The Tool at Hand

An exhibition with a challenge.


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“The Tool at Hand”
Philadelphia Art Alliance
$3 for Students
February 1, 2013 – April 28, 2013

Imagine receiving strict guidelines on your creative process. Rather than being given a theme or medium to incorporate, you must use only one tool to produce a work of art. Does this sound difficult? For sixteen American and British artists, this was one rule that they strictly had to adhered to.

Ethan Lasser, previous Curator at the Chipstone Foundation located in Wisconsin, designed an experiment that called for professional artists to create an original work using one tool of their choice. One of the goals of this experiment, Lasser has said, is to comment on the cultural effect of artists’ tools. “Tools have been described as extensions of the body, and in certain cultures, they have been revered as sacred objects with lives of their own,” and certainly the works in the exhibition can be seen as exactly that compared with the artists using them.

These artists, rather than balking in the face of a challenge, rose to the occasion and produced beautiful and interesting works of art. With tools ranging from a caulk gun to an oven to a customized saw, each work represents a unique take on the project and the artist responsible for their creation. Because these tools are considered extensions of the body, it is clear why artists chose their tools. The woodworker employed the use of a saw, the furniture maker used wax to sculpt melted chairs and the vase designer used a computer.

Although there are only sixteen artists included in the exhibition, one is a local Philadelphian. Chad Curtis, with his piece “Manifest Data,” utilizes a data-derived template to create a design on plywood. “For me, what was really important was to challenge the idea of what tools are,” Chad told me. “When I hear ‘tool’ my initial thought is that I think of a hammer… or something like that. I wanted to think of a tool that was contemporary in a sense, and that really broadened the definition of what a tool can be.” Chad has done exactly that with his piece, as it combines different components to form his chosen tool––data.

As part of the artists’ participation in the exhibition, they were required to film a video of themselves speaking about their works or explaining their methods. These videos, along with photos of the artists’ selected tools, appear with the finished work at PAA.

Also in coordination with the exhibition, the Philadelphia Art Alliance is hosting a competition for those interested in trying the experiment. The same guidelines apply: participants must choose one tool to complete their work. There are prizes for winners of the competition, all of which are listed with more specific rules on PAA’s website.

The exhibition is currently on display until April 28th, when it will leave PAA and continue its tour of the United States.

Alyssa Shaw is a first year English Major at Drexel University.

Images courtesy of the Philadelphia Art Alliance