NewsUCA Farnham

New ways of looking at craft in the twenty-first century

The University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Farnham hosted a day-long conference to discuss the extraordinary relationship between technology and the body: its crafting and its representation.

The event was organised by Lesley Millar, director of the International Textile Research Centre and Simon Olding, the director of the Crafts Study Centre, as part of a series of conferences to explore new ways of looking at craft in the twenty-first century. Lesley said: “We are really delighted with the audience today, we had some really good questions. Catherine Harper our keynote was challenging and sensationally provocative in what she had to say, and people responded so well to that.”

Catherine Harper, Professor of Textiles and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Chichester, opened the conference with her keynote presentation titled, ‘Chasing Impossible: Crafting the Intimate Body’. Catherine dedicated her paper to the late Professor Elaine Thomas CBE, who was Vice-Chancellor for the University for the Creative Arts from 2000-2011. Catherine worked alongside Elaine heading up the Textiles department at UCA Farnham: “It’s true to say that Elaine inspired me, I’ve a lot to thank her for.

“The day showed how wonderful it is for makers – whether it’s with material or with text – to come together as a tribe, with all our differences of opinions and approaches,” said Catherine.

Catherine’s paper explored the hidden nature of female genitalia and showed how it is rarely represented in craft. Those who do attempt it, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Judy Chicago and Helen Chadwick should be admired for trying: “I am both in love with and critical of Chicago, O’Keefe and Chadwick’s work. These highly successful, but at the same time failing works are very important in the canon of craft,” said Catherine.

(Left - Right) Judy Chicago Female Rejection Drawing (1939), Helen Chadwick Eat Me, (2003).

She continued: “It is incumbent on us as makers to keep pushing our sense of self. In a time when women’s autonomy is under threat, making can be a powerful political act.”

In an introduction by the Chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts, Professor Magdalene Odundo OBE commented: “It is a human need to make.”

“To resist that desire would be highly perverse and shut down the self,” added Catherine.

In a closing remark Catherine said: “In the digital age craft is all about desire, the voluptuousness of a ceramic vessel, the fingertip tantalising of a textural textile, the cool attraction of worked metal, and in the digital age crafting is all about method, mode of operation to seduce the consumer to hunger for objects that operate way beyond function.”

Catherine is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Routledge journal Textile: Cloth & Culture, as well as the author of Intersex (Bloomsbury, 2007) an exploration of individuals born with biological features that are simultaneously perceived as male and female. She has also published several chapters and scholarly articles, most recently in Sorcha O’Brien and Anna Moran’s Love Objects (Bloomsbury, 2014) and Lesley Millar and Alice Kettle's Erotic Cloth (Bloomsbury, 2017).

Other speakers from the day included; Gayle Matthias a practicing glass artist, educator and researcher; Karina Thompson an artist and researcher; Gareth Mason an artist who specialises in dramatic clay and porcelain vessels; Daniel Fountain a visual artist; Fiona Curran a Senior Tutor for Mixed Media Textiles at the RCA; and Dr David Jones a representative for the UK on the International Academy for Ceramics, who gave the closing keynote presentation titled ‘Understandings hinted at in the re-construction of negative space’.

The speakers with Lesley Millar far-left and Simon Olding far-right and UCA Chancellor Magdalene Odundo left of centre.

To find out more visit Lesley Millar's website:

and the Crafts Study Centre: