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Fall Arts Visual Arts - Charles Krafft 

by Sheri Boggs

Let's just get the obvious out of the way, shall we? This ain't your mama's porcelain. It might be covered in sprightly blue Delft patterns -- little rosebuds and things of that ilk -- and it may shine with the self-satisfied purity of fine bone China, but his objects are more often than not objects of tyranny, mortality and violence.

Charles Krafft is the first of three Visiting Artists coming to lecture Nov. 4-5 at SFCC, EWU and the MAC this 2003-04 season. He'll be here to discuss his provocative and sometimes controversial work. Krafft's visit from Seattle is a valuable opportunity for area audiences to participate in a larger, more international art dialogue.

Krafft is perhaps most well known for his blue Delft objects, ranging from delicate little hand grenades and AK-47s bought on the Slovenian black market to skateboards and Hitler-head teapots. Before that, he was doing "disasterware," traditional china plates with scenes of earthquakes, car crashes and bombing mayhem emblazoned on them in painstaking, precise cobalt blue strokes.

It is his most recent work, however, that has gained Krafft the most notoriety. Following a residency at Kohler's Art and Industry program, he traveled to India to film traditional cremation ceremonies. Back in the States, Krafft developed what he calls "Spone" china, a hybrid of classic Spode bone china made from human remains. At first it might sound ghoulish, but Krafft's "Spone" china is nevertheless not as macabre as it sounds. Krafft collaborates with the friends and family, and sometimes the soon-to-be-deceased themselves, in designing an object that will serve as both memorial and reliquary for cremated remains. In the case of one individual, a longtime follower of Eastern religion, it was the Hindu elephant god Ganesh. In another, the finished piece was a life-sized pith helmet just like that once worn by a World War II vet. Krafft works a portion of the cremains -- that's cremated human remains -- into his clay mixture, much as Josiah Spode did with calcified bovine bone in 1797 (effectively inventing bone china). Whatever is left over goes into a cavity inside the finished object, just as with a funerary urn.

That there is a certain lightness to this treatment of the dead is undeniable. And that is where Krafft's gift lies; he's not afraid to explore the seeming contradictions between kitsch and serious art, between the appalling and the amusing, and between, well, life and death.

Publication date: 09/11/03

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