional and decorative objects. Tricia Wasney's Ectoplasm Ring, a tribute to Winnipeg's history as a hot spot for spiritualist mediums, consists of a wide silver band with a ghostly puff of felted wool in place of a stone. A piece of wearable sculpture, the work both is bewitchingly impractical and a singular pairing of materials, textures and forms. Sonja Rosenberg strikes a slightly grislier note with a two-part brooch meant to resemble a bleeding wound, while Peter Tittenberger pairs figures from judo, ringette and fishing trophies with wonky, half-deflated ceramic forms to create an assortment of delightfully odd teapots and cookie jars.
The size of the works might be modest, but S/M/L's scope is impressive, reflecting the Craft Council's commitment to a wide range of craft media. The show travels to the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon, but you'll be able to catch it in the Exchange until July 27.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist and writer.