Ethan W. Lasser
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Ethan W. Lasser
The Tool at Hand puts the skill and creativity of some of the most talented names in the contemporary art world to the test.
Organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum in collaboration with the Chipstone Foundation and curated by Ethan W. Lasser (then Curator of the Chipstone Foundation and now the Margaret S. Winthrop Associate Curator of American Art at Harvard Art Museums), The Tool at Hand brings together artworks resulting from an unusual and slightly eccentric experiment. In the spring of 2011, the Chipstone Foundation invited 16 contemporary artists to participate in the Object Lab, the foundation’s progressive and experimental arm, to make a work of art with one tool alone. The resulting exhibition features a variety of creative and witty artworks, presented together with images of the tools used to craft them and a short explanatory video produced by each artist.
The Tool at Hand features artists in varying stages of their careers who hail from both the U.S. and the U.K. Working in a variety of materials, including paint, metal, wood, glass, fiber, and clay, the artists range from those who work with non-traditional tools to those whose skill with traditional tools is in a class by itself. The former category includes makers like Liz Collins, whose performative work with the knitting machine has gained international attention, and Mark Lindquist, the renowned woodturner who developed a technique for coupling the chainsaw and the lathe in the 1980s. The latter category includes master tool users like the enamellist, Helen Carnac; the silversmiths David Clarke, Ndidi Ekubia and Lisa Gralnick; and the sculptor and woodworker Gord Peteran, whose recent work was featured in an exhibition that toured nine venues in the U.S. The Tool at Hand also presents work by three emerging makers, Chad Curtis, Michael Eden, and Tavs Jorgensen, who exploit the potential of new tools like the 3D printer and the CNC milling machine.
Ranging from the ancient to the high tech, the artists’ choice of tools was as diverse as their modes of expression. Silversmith Ndidi Ekubia used a hammer, and woodworker David Gates employed a saw, while ceramist Caroline Slotte used a box cutter, and Hongtao Zhou used his hands to melt wax for Burniture, a sculpted chair designed to melt from overuse.
For a group of artists who are accustomed to working with considerable tool kits, this commission presented an inspiring and thought-provoking challenge. The resulting exhibition showcases the wonder of the process of making and, at the same time, sparks an important conversation about the nature of skill, production, and tool use today.
The Tool at Hand will travel to museums across the United States, with destinations including The Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft and the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon.