Reflections on The Matter of Making: Why does making still matter?

by Carole Villain

The Matter of Making celebrated the collaboration of 10 artists and designers.

The list of materials they use is long, varied and sometimes surprising: Paint, clay, wood, light, metal, thread, oil, beetroot juice, wool, foam, plastic bags… Traditional, unconventional, natural, artificial, noble or humble materials sat next to each other, shared the space of the gallery.

What all artists and designers in the exhibition have in common is their fascination for the physicality of materials and the act of making, when, in our digital age, one could question the validity or power of attraction of making ‘things’.

Why does it still matter for them to make ‘things’?

Each of them uses the qualities of materials, engage with them, play with them, share experiences through their craft. They create a space where making is about valorising the work made by hand, the senses, and the experience in the gallery space.

In our digital age, where most images / works of art are dematerialised and experienced through the screen, making becomes a way to be anchored in the ‘real’ physical experience, that is to say in the present.

Making also allows them to move beyond their medium, exploring the possibilities that arise from pushing against it. In the space, practices and works respond to each other, in a visual game. The light in Ollie’s piece shaped the space and was reflected on Mary’s blissful painting. The artificial colours and materials in Kezia’s work contrast with the natural pigments in my paintings. The softness in Zena’s work was mirrored in the apparent softness of wool, hiding the hardships of nature in Eleanor’s pieces.

The Matter of Making reminds us that materials, beyond immediacy or aesthetics, are bridges. They always come with a context and help to build meaning. Using matter is a social and political act. Clay, pigments, wool, paint… refer to a place, people and carry the weight of their history.

The structures created by Tom and Megan reflect on this encounter between materials and humans. The clay used by Xanthe refers to a specific place whereas the ceramics created by Dylan reminds us of the long history of pot making.

The reflectiveness of materials shows us their ability to offer a valid and relevant perspective on the world. By commenting on the kitsch, the nostalgia of childhood, the waste we produce or agriculture… all the artists actually talk about the relationship between humans and nature. By pointing to consumer society, the exploitation, destruction, cohabitation or collaboration with nature, with the non-human, each artist and designer brings to focus the complex networks of relationships we have built with materials.

Without taking away the pleasure of making and of experience, the Matter of Making brings awareness to the fact that making is always a place of engagement and collaboration. It is about caring. Being present with materials is being present with the world. This is why, in my opinion, making still matters.

The Matter of Making was a group exhibition that took place at ONCA Gallery 20 – 24 March 2019.