Fingers 2014 Stone Show. The extraordinary Antipodean craft tradition continues.
Fingers 2014 Stone Show. The extraordinary Antipodean craft tradition continues.
This show coming up on 28 January should be an interesting extension of body as canvas for jewellery.
Twenty years after the closure of the Crafts Council of New Zealand, a new national organisation has been founded to advocate for the country’s crafts. Craft Aotearoa was heralded by a large crowd at the New Zealand Academy of the Arts on 6 September 2012. It coincided with the opening of Kete, an exhibition of work from participating New Zealand craft galleries and accompanying forum.
Craft Aotearoa is led by Jenna Philpott, who conceived the idea after spending time with Craft UK, when she saw the positive impact of having a national craft organisation. The names ‘Craft Aotearoa’ and ‘Kete’ have a distinctly bicultural meaning. This was welcomed by Toi Maori, who joined in as partners in both the exhibition and talks. Warren Feeney, director of the NZ Academy, coordinated the four day event.The range of galleries was impressive. Highlights included the carved Corian tiki by Rangi Kepi, Matthew McIntyre Wilson’s woven copper kete, the resilient Christchurch gallery The National, the edgy work from Whiteriea’s jewellery students, Anna Miles Gallery, Masterworks, the ceramics of Mia Hamilton and the inventive products coming from F3 Design in Christchurch. Indeed, there was a lot of talk about Christchurch at Kete, as residents battle on into the second year without reconstruction. Despite these challenges, a new powerful spirit of creativity seems to have been forged amongst those who remain.
The Toi Maori forum was particularly interesting. Mention was made of the Maori designs that Rangi Kipa made for underwear to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. While this was seen by some as degrading, Rangi defended his work on the basis of implicit acceptance by his elders. The forum demonstrated that there is no one position when it comes to the relation between tradition and opportunity in Maori design practice.It will be fascinating to see where Craft Aotearoa goes from here. Clearly ObjectSpace in Auckland represents the front stage of craft and design, exhibiting cutting edge work. But there does seem space for an inclusive organisation that can offer a broad spectrum of artists with a common story. The craft fair Kete was particularly promising and it would be great to see it grow in coming years – perhaps even with some Australian representation.
As an Australian, the whole weekend was a captivating experience. It was refreshing to witness such commitment to a constructing a national story through things.
I only hope that we won’t have to wait another 20 years before we can come together to celebrate Australian craft like this. While the Federal funding for Craft Australia was meant to be channelled into a national craft strategy, the first year has been taken up with the cost of winding down the organisation. As yet, there has been no public consultation about what the next three years will bring.
With the support of crowd-funding, Australia has been able to maintain its global link through the Australasian Craft Network, which will be recognised at the upcoming World Crafts Council General Assembly in Chennai next month. Now with Craft Aotearoa as a partner, there’s the potential for a strong regional network that can demonstrate the importance of craft as a lingua franca in our part of the world.
Unexpected Pleasures is an extraordinary achievement. Curator Susan Cohn has gathered together more than 200 key works reflecting the international scene of contemporary jewellery. This mass of work is surprisingly digestible. Rather than arrange them by country or historical movement, she has offered a taxonomic system that maps the creative energies at play in individual pieces.
These ‘idea clusters’ are quite different to the more reductive classifications that might otherwise be found in museums, based on materials or techniques. For instance, ‘Logical solutions’ attends to the creative dimension of componentry in jewellery works. The propositional nature of such groupings engages the visitor more actively than those based on academic criteria.
There’s much more that can be said about the exhibition as a whole, but I would like to respond to one of the specific challenges laid in the section titled A Fine Line. This closed installation at the centre of the gallery functions as the ‘navel’ of the exhibition, identifying the ‘origins of contemporary jewellery today’ in Art, Design, Fashion and Craft.
Practically, this is an opportunity to feature iconic works, such as Annie Alberts’ ‘Necklace’ made from paper clips that prefigures more experimental work to come. More generally, this contextualisation locates contemporary jewellery in a broader kinship system of creative arts.
This is by no means a neutral context. There is a clear value system at work in the way these origins are presented. While works by artists such as Alexander Calder are celebrated, Art as a framework for jewellery creates a remove between the artist and the work. Artists are seen to create jewellery as mostly a secondary concern, akin to merchandising. This distance from making applies to Design as well, though the designer is more comfortable the process of production:
A designer with the ability to create effective jewellery has the sensibility to understand industrial objects with a certain sophistication.
Fashion includes elements of art, design and craft, but it has the additional capacity to engage with sub-cultures in which individuals adapt clothing to create their own identities.
The final origin, Craft, is presented as ‘problematic’. The text argues that it is better to avoid the word in order to overcome ‘ultimately futile questions about the allegedly nostalgic connotations of craft.’ Parallel to fashion, this origin is presented as ‘vernacular self-expression in the anthropological sense.’ There’s a certain unresolved tension here between making and empowerment that prompts further consideration.In the book accompanying the exhibition, craft is illustrated with a Bella Herdsman’s pendant from Birkina Faso (1976) and a photo of an ash-covered Dinka elder (1976) wearing a necklace of Dutch beads and smoking an elaborate silver pipe. In the exhibition itself, craft is represented by an armband from Arnhem Land (1993). We see craft through these works as something distant from Western culture.
While the craft section does state that making is relevant to contemporary jewellery, it is positioned in the exhibition as something performed by those ‘other’ to our culture. There are precedents for this. Primitivism has been a key influence in contemporary jewellery, particularly in our corner of the world with Peter Tully and Warwick Freeman. But this primitivism has been mediated by the artists themselves, rather presented as museum pieces.
So what’s happening in this return to ethnography in contemporary jewellery? Maybe it’s progressive. This return could be seen as part of a wider concern to give indigenous arts themselves a platform. Rather than have white artists represent non-Western cultures, it is better to give a voice to those who belong to those same cultures, as in the emergence of a new generation of Aboriginal and Maori jewellers. However, the works identified as ‘craft’ in Unexpected Pleasures are anonymous, so there is little opportunity to enfranchise non-Western artists.
The other side of this is the implied detachment of contemporary jewellery from craft. I think there are two currents at play here. The first is the exhibition’s resolutely cosmopolitan approach. While there are some references to place, such as the Dutch collar of Paul Derrez, contemporary jewellery is represented here as a relatively placeless activity. It is perhaps a sign of maturity that it, like other disciplines such as science or architecture, is presented as an autonomous profession which prizes originality above political correctness. The framework of Craft is at odds with this specialisation. It tends to be more location specific, reflecting traditional skills and local materials. Craft’s implied responsibility to place has potential to compromise creative freedom.
This is a different case for Craft than the one which Robert Baines would make in criticism of the exhibition. Baines champions the discipline of skill and tradition in contemporary jewellery. I would argue that skill does have a link to place. The logic of outsourcing in late capitalism has helped us overlook this.
The second current is the exhibition’s attempt to celebrate the wearer. This is critical to an exhibition which has the capacity, in an unparalleled way, to open up the closed circle of contemporary jewellery to the broader public. Unexpected Pleasures is cast initially to fit the National Gallery of Victoria, which has never before offered a survey exhibition of contemporary jewellery. Craft in this context provides a more internal framework of skill and mastery best understood by the makers themselves. It thus has potential to alienate the broader public.
Ironically, the one contemporary jeweller who seems to embrace this element of design most fully is Susan Cohn herself. The necessary absence of her work in Unexpected Pleasures is one of the few weak points.
Unexpected Pleasures is likely to prove a seminal moment in contemporary jewellery. It shifts the focus away from the subjective experience of the maker to the desires of the wearer. While this seems a necessary move, it leaves making itself in an uncertain place. Its association with indigenous culture is perhaps a holding position, acknowledging the presence of Craft while separating it from mainstream practice.
This lack of resolution opens the potential for a counter move. The alternative is more about treasures than pleasures—jewellery as a means to forge new and recovered collectivities.
21 jewellers from Australia, New Zealand and Chile draw from their cultures to create objects that can change our lives. Others will join from Bolivia and Mexico when Joyaviva is in Latin America, and the stories will grow as more people host the charms.
Objects in Joyaviva were created for issues relevant to the jeweller’s world, including recent earthquakes, road deaths, school exams, fertility, managerialism or sheer exuberant sociability. The exhibition combines the charms themselves with documentation of their use, including diaries, photos, videos and drawings.
To find out more, go to www.joyaviva.net, where you will find ways of tracking the journey.
The exhibition is at RMIT Gallery until 24 March. Make a wish…
The new MONA in Hobart provides an interesting perspective on the place of craft in contemporary art museums. This $80m museum hosts a collection of contemporary art worth around $100m. It is certainly the high end of culture, though the collector’s generosity has welcomed the public to view it for free.
One of the distinct elements of MONA is the way is eschews curatorial objectivity. The personality of its collector is evident throughout.
The walls are completely free of text or labels. Instead, visitors carry around iPod devices that pick up your location and offer information about nearby art works. Digging down, visitors can learn more. One button offers ‘art speak’ by a curatorial expert and the other titled ‘gonzo’ offers purely idiosyncratic takes, often by the collector, David Walsh, himself. For instance, the Clacoa work by Wim Delvoye features Walsh’s speculation that humans are merely hosts for microbes and will eventually be replaced by machines such as these. Sometimes audio is also available, featuring Walsh’s maniacal laugh as he draws inspiration from the work in question. They have to be a highlight of the museum.
David Walsh occupies a complex position, at once both distant from normality and a popular hero. There are two other figures who he can be compared with.
Glenn Gould was a revered pianist known particularly for his interpretation of Bach. Like Walsh, he is know to have a kind of Asperger’s (a mild version of autism) associated with great feats of mental construction, partly enabled by their disconnection from the world of normal human feelings. Gould’s Asperger’s is not only evident in the obsessive control over the recording process, but also the stray humming that accompanies the piano. Most of us are conditioned to screen out the personal stream of consciousness within from the public performance without. Similarly, MONA is marked not only by its complete control by the collector, but also his unedited free associations on the works.
There is something quite refreshing about this. Our state museums have become so beholden to government interests and marketing, that individual vision rarely surfaces. Though it may seem dictatorial to privilege one person’s vision at MONA, it helps that it is so perverse. A bad leader can be good for democracy.
In this, Walsh also resembles the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Like Zuckerberg, Walsh has made his career from algorithms regarding human behaviour. As famously portrayed in the film Social Network, Zuckerberg is also an ‘arsehole’ whose success seems premised on his nerdy quest for revenge against the girl who rejected him. Yet, it is Zuckerberg’s very fallibility that frees the millions of Facebook members from the implied duty to follow a leader. It’s hard to imagine Facebook being as successful if Bill Gates was its founder.
While there is no reason to believe that Walsh has a similar ignoble background, he is hardly a self-consciously upright philanthropist. Accordingly, Walsh’s taste does not come across as authoritative, and more often prompts disagreement. The iPods cater for such responses by offering each visitor the opportunity register their ‘love’ or ‘hate’ a work (there is a rumour that if too many people ‘love’ a work, Walsh will take it away to storage).
The other refreshing part of MONA is the eclecticism of works on display. The collection started as a museum of antiquities, so it is peppered with exquisite works of classical craft, such as a glowing Egyptian faience bowel. To enhance the museum experience, Walsh commissioned a number of local designer-makers such as Pippa Dickson to make unique benches; though their aesthetic license leads them to be mistaken for works of art themselves. And there are a number of a craft works from a variety of media, naturally including Melbourne jeweller-taxidermist Julia deVille.
Walsh has no political ties to craft. He is clearly not trying to be representative of art media. The only element that seems to guide his selection is personal appeal. So given this context, it is reassuring to see that craft quite naturally finds a place among contemporary art. Walsh’s freedom releases him from the hierarchy that besets many state museums that associate craft with amateurism as opposed to the genius of the lone artist.
The MONA experience is huge. The architecture is revelatory. It takes at least two days to see the collection on display. In all this, craft is a relatively incidental feature. But if you put together all the craft works on display, you would have a respectable exhibition in itself. That alone is a reason worth visiting MONA.
Call for Expressions of Interest
How do we make luck where it is needed today?
Southern Charms is an exhibition of ‘power jewellery’ that demonstrates the relevance of objects to hopes and fears. It includes work designed by jewellers, designers and artists from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Bolivia.
The exhibition will open at RMIT Gallery in February 2012. You are invited to submit an EOI, due by 4 December 2010. Please download the EOI details from here (or Spanish version). For more information about the project, visit www.craftunbound.net/projects/southern-charms.
We know that Pacific Island populations spread out well beyond the islands themselves. Countries like Australia are home to many from the islands who proudly continue to engage with their culture beyond the seas. But what does it mean to be a Pacific Islander living in a wide brown land like Australia?
Maryann Talia Pau has quickly shot to prominence as an artist able connect her Pacific roots with urban Australian aerials. Though born in Apia, Samoa, she moved to New Zealand while only one year old. She fondly remembers growing up in West Auckland close to family and in a church community, though religion seemed more about the making than the praying. Time was spent singing and making craft. At school, Maryann remembers constructing elaborate flower compositions for school competitions.
At the age of ten, her family moved to Melbourne where she initially felt out of place. This was further compounded by her experiences in high school where she felt different and separate to the other few Samoans attending the school. This was also Maryann’s first experience of being called fair-skinned by other Samoans, which she found very bizarre.
When she was thirteen, Maryann went home to Samoa with her mother and sister, her first trip home since she was born. It was also to mark Maryann’s entry into High School. While she was there, the island experienced a violent cyclone. She remembers staying in her mother’s village where, despite the mayhem outside, everyone was calm — just ‘going about their ‘business as usual. Such was their strength and organisation and knowledge to continue and thrive.’
At Melbourne University, she found a collective who were also exploring what it meant to be Indigenous. There was resonance with the Stolen Generation – ‘I could relate to the whole dislocation thing.’ She has since continued this association through her art. And on a personal level, she started a family with a Murri man from Queensland. The experiences of growing up away from family, of relocating several times with a young family and wanting to engage with the Pacific Island community has prompted the desire to show her art publicly.
Her inspiration for making art came partly from a weaving circle at the Selling Yarns 2 conference in Canberra, 2009 where she worked together with the Elcho artist Roslyn Malŋumba. Maryann remembers Roslyn saying, ‘”You are meant to weave.” It felt so natural and right to be weaving. And to be weaving with a mother from this land, that was special!’
Her first break came with the Craft Cubed exhibition city/country at Craft Victoria, last August. Maryann made a breast plate using salvaged pieces from an ie toga (Samoan fine mat) and shells collected over several years. This breast plate is called Fa’amolemole, pe mafai ona tatou lalaga faatasi? (Please, can I weave with you?). Then she found a place in Precious Pendants at Object Gallery, where she created another breastplate called Mo lo’u Tama (For My Dad), an artwork celebrating her family’s 20 years in Australia. Both of these pieces recycle materials collected and gifted and are mixed with synthetic materials such a satin ribbon. Earlier this year, Maryann’s enthusiasm for Rosanna Raymond’s Tapa Jeans collected by the NGV led her to be invited to show companion works for the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program, which became the exhibition Fashioning the Mana. A total of four adornment works were installed in the Oceanic Gallery, the first contemporary work by a Pacific Island woman for the Gallery. Maryann’s work is currently showing in a group exhibition called ex.o.dus at Blacktown Art Centre, NSW where she has the precious ie toga which she has salvaged and kept for future works.
Maryann’s work repurposes traditional Samoan craft to make the kind of overt statements necessary in a noisy urban context. She transforms the collective fala (mat) into individual breastplates, embroidered with shells to proudly proclaim its culture. Making art has enabled Maryann to maintain a connection with Samoa, as she sources materials and objects. The sacredness of each piece is delivered through the materials which have either been gifted especially to Maryann or passed on with the belief that they will be turned into something new, beautiful and meaningful. Even though she left Samoa when she was only one, the strength of island life seems to be something that she carries with her, propelling her forward to share and participate.
Maryann is fiercely positive, hopeful and energised by the dynamic creative representations of the Pacific Islands. ‘The response so far to Pacific Island artists based in Australia has been very affirming. There is still much more we can do, but we are definitely visible and there are great things coming.’ The story is just beginning.
At the end of the Signs of Change exhibition, three lucky winners will have their names drawn to receive a brooch by Melbourne jeweller Vicki Mason. The brooches are modelled on the wattle, rose and oregano plants, beautifully rendered in powder-coated brass (sourced from a scrap yard) and recycled flexible plastics sourced as remnants from the stationary industry. These plants are common features of suburban gardens in Australia, but Mason argues that they represent a common bounty, which she links to the elusive prospect of Australia becoming a republic. As she says:
If Australia is one day to become a republic then a new style of gardening to accompany a new style of governing seems possible. The work for this exhibition has the symbolic potential to promote the social value of gardens as reflecting notions of community, that is the essence of republicanism.
So if you receive this brooch, you also take on a republican vision. But there’s a catch. If someone praises the brooch while you are wearing it, you are obliged to give it to them – as long as they will agree to the same conditions as you. Easy come, easy go. Members of this chain are encouraged to leave comments on a website to record the transaction and reflect on its meaning.
The exhibition still has a couple of weeks to run. Tune in to her website at http://broachingchangeproject.wordpress.com/ to monitor progress. Who knows, you might end up as one of the links in the chain.
Mason’s work is a bold attempt to engage with the relational dimension of jewellery as a precious object that can link people together. Her work resonates back to situation in PNG. The anthropologist Malinowski describes a parallel arrangement called the kula, where villages organise their world around exchange of shell necklaces:
Perhaps as we read the account of these remote customs there may emerge a feeling of solidarity with the endeavours and ambitions of these natives. Perhaps man’s mentality will be revealed to us, and brought near, along some lines which we never have followed before. Perhaps through realising human nature in a shape very distance and foreign to us, we shall have some light shed on our own.
Perhaps the past has a future too.
Bronislaw Malinowski Argonauts of The Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes Of Melanesian New Guinea London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987 (orig. 1922), p. 25
Early notice of an exhibition of jewellery from the Asia Pacific region
The World Craft Council are hosting a conference in New Delhi, 4-6 February 2011. The event is titled Abhushan: Tradition & Design – Dialogues for the 21st Century. A key element in this event is a series of exhibitions surveying jewellery from different world regions.
For the Asia Pacific region, works will be gathered that respond to the theme of welcome, using the garland as a reference. These garlands are typically given to honoured guests and are either made of flowers or have a floral design.
At a time when there are tensions regarding global migration flows, it seems important that we sustain traditions of welcome. But given limited access to flowers, are there alternative materials that can be used? Also, can these otherwise ephemeral works be transformed into longer-lasting objects, such as jewellery, that can testify to bonds of friendship.
The Asia Pacific region has a rich set of traditions that bestow a garland or neck-wreath. These include:
The exhibition Welcome Signs: contemporary interpretations of traditional garlands will contain works that draw from such traditions for use today. At early this stage, expressions of interest are welcome. Please send them by 30 June 2010 to firstname.lastname@example.org.