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.
One of the major events of 2014 will be the Golden Jubilee of the World Crafts Council, which will be held in Dongyan, China, 18-22 October. It will be very interesting to see how the Chinese presidency of WCC uses this unique occasion to promote local craftsmanship. One day ‘Made in China’ may be something that actually adds value to a product.
The China event will be an important occasion to present the Code of Practice for Partnerships in Craft & Design, which has been developed over the past three years of discussions that were part of Sangam: Australia India Design Platform. We’ll be developing a platform based around those standards to promote fair partnerships between producers and developers. This year, the network will extend to Indonesia, with a workshop at Kampoeng Semarang looking particularly at commissioning of batik artists.
One of the important elements that draws me to craft is the way it engages with tradition. While the modern world encourages freedom, it is hard to conceive of a meaningful life without responsibility. Custodianship gives meaning to our otherwise fleeting lives. And craft traditions require skill and imagination if that are to be something we can pass on to future generations. This involves interpreting traditions through current concerns. As they say, we make it new, again.
This is something quite evident to indigenous peoples, whose own culture is vulnerable to colonisation. Retaining language and custom gives purpose and honour to individual lives in indigenous communities.
By contrast, the dominant white Anglo world seems to require little from us in order to flourish. It runs increasingly on automatic, sustained by machines and global corporations. But there are still buried traditions that we can uncover and pass on. Colonisation involved removing the social value from objects, otherwise considered the primitive domain of fetish or idol. The challenge is to recover social objects such as charms, crowns, garlands and heirlooms that offer a hard currency of interconnection.
The project Joyaviva: Live Jewellery across the Pacific travels to Latin America this year. It will be very interesting to see how these audiences respond to the challenge of designing a modern amulet. Can folk traditions transcend their nostalgia and become relevant elements of contemporary life?
The broader questions associated with this will be played out in a series of roundtables as part of the South Ways project. This will seek to identify creative practices that are unique to the South. The first one in Wellington will look at the relevance of the Maori ‘power object’, or taonga, to Western art practices such as relational jewellery.
Other projects will help tie these threads together. The performance work Kwality Chai will explore what an Indianised Australia might be like. This relates to the utopia of Neverland, in which Australia becomes a haven for cultures that have no home in the world, such as Sri Lankan Tamils.
Craft keeps us alive to the debt we owe to previous generations. I’m very pleased to be involved with Wendy Ger’s Taiwan Ceramics Biennale where many artists have mastered clay as a language for the unique expression of ideas and values.
So there’s much to be made of 2014. Let’s hope this includes a future for 2015 and beyond.
This is an update to an article that I wrote for Art Jewelry Forum The DIT (Do It Themselves) Movement In Indian Contemporary Jewelry. In it I mentioned the work of the Bangladesh jeweller, Amman Rashid:
The Bangladeshi jeweler Amman Rashid would seem a more conventional candidate for contemporary jewelry. He sources materials from a broad range of cultural sources, including ink pots, trade beads, hookah parts, old brass seals, old cutlery, and old broken pottery pieces. Each work is unique and has its own name, such as Chiroshokha, Krishnobott, Kanchon, Protnotattik, and Aadibashi. There is no gallery for his work, and he has never heard of contemporary jewelry. He frames the work himself under the concept Aadi, which means “beginning” in Sanskrit. His work fits the studio model, and he is keen for international exposure. Can we imagine a Bangladeshi in Munich?
Above is an image of his work that is missing from the article.
Since then, I’ve also heard from the Indian jeweller Eina Ahluwalia, who I wrote about in a previous AJF article. She gives a little more background to her workshop conditions. She has three teams of artisans who have their own workshops and work on contract. There are occasions when the teams introduce their own ideas into the design process. The way she operates, the price is fixed by the craftsperson. For Eina, is it important that their interests are served for the long term survival of skills:
It is imperative that we make the trade monetarily worthwhile for the artisans to keep the craftsmanship alive. We need to compensate them for their unbelievable skills, their patience, perseverance and enable them to live the lives they wish for themselves and their families, or else they will leave the trade.
Let’s hope we see more of the work by jewellers like Eina and Amman in the future. They have much to give to the contemporary jewellery field.
The new publication Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective (Lark) helps realise the vision that Damian Skinner brought to his role as editor for Art Jewelry Forum (until 2012). As a New Zealander, Skinner has argued forcefully about the need to open contemporary jewellery up to perspectives from non-European cultures. According to his view, while the movement has its centre in Munich, its evolution in ‘peripheral’ regions such as Australasia and Latin America need not be seen simply as aspirations to European culture. The book includes contributions from Skinner himself (Australasia), Valeria Siemelink (Latin America) and Sarah Rhodes (Southern Africa) that identify the original contributions made from these regions to the broad global conversation about preciousness and adornment.
I was part of a roundtable in Seattle that Skinner convened with curator Mònica Gaspar, Benjamin Lignel (current editor of AJF) and Namita Wiggers (Director, Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland. The task was to develop a critical framework for contemporary jewellery. After much discussion, we settled on a spatial analysis that looked at the way the object circulates between bench (workshop), plinth (gallery), drawer (collection), page (book), body (desire), street (fashion) and world (ethics). Each space has its own set of critical values for judging the worth of the object. What this enabled us to do is to situate arguments within the field as forms of contest between spaces. It was possible thus to say that the relational push in recent jewellery practice champions the street as the authentic scene for jewellery, where the meaning of works is realised through use rather than limited purely to the intentions of the maker (bench). This helps clearly identify the interests at play in these arguments. In particular, it offers an alternative to the simple linear progress of ideas that seems the implicit understanding of conventional art history.
Clearly, we had to be quite selective about the spaces that were included. There were some, such as bin (thingness) that could not be included (ironically in this case). But we did hope that the book might trigger discussions about spaces that we had left out, or wrongly included.
But interestingly there is the potential to apply this kind of spatial analysis to other media. Namita has already used this framework to look at ceramics (playfully including the tent as a space). This offers a potentially engaging and challenging review of craft theory, beginning by spatialising the art object within individual fields, then attempting to look at broad patterns that connect them together. While the life of the art object is predominantly on the plinth, the craft object seems distinguished by its potential to travel into other modes of existence.
It is to be hoped that this yellow slab of a book sits loudly on the library shelf and in the gallery bookcase testifying to the liveliness of contemporary jewellery as a field of creative and intellectual endeavour. Future companions would be most welcome.
Participation and Exchange (Brisbane, 12-14 July 2013) was the 15th JMGA conference since 1980. 33 years of sustained dialogue around contemporary jewellery is a remarkable achievement for relatively small population on the other side of the world to the main centres. The relative lack of collectors compared to the USA and Europe means that artists more often fall back on ideas to support their practice.
According to organisers, the theme was chosen ‘to reflect the changing focus of contemporary practice, from sole practitioner to collective participation and crossing boundaries’. The program included a diverse sample of relational projects from Australasia and Europe.
Particularly energetic were the mobile collectives of jewellers without a dedicated workshop. This included Blacksmith Doris presented by Mary Hackett as a fiercely contested space where women could come together to learn and master blacksmithing. Not so hands on, but still productive, Christine Scott-Young described the activities of Part B that make a space for experimental public engagement outside the gallery walls.
Tricia Flanagan from Hong Kong helped place participation in the context of social practice in the visual arts. As an information platform, the focus was more on the making process than the exchange of objects. Preserved Fish linked communities that share a common involvement in the fishing industry. And broad project Peripatetic Institute for Praxiology and Anthropology (PIPA) engages in ‘conspicuous moderation’ by gathering local craft skills from bricoleurs and tinkerers. It was important to have this broader context for the discussion of participation in jewellery.
Laura Bradshaw Heap spoke about her projects involving communities of women – Bosnian survivors and Irish ‘travellers’ (Roma). Her practice involved partnering with a community for ethnographic purposes, teaching them some basic jewellery techniques in exchange for information that she could then use in her own work. It was salutary to hear about her initial offer to teach jewellery to the Irish participants was rebuffed in favour of experiences, like cooking and museum visits. This precluded the possibility of including their work in the final exhibition – an exercise of free choice rather than exclusion. True exchange is impossible to pre-determine. It would have been good to hear more about the interest that Laura Bradshaw Heap brought to the exchange, particularly as initiator. There is an implied concern for displaced women – could this be developed further so that the Irish and Bosnian participants might connect?
The Australian jeweller Roseanne Bartley offered a sophisticated and critical take on participation in her Seeding the Cloud project where she takes groups in different locations through the streets gathering plastic remnants that are then made into a necklace. The results are quite a diverse mix of forms and colours, which Bartley related back to the work of David Turnbull, a sociologist of science who considers the role of craft practice in creating a social fabric. Bartley raised a critical question about the nature of the social that is implied in relational jewellery.
Given the diversity of participatory paradigms, Kirsten D’Agostino’s taxonomy of collective practices was welcome. Naturally, New Zealand figured strongly as the origin of engaging new models, such as Broach of the Month Club. But this taxonomy is relatively academic without a critical framework.
The critical context for contemporary jewellery is itself in development. As a field, it seems to reward originality that reflects new aspects of the jewellery form, whether in materials or use. If this new practice of relational jewellery were to take on the critical framework of participatory art, as outlined by Claire Bishop in her book Artificial Hells, then it is likely to be riven between the competing claims of morality and freedom. For Bishop, participator art is on the one hand about filling the gaps left by privatisation and on the other a matter of exposing contradictions in our preconceptions of community. The kind of participation implied by the conference presentations were more likely the former – to fill the gaps left over in modernity.
This leads to one of the critical questions not really addressed in the conference – what kind of community does relational jewellery seek to constitute? The democratic impulse within contemporary jewellery follows the path of political movements that seek to exchange the franchise. In this sense, participation that only involves other jewelers is relatively limited. How might participation engage people who might otherwise never meet, from different parts of the world?
We didn’t have far to look. Internationally, the JMGA conference was remarkable from the number of New Zealanders, both speaking and listening. Peter Decker’s opening keynote was book-ended by Alan Preston’s evocative account of Fingers 40 year history on the last day, joined on stage at the end by all the Kiwis to sing a traditional mia. It was a touching trans-Tasman moment to remind us how powerful this dialogue across the ditch has been.
One of the real surprises came from the other side of Australia – the Indian Ocean. Helena Bugucki told of her work premised on the fantasy of being shipwrecked near Geraldton and having to make work from what’s at hand, in dialogue with a local Aboriginal man. And to the north, Alison Stone presented a paper about her experience working with a British NGO who runs jewellery workshops in Nepal. The adventure of both projects was admirable, but they didn’t provide a critical reflection on what their own role was in this situation. The principle of reciprocity seems a critical element in participation, whether it is the Aboriginal perspective on settler jewellery or Nepalese own craft traditions.
There’s a lot more to be said about participation and exchange in jewellery. The recent interest in the ‘gift economy’ brings us back to the rituals of exchange in precious objects. There are perspectives from anthropology, sociology and more recently Actor Network Theory that offer frameworks for understanding the value of the precious object in a contemporary context.
Participation and Exchange has placed all this on the agenda, which is exactly what you expect from a JMGA conference. We now have to find a forum to work through this agenda.
And the next one? The region beyond the Tasman Sea is calling. Australia is well placed to extend this conversation into the emerging contemporary jewellery scenes in Thailand, Indonesia, China and India.
As the Melbourne post-industrial suburb baked on a hot February afternoon, a gathering of 40 or so contemporary jewellers talked about the ethical nature of materials they use. The forum preceded the launch of Once More with Love, a touring show of jewellery resulting from a recycling challenge. The organisers Suse Scholem and Simon Cottrell introduced the issue in their own distinct ways. Suse spoke of the need to build a body of research that could help inform jewellers about the choices they make in materials. More generally, she advocated for a kind of ‘artivism’ that linked creative output to good causes. Simon gave a more personal talk reflecting on ethics as a subject of contemporary jewellery. He mentioned a work by Johannes Kuhnen that exhibited a gold wedding ring along with the 35 tons of ore produced to mine the metal.
Despite the energy sapping heat, the audience was quite vocal throughout the day. There were ‘real world’ considerations, such as Caz Guiney’s point that a couple commissioning a wedding ring will normally presume it is virgin gold, as it is seen to symbolise a new relationship. But sometimes frustrations erupted. At one point, a woman broke down in tears when describing the environmental devastation from mining, implying that talk was useless. Roseanne Bartley, who had previously warned that certain talk about ethics was ‘middle class’, defended jewellery as a form of knowledge that can make a difference.
The call to action was well captured by Ali Limb and Anna Davern who set up a whiteboard to gather suggestions for making a difference. One suggestion that seemed to get traction was the use of celebrities to champion ethical jewellery.
This discussion certainly brought people together in a common cause. The obvious challenge was to find a platform to carry this work further. Once More With Love as the prime mover will be critical, but this is a project rather than an organisation. There was talk of raising this issue at the next JMGA conference in Brisbane, but the scope of that organisation is much broader than ethics. One possibility to consider is the formalisation of a link with the USA based organisation Ethical Metalsmiths, whose project Radical Jewelry Makeover had been the catalyst for this issue in Australia. Does that mean setting up an Australian chapter? Would it operate under the main board in the USA? Do jewellers in the USA and Australia face the same ethical issues?
Sitting lightly alongside the pragmatic discussion was a more speculative conversation about the various interests at play in jewellery. Vicky Shukuroglou demonstrated the creativity of children in responding to artistic challenges. Catherine Truman focused in on the body as the site of the experience of making. While not strictly relevant to mining, their talks did serve to open up jewellery as a space of different interests.
While mining was the most salient issue in the Once More with Love forum, the ethical domain invites other concerns into jewellery. Like much of modern ethics, the day’s discussion implied an extension of the franchise of ethical interests—not just to sub-groups like queer, but also to non-human actors, such as nature itself.
So the day presented two complementary platforms for ethical jewellery. One was a pragmatic focus on specific activist goals, such as reduction in mining through increased use of recycled metals. The other was a more speculative reflection on the kinds of interests at play in jewellery production and consumption. Ethics does often demand some imagination, particularly when the interests cannot speak for themselves, as in nature. As with most forms of action, it seems important to have reflective space for mapping your direction, to ensure you are on the right track.
One important issue in this speculation is the recent thinking about the agency of the object itself. The sentimental value of jewellery is premised on a contact between wearer and object. While humans enjoy the capacity of enjoyment in the world, we are fundamentally limited for four score or so years. On the other hand, as they say, diamonds are forever—along with other metals and stones. Our bodies are thus imperfect hosts for the kind of enduring connection we seek with others. Through the act of empowering objects to carry our affections, we do qualify objects themselves to have an interest.
This issue emerged several times during the discussion, particularly regarding recycling. Caz Guiney, for instance, questioned whether she should recycle her unsold exhibition work. In everyday life, parallel dilemmas arise when we question whether we should give a keepsake away—is it better to preserve its original message or pass it on to someone who will use it more?
This may seem an indulgent exercise, evocative of the more arcane versions of thing theory found in the academy these days. But these speculations can be useful for extending the ethical space of jewellery. It has potential power as counterweight to the consumerist paradigm that sees the world as reducible to human need. Indeed, the alternative model of custodianship has strong associations with Pacific notions of power in the object, such as taonga.
Dear jewellery, would you mind if….
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.
Margarita Sampson grapples with the rates of exchange between celebrity and local jewelleryIn February I had the pleasure of attending Jemposium, a symposium of contemporary jewellery held in Wellington, NZ. Among other esteemed practitioners, Ted Noten was billed as a keynote speaker, the Dutch jeweller who with associates Marcel van Kan & Cathelijne Engelkes had successfully transformed his Atelier Ted Noten (ATN) into a sought-after brand, utilising the tropes of fashion & advertising in a Hirst/Koons/Warholian fashion. Ted was elevated to a near-mystical persona, with witty slogans that suggested “Ted Noten loves women” among others.
Ted, alas, was not able to make it, and sent both a video of himself and his 2-I-C Marcel van Kan. Meanwhile, over at Photo-Space the ATN Miss Piggy “Wanna Swap your Ring?” project was in full swing. The concept: a certain amount of pink nylon pig- rings (of an infinite series) were arranged in the form of a gun, and you could take one and replace it with a ring of your own you didn’t want any-more. It could be a failed experiment from your studio (the text suggested), a ring (ie engagement) someone had given you that you never wanted, etc. It took place in different cities in the world, with each one assuming its own character. The wall of rings will now be exhibited elsewhere, so the New Zealand one, as others, one will form a unique snapshot of a time and place.
It troubled me somewhat, and investigating exactly why has taken a while to nut out. It’s complex and I’m not sure I’ve nailed it even now. Here’s the deal: the rings read to me as design-trinkets. A ring that had any associated value to me (even bad memories) as a straight swap to a ring that came out of a big plastic bag by the handful? That doesn’t seem fair, ATN – where are your memories and associations? Your offering, as it were, of yourself? Or are we buying into a rhetoric that says: because of your status, your mass-produced trinket is glamorous, desirable and equal one-to-one with anything we may have to offer? Strangely, if they had been for sale (they retail at 30 euros online), I would have been happy to buy one. Money has no intrinsic value, either. So what price do I put on my ring-associations? I would have been happy with a swap between people in different countries where we offered a similar ring (I loved the pin-swap with the ‘two hour time limit ‘making-parameter). I would have been happy to give a ring to the project, and it would have pleased me to think of it sitting next to the others. Interestingly, Marcel expressed ATN’s mild disappointment that the Japanese version contained many swapped rings made (on the spot) from wire or paper, or a cheap key-ring, for instance, thus subverting the suggested rules of exchange. So why not offer up a scrap of twisted paper, you ask? It…it just felt a bit disrespectful. Maybe the problem was that I was unable to proffer an equivalent item for exchange and thus felt thwarted by the original premise. Marcel had said that ATN wanted to play with ideas of value and worth, which, if that was the object, has been mightily successful in this case.
So, it wasn’t a high priority to get myself one…and yet, there was a little nagging envy as Jemposium people waggled their pink pig rings at each other. The allure of the desirable, finite item. The Birkin bag of Jemposium? Perhaps I should hurry down and get one? Rumours were that they’d all gone…Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Marcel van Kan took us through a presentation on the work of ATN. Despite being an admirer of the virtuosity of the work of ATN for many years, the talk left me a little cold for various reasons, not least being their condescending attitude to women…fickle, high-heeled-wearing, diamond-bedazzled-creatures… It felt like were we in another era (The text should read “Ted Noten loves his own idea of Women”). I was left with the feeling that there wasn’t much mana in the “Big Banana” of ATN.
At the conclusion of the talk Marcel, with a flourish, took a handful of leftover yellow rings from a previous project and threw them into the audience. One was heading straight my way, gosh… and as X (next to me) put in a heroic goalkeeper’s jump in front of me, the ring deflected off his sleeve and fell between my feet. Ah, the little yellow ring. Viperish thing. Hell, it was between my feet, everyone was excited, it was all good fun, wasn’t it? Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d been swapped a shiny mirror for a piece of land. Beads and a handful of nails while the Euro’s steal the show. Again. I wasn’t the only one with misgivings, as later discreet, over-coffee-mutterings percolated.
So, I wore my yellow ATN ring for two days. I showed it off when people admired it. I tried to admire it myself. Were they now more desirable than the Miss Piggy ring? More exclusive? Was I special? X next to me was downcast, the pink rings had all been taken and the yellow was his last chance for a ring. (Although a mysterious VIP ATN banana ring showed up later…) Were we now in a strange ring-stratified hierarchy with ATN at the head? How did this happen so quickly, so easily? I loitered near the Miss Piggy ring-gun-wall later at the closing party and tried to screw up the courage to swap my yellow one for any number of the recognisable & desirable rings on the wall. Oooh, look, a minimalist Warwick Freeman, a cheeky Karl Fritsch, a lush Julia de Ville… not to mention the many other beautiful pieces with their hidden associations for the wearer. What was it that Warwick didn’t like about his ring? Or had some-one else put it there? The wall felt rich and meaningful and secretive. Full of narrative. Would I betray them by doing the clandestine swap? Certainly their work was desirable, but they had given it up in good faith. And I’m well-mannered by nature, was sober enough to decide it was probably theft, and thus kept my yellow ring.
By the last day I’d taken the yellow ring off. It wasn’t attractive in itself and I had very mixed feelings about it. I found X at the Masterclass and discretely handed it over. Oh Joy! I’d gotten rid of the troublesome thing and it had gone to someone who really wanted it, and was overjoyed to unexpectedly receive it. And here the story might have ended, except some time later, he came up and gave me a beautiful hand-made ring from his own studio… black, faceted, asymmetrical, bold & strong. A ring I would have chosen from a line-up. Tears sprang into my eyes. We each had a memento of Jemposium. We all came out happy. Larks sang from the treetops. The End.
Miss Piggy: “A democratised ring for everyone, available for a low price and manufactured in an unlimited series. With this rapid prototyped ring the artist tries to conquer the world: a genuine Ted Noten ring for every woman on earth is his ideal.” From the ATN website.
PS. On reading Kevin Murray’s ‘Till Death do us Part: Jewellery & its Human Host”( Noris Ioannou (ed.) Fremantle Arts Centre Press (1992)) I have a feeling some of this may have to do with a formalist vs a functionalist approach to jewellery. What do you think? Or is it Design vs Craft? Check out his article here.
Margarita Sampson is a Norfolk Island & Sydney-based contemporary jeweller & sculptor.
Relational jewellery has taken a new step forward.
Suse Scholem is at the radical edge of the Melbourne contemporary jewellery scene. A graduate of Monash University, she is steeped in feminist and psychoanalytic theories.
Her previous show at Handheld Gallery in 2011 was Abject Object. It explored a feminist aesthetics by including body remnants as jewellery. While striking, it was framed in relatively conventional terms as art jewellery, reducible to the intentions of its maker.
The recent show at Footscray’s Trocadero Gallery focused instead on the interpersonal dimension. attempts at describing adornment was aesthetically quite minimal. It consisted of a variety of jewellery pieces, each featuring a series of words on porcelain. The words were garnered from interviews Scholem conducted with people about the way they present to the world. By filling out a questionnaire, contributing your own thoughts to the mix, you could then select your own piece from a box of ‘seconds’. The one I chose said:
I like black. It makes me feel a bit like a blank canvas.
Being a creature of Melbourne, I felt I could sympathise with this statement. But at the same time, I liked that it came from someone else. I find that I enjoy wearing it especially when I go out in brown. This accentuates that the words belong to someone else. After all, my brown is defined against the Melbourne black.
Essentially, what I’m wearing is a fashion statement. And there’s something liberating about reducing fashion to a literal statement.
Another touch I really like in Scholem’s exhibition was the mirror. It is common in jewellery exhibitions to have a mirror where you can try out the look of a piece on yourself. Scholem’s mirror follows the conventional oval outline, but only contains mirror shards pointing outwards, leaving the inside empty.
There were still a few elements that I thought could be further developed. The words were unfired, which means they are rubbed off with wear. While I can understand the conceptual rationale for this, I felt that it detracted from the value of jewellery as a relatively permanent adornment, which in this case would work nicely against the casual nature of the observations. Also, the language of the exhibition title and associated statements were quite theoretical and abstract. This renders the work as quite cerebral. A discourse that was more narrative or poetic might help wearers engage on other levels. There’s also the danger with overly theoretical art that you can run out of statements.
Scholem’s exhibition builds on other experiments with relational jewellery, particularly Roseanne Bartley’s Culturing the Body (2002), which invited wearers to bear politically charged words, such a ‘Queue jumper’, and collect public responses. This is a potentially rich vein of development. Of course, t-shirts provide a canvas for circulating witticisms in public. But jewellery tends to be more personal. It expresses a more intimate meaning. In this case, the reveals the meanings of others, within which we see ourselves.