Joshua Raffell: Craft and Controversy at Studio 1.1
In a nutshell what you have here is a series of grotesque handmade dolls, fashioned out of typically patterned fabrics, an oversized pop-up book of phalluses, and a couple fabric made posters expressing deeply sexual sentiments. You’ve seen it before. It’s comparable to a lot of stuff you would see at a graduate show. There are many young artists who use fabric and sewing but convey a deliberately provocative message (Daisy Cook’s cushion designs for example), inspired undoubtedly by Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas and the like. The common theme usually being one of using historically feminine arts, or rather domestic arts, to convey a message of defiance/personal autonomy, using an art form that historically signifies patriarchy and gender roles and reclaiming the medium as a vessel for female empowerment that can only be admired.
With all this in mind it’s encouraging to see a young male artist using this media, for even now patriarchy and sexism permeates even the most progressive of arts institutions. Or at least it would be, but the artist seems to have bypassed the obvious feminist connotations of the medium (and what he’s doing). He sees it more for its tacky, typically English, everyday camp value, which undoubtedly it has and is worth exploring – but then it becomes an exercise in provocation. The art is in the shock value of phalluses made out of everyday objects, the contrast between the normal and the sordid together, but that really isn’t that interesting.
“I’m looking at the debauchery and the underbelly of society, I’m interested in scratching the surface and seeing what lies beneath…” Each one of the dolls has a handle a participant can turn, such that the doll appears to be pleasuring its poorly rendered penis. It’s infantile, but it’s made so: the dolls are laughable, deliberately dumb. The concern is that Raffell’s idea of depravity and “debauchery” is simply masturbation and nothing more. The frightening ugliness of these dolls don’t really match the triteness of this theme (if you’re an adult that is). The fact that this is his main concern and inspiration as an artist is not only juvenile but demoralising.
Craft and Controversy is at Studio 1.1 until 24th August 2014, for further information visit here.