Five Questions: Craft Cage Match Edition

Five Questions: Craft Cage Match Edition

Jennifers Lightning

Jennifer Komar Olivarez (left) and Jennifer Scanlan (right) are joined by Scott McGlasson, Jennifer Merchant, Scott Pollock, and Andy Sturdevant to compete for craft supremacy.

Excitement is reaching a fever pitch in the ACC office as the staff readies for the storm that will be the Craft Cage Match this Thursday, June 20. Plans have been made and the participants have been prepped for the all-out battle on the rooftop of the Grain Belt building, although we know that all bets are off at 7 p.m. once the program begins.

A talented cast of participants will face off against each other in two teams, with each team led by hometown favorites and brilliant curators Jennifer Komar Olivarez of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Jennifer Scanlan, formerly of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. As a sneak preview of our final event of the spring Library Salon Series (and to prepare the curators for the hard-hitting questions on Thursday), we asked the two Jennifers five questions about craft, curating, and the competition. Learn more on our Facebook event page and spread the word to friends, because judging from the curators' responses, it looks like the Craft Cage Match is going to be a good old-fashioned barnburner!

What knowledge or skill do you think will help you dominate the craft cage match?

Jennifer Komar Olivarez: As a curator in an encyclopedic art museum, I bring a connection to history that I believe will give me an edge, especially since many contemporary ideas are referencing historic styles and techniques. I have used this connection successfully in the various "ReMixes" I have done throughout the museum - putting a William Hunter turned and carved wood vase form with equally elegant Sèvres or Chelsea vases or a Helena Hernmark “superrealistic” tapestry next to Renaissance tapestries in the same gallery.

Jennifer Scanlan: I suspect Jennifer Olivarez has spent too much time in Minnesota, and she is going to be nice and friendly and stick to the rules. After 15 years in New York City, I have gotten rid of all of my Minnesota nice and I will "Take No Prisoners!"

The word curate is found everywhere these days, from shoe stores to wine shops. What is your least/most favorite example of the word in modern use?

Olivarez: Ugh. OK, I’m not dogmatic about this, really, and I understand the skill in bringing together objects or things in displays or collections (or even sets of music). But unless you are in charge of their long-term care to benefit other generations, you’re not curating in the traditional sense of the word. It’s not always the sexiest work, but care and preservation of noteworthy objects and collections is a significant part of my job.

Scanlan: Ha! You have hit on a topic that gets me reaaally riled up. As far as I am concerned, the only acceptable use of the word curate as a verb is for someone who has studied a subject matter and, armed with considerable knowledge, carefully selects objects or artworks for display in an exhibition with the specific intent to create a narrative or propose an idea. I would also accept the selection of performances, films, or other time-based artforms in a festival format, but it would need to be for the specific purpose of expressing a certain idea, not just to showcase a wide range of good bands, for example. Curate is not acceptable in other uses.

As a cosmopolitan curator, how do you feel about the Twin Cities' art/craft/design scene and local enthusiasm as compared to the rest of the world?    

Olivarez: This is a great community, and one thing we all need to do (including myself) is not take it for granted. We have great major museums, and even the more focused museums (such as the Weisman Art Museum, the American Swedish Institute, and the Museum of Russian Art) are all places I’m proud to take out-of-town guests. The making scene is also terrific, as your readers know - I know you’ve mined so much local talent for the magazine and the shows since moving the ACC offices to Minneapolis. What I like is the non-snobby, accessible aspect of our art scene. For example, the St. Croix Pottery Tour this year more than ever was packed with pot-lovers of all ages and backgrounds - just lovers of handmade things. Also, our recent Northern Spark festival mixed the avant-garde with the mainstream for a real smorgasbord of experiences. I’ve done a lot of work in Finland recently, and I would say the crossover and enthusiasm within their “scene” of art/craft/design is really vital and geographically very contained, which helps.

Scanlan: The Twin Cities is an amazing place with exceptional creative output in many artistic forms. I think people in New York are often more provincial than in other parts of the country and completely unaware of what is going on elsewhere - assuming that New York is the center of the world. Minnesotans have a very good sense of what is happening worldwide, but they are also very grounded in an exciting local scene, which gives them the breathing space to make wonderful things. I wonder if it also gives them the market to support themselves by making these things.

3D printers? Respond.

Olivarez: I am really fascinated with how this technology can become a creative tool for makers of all kinds. I’m also fascinated with the dialogue about whether something that’s made by someone or something other than the artist (if that artist is a craft-based materials artist) is really craft or whether that matters. A misunderstanding I had about 3D printers was that their mainstream use was printing in plastic, which seemed like a trade-off between technology and sustainability that wasn’t so great. But we have someone at the museum working with one as part of an innovation grant, and I’m excited about the potential (and he’s using a compostable substrate). We even talked about how in the future, ornamented buildings such as the National Farmer’s Bank in Owatonna, Minnesota, by Louis Sullivan (1907-08) could one day be printed with a giant printer, not constructed of brick, glass, and terra cotta. It has led already to a new organic aesthetic (call it Nouveau Art Nouveau?) with some jewelry artists, and it may lead to a whole new aesthetic of ornamentation!

Scanlan: I haven't used them myself, so I don't know about all of the possibilities that they hold. From what I have seen, they seem like another great tool to get people from idea to object, with lots of opportunity for discovery along the way.

How do you psych yourself up before a spirited debate on the arts?

Olivarez: I think about the fact that I bring a unique perspective on the subject through my own 20-plus years of experience, and that the combination of this with others’ viewpoints will be a great experience for participants. Most debate these days is online, so it will be valuable to have a real-life exchange!

Scanlan: Whiskey shots. Artisanally crafted whiskey, of course.

Bonus Question: If you could use any book in the ACC Library’s collection to attack your opponent (physically or mentally), what would it be and why?

Olivarez: The first book that came to mind is Makers: A History of American Studio Craft by Janet Koplos and Bruce Metcalf - partly because it is heavy and could knock someone out with one blow, but also because as one of the first significant attempts to write a history of American craft. It is interesting for what it includes, as well as what it doesn’t, and should launch a spirited discussion about the historiography of craft.

Scanlan: The book Makers by Janet Koplos and Bruce Metcalf has the advantage of being both a thorough guide to the protagonists of craft history through the past 100 years, and being heavy enough to inflict a lot of pain.

Five Questions is a brief Q&A about books and craft, with people who love and use the American Craft Council Library.

This activity is made possible by the Walter C. Rasmussen Northeast Bank Foundation and the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.