The intersection of art, craft, and public practice is often not an intersection at all, but a blur — a crossing of boundaries and experimental interactions that blend each into the next. Yet at the institutional level there are rules, categories, rooms for each that separate our understanding of these creative entities. This dichotomy was the focal point of the season’s opening session of Art School — our contemporary art education program for Walker members — on public practice. Sarah Schultz, the Walker’s curator of Public Practice and director of Education and Community Programs, was joined by Perry Allen Price, director of education for the American Craft Council, for a discussion of current artist in residence Fritz Haeg and his work in relation to public practice, craft, and what it all means in the context of contemporary art. After the program, participants headed to Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City in the Medtronic Gallery where local artists Michon Weeks and Kate Fisher taught how to turn old t-shirts into crocheted mini-rugs, a.k.a trivets.
It is not hard to appreciate and desire to be a part of Haeg’s work. Although rooted in all things plant-related and -derived, his work requires human interaction and use. From the most recent (and final) Edible Estate created in Woodbury, Minnesota, to the installation currently in the Medtronic Gallery, all that he makes begins with gathering plants but ends with gathering people. It is this notion that blurs the lines even within the Walker: there are not guards, but hosts, in the Medtronic Gallery who serve tea and maintain the space. The question of “is it art?” does indeed get raised when an artist like Haeg stretches the boundaries of a museum and brings the outside, craft, and domesticity inside as an exhibit. Yet if the goal is not to understand but to experience it, Haeg falls securely within the realm of art.
To better understand the history of the distinction between art and craft and how it is challenged today, Price introduced many artists who practice crafts such as ceramics, furniture design, weaving, and embroidery in ways that defy expectation. A fundamental belief of ceramics, for example, is that the object created be used, even if that degrades its quality and increases the risk of breakage. Warren MacKenzie, however, includes that risk of decay and destruction of the work as a part of making it – otherwise how could a mug ever be made to be a mug? This concept helped explain much of what Haeg does in creating work that becomes dirty, changes over time outside with the weather, and even gets eaten. But for both the potter and the public practice artist, their work is no less art because of its use. Rather than the term “craft,” perhaps a better one would be “functional art,” as personal involvement is retained after the creative process is complete – or rather, the creative process never ends.
A large portion of Haeg’s residency also involves the visitor making something themselves, whether helping hand crochet the large rug, helping plant the Edible Estate, or just knitting up in the gallery. This interactive element joins the limits of craft with the ability of an art museum to produce a pioneering example of public practice in contemporary art. For it is in making something oneself that one can find a better understanding in relation to one’s domestic experience, and find that art is not only what hangs in a museum, but can be how one is a part of their community.