Craft is a mindset, according to REVOLVE, a new theory-minded artist collective and think space in the River Arts District. The space, which opened in early May and spans two floors in the Cotton Mill Studios, is spearheaded by artists Alicia Armstrong and Colby Caldwell, who see craft as open and applicable to all forms of creativity — from art and architecture to film, food, booze and everything in between.
For more than a century, craft has largely referred to handmade wood, ceramic, glass and fiber wares and artworks. But this otherwise incendiary and selective term is becoming increasingly inclusive as local groups like the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, HandMade in America and now REVOLVE reshape the definition of craft in Western North Carolina and beyond.
As a collective, REVOLVE aims to expand the parameters of what can be considered craft by questioning the lines drawn between artist and audience, image and idea, inspiration and technique, according to the organization’s mission statement.
“I don’t see craft as a dirty term,” Caldwell says. “Really, it’s a term that came from a group of people who are mindful of their materials. And that’s what we’re looking to explore and strengthen.”
There are no limitations to materials or style. “We’d like to look at it as a space where anyone thinking about their craft or their practice in a creative way can get together and exchange and flesh out ideas,” Caldwell says. “Whether they’re architects, academics, chefs and beer makers or farmers for that matter.” What’s more, the group is looking to bridge the gap between fine artists, makers of the aforementioned traditional crafts and those who might not typically be considered craftspeople, such as chefs, architects and designers.
“We want to be a space that’s welcoming folks who have been deeply entrenched in the idea of craft as defined by ceramics, wood, fiber and glass, and those who, conversely, found that anything that was tangible was not art in the 21st century.”
The space, in essence, is set up to serve as a middle ground where practitioners and artists from unrelated fields can discuss their ideas, he says. “That kind of dichotomy is the exact thing that REVOLVE hopes to put forth and sustain.”
This cross-cultural inclusion stems from Caldwell’s own experiences in the Washington, D.C., art scene, where he spent much of the last eight years. “I found that the thing that invigorated not only my own practice but other like-minded folks in the D.C. area was the constant exchange of ideas from people going outside of the scene, coming back and then talking about what they saw,” he says. This is by no means a new idea, he notes. However, through REVOLVE, Armstrong and Caldwell are aiming to form a channel for area artists to collect and share their own work, experiences and philosophies. It will also serve as a type of import/export point for visiting artists and those that have traveled elsewhere for their practice.
The space itself is organized in a reflective manner, one that pairs visual works with programming. The lower floor is arranged as a fine arts gallery that will host rotating exhibitions of works primarily by visiting and resident artists. Armstrong’s paintings and Caldwell’s photos and prints are currently on display for the inaugural exhibition. Upstairs, meanwhile, is a living room-type think space used for weekly discussion groups, seminars, workshops, panel discussions and film screenings. The goal is to pair these events with the works displayed downstairs. In June and July, REVOLVE will begin periodically hosting resident artists who will lead seminars and discussion groups upstairs and exhibit work downstairs.
The space has also become home to Asheville Art Theory Reading Group. The group began with just a few people meeting in their own homes and has since swelled to well over a dozen regular participants. In many ways, the reading group helped to spur the creation of REVOLVE, Caldwell says, largely through members’ love of critical, thoughtful dialogue. It’s these notions that REVOLVE and its affiliates are focusing on to enrich the Asheville arts scene.
“It’s vital to be able to exchange these ideas with others working under different constraints and practices,” Caldwell adds. “It sheds light on finding new ways to solve some of the ideas that are being circulated here in Asheville.”
For more information and a schedule of events, visit revolveavl.org.