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Crafting a Difference: Shiro Muchiri in conversation with Brian Kennedy

12th March 2021

Crafting a Difference: Shiro Muchiri in conversation with Brian Kennedy
Crafting a Difference - featuring Vessel Gallery - the new exhibition at SoShiro is an alliance between leading London galleries forged by Brian Kennedy to scaffold the contemporary craft sector within today’s changed landscape.

Illustrating that now, more than ever, the process of creation is undeniably a deep-rooted, unifying force, he talks about how the exhibition offers a roadmap to how we will explore, experience and invest in art in a new world.
SoShiro: How did you select the galleries for Crafting a Difference?

Brian Kennedy: The Crafting a Difference exhibition grew out of a series of conversations that I was having with the 5 galleries during the first Lockdown in March. I had long felt that small independent galleries needed find new ways of working together to develop the collectors market for Contemporary Craft. In a way the Covid crisis made them more open to collaboration and innovation. The group of galleries could work together easily as each had their own distinctive ‘style’ and ‘voice’ so that their individual identities could be read within a collaborative exhibition.

SS: What are the key trends you see emerging in contemporary craft as a result of the pandemic?

BK: In many ways, the crafts people practices haven’t been much altered by the pandemic. They mostly work alone and many in quite rural locations. Some have admitted that the solitude of lockdown had led to an increase in studio time and a renewed vigour in their work. What has changed is the lack of opportunities to have the work seen and the shift to a digital market sometimes doesn’t suit 3-dimensional work.

What has shifted in all of us, both makers and consumers is the appreciation of the real and the desire to be surrounded by work that is emotionally important. We all need to ‘touch’ more and I think that this will accelerate the interest in craft. We all need to rebalance our lives, our homes, our shopping. We need the tactile to balance the digital overload of our lives.

Nature has become more important to us all and the materiality of craft plays into this perfectly. Just as we have moved from the processed to the organic in food, we now want to move from the industrial to the handmade in the things that we surround ourselves with.

SS: What do you see as the benefits of a collective show, both for you as a curator and for the galleries represented?

BK: The 5 galleries are all small independent businesses. They have all really appreciated the sense of camaraderie that working on Crafting a Difference has made. No one gallery could have taken on the pressure of a project this size, especially during the pandemic. For me as a curator it was wonderful to have five knowledgeable and passionate partners to bounce ideas off. Through them I was exposed to the work of over 70 artists in a superfast way. This meant that we could go from ground zero to a major exhibition in superfast time. I was also blessed with a wonderful venue partner in Shiro, who totally embraced the project from day one. All this meant that we could collectively pull of an exhibition involving over 270 works in less than 3 months.

SS: How does craft reflect the new values reflected by a new generation of collectors?

BK: Materials and practices that were once treated with suspicion by the art world are now firmly centre stage. Ceramics was the first of the craft areas to be embraced, followed by textiles and more recently by glass. This has paralleled a renewed interest in drawing, painting and sculpture within contemporary art. As our lives become increasingly digital, we are all craving a material reality, the analogue, the real. Lines have been blurred and boundaries crossed. You will now see more clay and cloth at an art fair than video and photography. The market is wide open, and collectors are beginning to look at not only the new talent in the craft market but the older more established hero’s in this field that have been awaiting a broader discovery. Museum collected work in the craft area can be bought at a fraction of the price than that of the art world. This is bringing new collectors into a fresh and exciting market.

SS: With design events going digital, do you believe that collectors are now comfortable buying high ticket items online?

BK: I think collectors are more comfortable in purchasing work in the digital arena that they are already somewhat familiar with. Established names will do better as collectors will have experienced the work physically at some time in the past. This is even more the case with objects that are often harder to read on the screen. The digital won’t replace the real but will be a much more important element in the marketplace. Exhibitions like Crafting a Difference will need to have a strong digital/virtual offer to succeed. Galleries will still play an important role as they can give the confidence to a collector to trust making an online purchase. It needs to be a symbiotic relationship between the real and the virtual, a finely crafted dual strategy to survive.

Interactive virtual tour | Vessel Gallery Artworks | Crafting a Difference | Crafting a Difference @ SoShiro | SoShiro

About SoShiro
Shiro is the Founder and Creative Director of SoShiro. Trained in Milan, as an interior designer, her practice has taken her all over the world. For the past 20 years, Shiro has been designing working and living environments that create a progressive depth of engagement between the space created and its users – a staunch philosophy Shiro holds to this day. Having worked on private residential, corporate, hospitality and retail projects across the UK, Europe, Asia and Africa; the words global, inclusiveness, aesthetics and humanity define Shiro herself. They are also the pillars of her brand SoShiro, the vehicle that will continue to bring her distinct values to life. Shiro has collaborated with over 25 artists some of whom are based in Hokkaido – Toru Kaizawa, Havana – Alexandre Arrechea and Saigon – Bùi Công Khánh, as well as numerous craftsmen dotted around the world, each of them working in their specialist art with a SoShiro twist. Shiro has curated and designed two collections – Pok and Ainu – which are a result of extraordinary teamwork between artists, craftsmen and many more creative disciplines based in Kenya, Italy, Japan and the UK.

About Brian Kennedy
Brian Kennedy is an independent curator working predominantly in the craft and applied art area. Between 2002 and 2010 he curated a series of major exhibitions for the Crafts Council of Ireland, Including “Forty Shades of Green” at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork and “Crafted Creatures” in conjunction with the Ark – Children’s Cultural Centre, Dublin. Following this, he curated the highly acclaimed exhibitions, “Material Poetry” and “Dubh – Dialogues in Black” at the American Irish Historical Society, New York. In 2014 he curated the critically acclaimed exhibition “Vase Vessel Void” for the Oliver Sears Gallery and in 2015/16 “In Residence I & II” for the same gallery in London. Other notable projects are Walpole’s “Crafted - Makers of Excellence” exhibitions at Somerset House, London in 2013 and at the Royal Academy, London in 2014. In 2015/16 he curated Taste - Contemporary Craft Exhibition at Art Geneva and Art Monte Carlo. 2016 also saw him return to the National Craft Gallery Ireland with “VASE, Function Reviewed” a major survey exhibition of international contemporary ceramics. In October 2016 Kennedy was appointed Artistic Director for the TRESOR – Contemporary Craft Fair, Basel, Switzerland, which was launched in September 2017. In 2018 he curated a major exhibition ‘Dialogues Through Time’ for TRESOR, Basel, Switzerland. Kennedy works with state agencies, museums, galleries and private collectors to develop strategies, organise exhibitions and build collections within the craft and applied art areas.

Below left: Brian Kennedy | Below right: Shiro Muchiri from SoShiro