Crochetdermy

Shauna Richardson challenges the boundaries between art and craft with her creepy and cuddly crochet pieces

Photos by Scene Photography 2009
Shauna Richardson crochets these life-size animals. Sure, it sounds like something with bags of novelty value, but these are actually the product of years of research. "When I entered into art education I thought I would first get to the bottom of what art was, then study and practice it," she explains. "What followed was an obsessive three year attempt to find an answer to the question ‘what is art?’ During this time I devoured books, explored theories and attempted to push the boundaries of those theories to the limit. The fact that 'anything can be art’ is one popular theory. This contemporary concept has permitted artists to produce wide ranging work that includes audio pieces, gestures, text, actions, the void... I began searching for different directions to push the anything can be art theory."

Dazed Digital: How do you make these pieces? Why crochet?
Shauna Richardson: I was taught to crochet in junior school. I have always loved making things but objects were in no way part of my practice. Although I appreciate a well-crafted piece, traditional craft was as far removed from my work as it was possible to be. It slowly dawned on me that this was a way to push the theory. If anything can be art why not crochet? Realism? Highly accessible themes such as animals? When I tell people I crochet animals, I know I am creating a stereotypical image in people’s minds. I do enjoy playing with this image but it’s a preconception that’s hard to shift. As the animals I make are more akin to taxidermy than anything else, I came up with the term Crochetdermy to better explain what I do. Crochet being an endangered craft in this country fits nicely into the concept.

DD: And why in the vein of taxidermy?
Shauna Richardson: In an attempt to remove the pieces from the realms of soft and cuddly, I use coarse wool such as mohair mixes, reproduction claws, jaws and glass eyes. My crochet technique is freestyle, one colour, one stitch – the direction of the stitches highlighting anatomical features. All of the animals I make are life-size. The size of hook I use is 3mm and it can take months to create a piece. One of the bigger animals made is a brown bear, which took around seven months to complete. I make pieces to commission both private and public and I have all sorts of collections planned. The excitement of one collection in particular is keeping me awake at night, and I’m saving that one for the right gallery and for when I get some time. Right now, time is something I have very little of. Currently, I have three baboons appearing in 'Collect' Trail – a craft trail to coincide with the Crafts Council’s international craft fair 'Collect' that takes place at the Saatchi Gallery from 14-17th May 2010. The baboons will be sited in the three windows of the Taschen Book Store at the Duke of York Square in London.

DD: What's next?
Shauna Richardson: I am working flat out on a major commission called Artists Taking the Lead. This is part of London 2012's Cultural Olympiad and challenges artists across the UK to produce works of art to celebrate 2012. Called the Lionheart Project, my commission features three giant hand-crocheted lions in a custom-built mobile taxidermy style case to travel around the East Midlands in 2012. Not only will I be busy crocheting the lions – a job I estimate will take two years to complete – but amongst other things, I will be organising public participation workshops, spin-off exhibitions, and the tour. Throughout the development period there will be an open studio, guerrilla website activities and a webcam link up. Each individual has their own take on the world and the things I do will be interpreted in different ways by different people.

For me Crochetdermy is a real personal challenge. It retains the ability to make me feel uncomfortable and I suspect
that lack of comfort will continue to pique my curiosity and keep me creating these pieces for a long time to come.
Is it art? Happily, I never did find out what that was.
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