Throughout human history, boxes have had social, cultural and artistic importance in addition to their myriad functional applications.
Made of diverse materials, boxes have served a range of purposes, from the purely utilitarian to the spiritual, the commemorative and the decorative. The primal box was likely formed from the containment of two cupped hands. In the hands there was offered isolation and protection: the logical qualities of a box serve both as a limitation and initiator of innovation.
This is not a book about how to make boxes, although if you are seriously searching for new ideas you could spend considerable time poring over its pages. Celebrating Boxes joyfully preserves in stunning images and detail, the contemporary art, craft and creativity of a touring exhibition that celebrates wooden boxes. The exhibition opened in September, 2001 at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, England. The show will now travel to major galleries in the UK and then to venues in the US, Europe and Australia.
The ideas for the exhibition and the book were put in place by two internationally known, British box makers and authors, Peter Lloyd and Andrew Crawford. In some respects, Celebrating Boxes is a catalogue, an image-based archive, and if it were this alone it would be splendidly rich. However, instead of the emotively staid listings of titles, materials and object dimensions of a catalogue, the curators/editors have included a wealth of fascinating insights written by the makers themselves. The catalogue then, has become a book – a window into the design richness of near 70 very diverse people drawn from around the world. Further-more, all of these people are contactable through either the maker's index of the appended website.
The images contained in the book are as much a space of encounter as would be the box form itself.
What is put into a design, into the creative process, is more intimate, but also more influenced than the individual maker might care to admit. The individuality of the boxes from the hands of men and women from the UK, Australia, NZ, the USA, Germany, France, Israel, Russia and Denmark belies what is, it might be persuasively argued, a cultural confederation.
The images of these boxes hint of the potency of the forms that surround us and are caught up in our process of creativity. They are everyday things – things that we might stare at without being of – which act as mediators of our unconsciousness. Such objects can become implicated in the processes of thought and emotion. In fashioning something as intimate as a box, we layer upon it our fears, joys, hopes, wishes and interpretations.
Within a box, within this space for encounter, there is a fuzziness to logic. A box can hold a collection and be a conjugation between the past and the present. Inside a box there is an ordering of the random and inexplicable: boxes play with the gap between what was, what is and what might be. From these discontinuities may come an intimacy with a box: out imagination flows into these gaps to attempt to form a wholeness of rationality. In doing this, there may be moments of engagement that shift the compass of our recognition momentarily out of the ordinary world of familiarity. This is another kind of function.
The degree of success achieved by each boxmaker in telling his/her story may be gauged by whether or not the elemental forces of myth and mystery were retained in what was done, or tamed and domesticated into harmless detail.