Art Culture

Brick-a-Brack: Multimedia Materiality in Industry’s Online Exhibition

Industry Magazine is Oxford University’s annual art, fashion and culture magazine, created collaboratively by four teams (creative, events, literary and sound) who help to build its multifarious contents. This year the magazine’s projects, ranging from publications, poetry readings, live events and an exhibition, have been moved online due to the pandemic. Over the last few months, Industry’s focus on the theme of craft has taken on many meanings through podcasts and a series of crafting sessions on Zoom. Industry’s website has been newly reshaped into a platform to showcase the work of a wide range of creators on the theme of brick-a-brack. Luisa Karman from Industry’s sound and literary teams and Ciara Beale from the creative and events teams have interviewed Industry’s editors, Chloe Dootson-Graube and Emily Webb, to gain some insight into the process of putting together the exhibition, as well as exploring the theme in their own featured works.

The theme of the exhibition: brick-a-brack, emerged from an “interest in making and craft with a focus on objects and what makes them ‘thingly’, how we categorise and bound them”, shedding light particularly on processes of making, unmaking and remaking that constitute objects and the social relationships around them. This malleable category unfolds as plurally as the many objects that make up everything from jumble sales and flea markets, to bricolage and surrealist mixed media. The exhibition comprises work from different teams, as well as collaborative pieces and external submissions that range from poetry, illustration, and collage to video and audio work. This interplay between ideas and mediums is in itself representative of the exhibition’s theme and its eclectic character.

Martha Wilson’s piece on handwriting for example, originated in the literary team and took on new meaning when reworked as image, and then as an aural collage which featured on the Industry Podcast. The piece explores both handwriting and voice as interlinked expressions and “markers of identity” of the crafter – even when writing and sounds are fragmented and reworked into a new whole, as in the collage.

Other literary pieces have also been reinterpreted as illustrations from the creative team, such as Rosa Bonnin’s illustration of Anna Roberts’ poem ‘Spin’, an interesting example of how a different dimension to a poem can be explored beyond the original intentions of the words through visual art.

Some submissions explore the boundaries between what is built and what is natural, “making nature into brick-a-brack” in the process. Alice Hackney and Lucy Ellis explore crafted landscapes in their works: ‘The Fields Outside My Window’ (a “knitted landscape inspired by her local area”) and ‘Grass Carpet’ (respectively). Similarly, in Ciara’s piece, she explores the artificial construction of garments and how historical forms can be reworked in the 21st century. Using fabric made from plastic bags ironed together, she created a corset which demonstrates how modernity’s excess waste can be turned into something new and wearable rather than simply be discarded. The miscellaneous objects defined by brick-a-brack are unified by this fusion of old and new, as well as the artificial and natural.

The editors themselves offer unique interpretations of the theme in their submissions. Chloe considers how objects are memorialised, creating a “personal archive and materialised remains of past experiences”. She explored how these are connected to the social relationships that surround materiality through working with reclaimed cloth and scraps of fabric. She focuses on the question of “where brick-a-brack can be situated: is it in the object, in the jumble of objects or in the mind of the ones who associate varied meanings to these objects?”. In this and other works, creators have considered how the boundary between craft and art is constituted, and how it might be continuously reworked. Emily Webb, likewise, considers the “ways in which we move in and out of objectivity”, a transition mediated by objects such as clothing which she explores poetically in ‘The Cloth’.

Different interpretations of the theme were present even within the same medium. Photographic submissions considered objects in a variety of ways: as actors in human activity and sensation, as seen in Michela Giachino’s work; as entities that unfold over time, a perspective adopted by Danielle Twiss; and as situated in the context of space, as done by Yi Zhao. 

The original idea for the exhibition was to construct the physical display in the style of a jumble sale, exploring “object histories” and “memories of jumble sales and charity shops”. The adaptation of this idea to an online format presented a new relationship to the physicality of the objects. As Chloe describes, “having taken the corporeality out of the equation, brick-a-brack has become a lot more material to us”, enabling objects to be rescaled and reworked as flatter images in a process the editors describe as having a “sculptural quality”. The possibility of including sound and multimedia work in the online space also allows apparently disconnected works to come together as a whole in unique ways. The online format also allowed for both a wider range of submissions and a wider audience to be able to engage with the theme of brick-a-brack, inviting the participation of a community that extends beyond Industry’s teams. 

The possibility of putting a show together without “coming into conflict with the conventions of the gallery and the physical space” serves as a reminder to emergent artists and creators how accessible setting up an exhibition may be when we detach ourselves from canonical display strategies. As such, the more level playing field of the online platform may be seen as an advantage to creatives facing the current challenging circumstances of the art world.

Check out the exhibition here: https://www.industryoxford.com/brick-a