The Tory Burch FEED bag, one of the examples we address in our text.

Anthea and I have been busy working on a new body of research into the use of craft and crafted aesthetics as a form of political expression and identity construction. We recently presented a paper entitled, “Performing Austerity: Political Identities and the Co-option of the Crafted Aesthetic” at the Textile Society of America Symposium in Washington, DC. The theme of the Symposium was “Textiles and Politics” and we got to present as part of the fantastic Material Matters panel organized by Lisa Vinebaum, Ruth Scheuing, and Ingrid Bachmann.

The abstract of the paper is posted below, and there are more links, examples, and excerpts on the Performed Austerity website.

Craft has been positioned as both a fix and foil for the ills of capitalism and alienating conditions of industrialization, and the current moment, dubbed by some as a “craft revolution,” often romanticizes craft as simple, fulfilling, authentic, and politically significant work. This paper explores the use of crafted aesthetics in both consumption and anti-consumption models of social/political engagement to conspicuously perform values of personal agency, and social responsibility, as expressions of (life)style in an economic climate obsessed with austerity. We introduce the term “craftwashing” to refer to instances where craft is used to market fashionable goods whose desirability often obscures the sticky ethical, environmental, and economic questions around their production.

I’ll be presenting as part of the (Dis)embodied Feminisms: New Perspectives on Gender, Sexuality and Identity symposium at McGill University. The symposium runs from May 13-15, 2011 and the keynote speaker will be Brooklyn-based performance artist Amber Hawk Swanson. The paper I will be presenting draws from my thesis research about intersections of craft and performance art:

Working It Out: Craft and Performance in Contemporary Art
Art historian Jayne Wark has argued that “the relationship between feminism and performance art since the 1970s has become so inextricably linked that it is inconceivable to speak of one without reference to the other.” Projects such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ 1973-4 Maintenance Work Projects, and Martha Rosler’s 1975 video Semiotics of the Kitchen both used the performance of domestic tasks in order to make public women’s unrecognized labour. Similar aims were at play when feminist artists of the same period, such as Evelyn Roth or Joyce Wieland used so-called “feminine” craft processes and materials such as knitting or embroidery as a means to elevate or re-value these kinds of creative work.

Recent exhibitions such as Gestures of Resistance (2010) and projects such as Wednesday Lupypciw’s The Ladies’ 500-Metre Challenge (2010) have included aspects of both craft and performance, often with a focus on the live performance of (craft)work as a means to address issues of labour, skill, and aesthetic value. This paper will draw links between these contemporary works and the clear historical precedents found in the concerns and methods of feminist artworks mentioned above. Furthermore, this paper will investigate how a problematic association between craft and domestic/feminine realms remains a feature in how craft-based practices are understood and framed within contemporary art. Here, new craft-performance hybrids will be examined for the ways in which they complicate and rethink relationships between craft, domesticity, traditional gender roles, and distinctions between the private and public spheres.