“It’s the first time I’ve ever made the work for a live audience,” says Catherine Bertola. “I’ve always seen my installations as performative and what the audience sees is the residue of activity that has taken place. The implied labour of the work is important, but I’ve never made that visible in this way before.”

Bertola has recently returned from Bilston in the West Midlands, where she has been installing one of her signature dust carpets, live for an audience. As part of Acts of Making, a Crafts Council festival, Bertola spent three intensive days in Bilston Craft Gallery creating Unfurling Splendour 5.

Known for her ephemeral site-specific installation works, the artist has continued her use of household dust to create a large-scale floor pattern for the museum – essentially a transient carpet for the vast gallery space.

“They’re always incomplete,” she says of her pieces. “It’s never a blanket covering, it always fades in and out so that the pattern disappears in certain areas.  I’m interested in it looking like it could be something that is unfinished or deteriorating.”

Responding to the specific architectural features of the location, Bertola was primarily interested in the gallery’s origins as a town house, basing her carpet design on a wallpaper pattern from the same period that she has sourced from the V&A’s archive.

“It was probably one of the largest floor spaces I’ve worked on and it’s really nice to get my hands dirty, to have a space in which to make a piece of work like that. I really enjoyed making it,” says Bertola, who nevertheless does not see herself as a natural performer.

In fact, she spent the performance period behind a barrier of plastic dust sheets – installed to protect the other artworks from contamination –  in many ways like an anonymous worker revealing her process to a visiting public. “It’s that slippage between what is normally a very private, intimate, process of making work. It’s like being watched in a goldfish bowl.”

An evolving process

Acts of Making lasts for two weeks in Bilston, with Bertola’s piece remaining there as an installation until the end of this week. The festival then travels to Gateshead in March where Bertola will be creating the work anew in The Shipley Art Gallery. With a new pattern and a different set of architectural features, the work “will change – not in essence – but visually it will be very different.”

Bertola is one of six makers who have been invited by the Crafts Council to create performance and installation works, or deliver workshops that invite members of the public to reconsider the role of craft.

This concept of craft as a changing, evolving process – a residue of human use and history – is central to the festival in which the audience can interact, and at times even take on an essential role in shaping the work.

In particular, Mah Rana‘s documentary photographic series Meanings and Attachments explores jewellery and how it is worn, through contributions from participants from around the world, while Keith Harrison‘s Tombstone [let’s get over this] is a series of skate benches made from sandstone that change shape with the actions of the skateboarders who perform live on them.

More theatrically, Clare Twomey is working with students to fill and refill 500 unfired clay pots as they gradually disintegrate. Considering how making and invention impact upon the environment, Richard William Wheater has convened a procession and exhibition of Vespa and Lambretta scooters.

Elsewhere, Owl Project‘s humorous and inventive iLog series – wood crafted audio, light and computer gadgets that reference mainstream consumer products while also serving as creative tools and artworks in their own right – present workshops and live performances that use these contemporary archaic tools to explore digital sound making.

This digital archaism is perhaps the most representative of current changes taking place in the craft industry, where traditional methods are adapting alongside technological innovations.

As Bertola reflects: “The concept behind the festival is in terms of breaking down that mystery of artists and their practice. It’s just ordinary people making work. In many ways it’s quite simple as well.”

Acts of Making continues in Bilston, West Midlands until 28 February 2015 and then Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, from 7 to 21 March 2015.

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