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Peter Dormer Lecture 2021: Mònica Gaspar presents 'Oil and Water: Experiments with Craft and Theory'

6 December 2021 | 6pm – 8pm

Battersea and Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre


In the field of craft theory, where the dominant discourse is mainly taking place in English, non-Anglophone practitioners, curators, and writers are constantly negotiating the meaning of words: this includes tweaking and bending them, bouncing them back and forth between at least two languages, and crafting surrogates of them, until a satisfactory result, hopefully in 'English English', can be shared amongst an international community. Since the turn of the millennium, this challenge has met the growing academisation of craft discourse. A new generation of writers, often practitioners themselves, have infused the field with critical, intersectional, and decolonial perspectives. It is precisely due to the expanding horizon of craft theory and practice that constructive misunderstandings and the plasticity of language might be needed to guarantee a plural discussion amongst an increasingly global community of writers.

What should the practice of theorising craft look like to embrace this complexity? This lecture will take Peter Dormer's statement about craft and theory being 'like oil and water' as an invitation to suggest some answers. Drawing on Gaspar's experiences as curator, writer and educator, the lecture will present examples of exhibitions and events across different geographies and cultural settings, where the practice of theorising craft both shapes and is being shaped by its very subject of study. These examples will be playfully categorised as 'oil and water experiments' to imagine otherwise the role of making in today's society.

The Peter Dormer Lecture is the UK’s major annual applied arts lecture, held in memory of Peter Dormer, the writer and critic who died in 1996. Organised by a committee of his friends and colleagues and hosted by the Royal College of Art, the lecture aims to continue the debate about applied art and society that was central to Dormer’s concerns.

Peter Dormer’s writings embraced art, architecture, design, technology and education; and his critical and curatorial work helped to promote the crafts into the freeflowing currents of postmodern visual culture. This connectivity is something these lectures celebrate and promote – previous speakers have embraced architecture, ceramics and modernism, the implications of digital technology, craft history and criticism, and design innovation.

This year's talk traces a history of craft practices and object making that centered on the body as both a source of stimulus and site of contestation for addressing urgent questions of gender and sexuality during the decade when identity politics elided with a new materiality in artistic production.

The 2021 lecture will be held in person in the Gorvy Lecture Theatre at the Royal College of Art and live streamed to a global audience. Please ensure you select the correct ticket type on the registration page.

Mònica Gaspar is a curator, writer and educator based in Zürich (Switzerland). She focuses on craft and design as critical practices, and identifies "the applied" as an experimental and socially relevant field of action. She has also specialized in art jewellery, curating, writing and lecturing internationally. Currently, she is a lecturer of design theory and craft studies at the HSLU Lucerne School of Art and Design. Recent activities include being the co-convenor of the 2021 DHS annual conference, entitled 'Memory full? Reimagining the relations between design and history.'