Tag Archives: New Zealand

Place and Adornment: A History of Australasian Contemporary Jewellery

Place and Adornment – the jewel in the antipodes crown

Six years ago Damian Skinner approached me with the idea of a joint book about the history of contemporary jewellery in Australia and New Zealand. Damian has an impressive track record in getting books to print, and I’d always thought that the epic story of contemporary jewellery in our part of the world had yet to be fully told.

The trans-Tasman conversation can be testy, but inevitably fruitful. We worked through the obvious difference in the respect that the two countries treated the body ornament of their first peoples. The history of European colonisation in New Zealand involved an appropriation of Māori ornament, while in Australia until recently Aboriginal jewellery was dismissed as childish. Despite this gap, there was a shared experiment with primitivism on both sides of the Tasman which helped lay the ground for a jewellery that was distinct of its place.

Both countries also shared the fortuitous arrival of northern Europeans from the 1960s, who brought with them the calling of modernism. This inspired some key early figures to develop ambitious international platforms, like Cross Currents and Bone, Stone and Shell. The top-down support from bodies like the Australia Council had clear positive results (an important reminder now in this period of neglect for crafts).

Beyond the major events, there were a myriad of smaller experiments, whose relevance might emerge only decades later. It was difficult work distilling so much information into condensed profiles, balancing word count against image size.

The story of contemporary jewellery in Australasia demonstrates that it is possible to develop an art form far from the transatlantic centres. While work from here certainly features strongly in Munich, it also has its own distinct frame of reference. Contemporary jewellery should certainly sit alongside painting, film and literature as an art form that reflects meaningfully on what it means to live on this side of the world. This is  especially the case in Australia, which is so dependent on extraction of precious metals for its wealth.

But the story is certainly not over. Not only are there are many innovative new jewellery practices emerging now, there are also scenes being developed in other countries far from the historic centres, such as India, Taiwan, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Indonesia. Contemporary jewellery today is a rich global conversation.

And this is only one of the stories to be told about craft in Australia. There are many other remarkable threads where skilled and imaginative artists have learned the language of the land to create something meaningful and original. I think particularly of media like ceramics and fibre (wood generally).

Though relatively young as an art form, craft in Australia already has a legacy that could inspire future generations. We just have to believe that the value of living on this side of the world is what we make of it.

Place and Adornment: A History of Australasian Contemporary Jewellery is distributed by Bateman (NZ), Powerhouse Museum (Aus) and Hawaii Press

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The Ba Experience – jewellery workshop in Fiji

Ilse-Marie Erl with her team in Fiji

Ilse-Marie Erl with her team in Fiji

Currently I am working as a private consultant for The Value Chain Analytical Group PARDI-ACIAR of the University of Adelaide. In short I am on a research project in Ba, a little town far off the tourist trail in the north of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, for all together 7 weeks. I am up skilling a group of 10 women and one man in the handling of mother of pearl to produce souvenir and jewellery items using the side product of the famous Hunter Pearls from Savusavu, Vanua Levu. The group is part of the Ba Women’s Forum, an umbrella for some of the many women’s clubs operating in every village here and calls itself WoW (women of work/ worth). The ladies are mature women who are trying to gain skills and knowledge that might help them setting up a sustainable cottage industry with the prestigious ‘Fiji made’ accreditation.

My assignment is to set up a professional shell working workshop with wonderful top of the range equipment (without going green with envy) that has been funded by the Universities of Adelaide and Suva. Further I am translating mass produced neck pieces from Bali into local designs. Little do we tourists know that most of the souvenir items sold in shops or by locals at the beaches are actually made in Southeast Asia. Part of the outcome of this exercise is intended for Robert Kennedy, a fashion designer from Sigatoka who will present his fashion range and our neck wear end of May at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva. In addition I have to design a production line to be sold at the ubiquitous Tappoo department stores. The ideal is to leave the group with the skills required to keep designing, producing and promoting their authentic and indigenous mop jewellery.

Quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control…

Quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control…

My challenges are many and remember I am NOT sitting at a beach sipping nice drinks. Ever heard of Fiji time? Fun when on holiday, not so fun when working within a very tight time frame. Ever contemplated the complexities of aid projects? Extremely complicated and at times very frustrating. However, it is a fantastic experience, the wonderful people, the multicultural aspects of Fiji, the awesome food (think spicy Indian), and walking home tired from a days hard work (yes, hard work) up the hill past a lush green tropical scenery to my charming Filipino guest family, hearing a muezzin calling from a mosque, some Hindu chanting in a temple and gospel singing in a church, all within a few hundred meters. Sounds like heaven to me. And it is warm, always.

Clay beads and vau have arrived from Natunuku village.

Clay Beads from Natunuku Village

Just outside the village of Natunuku in the province of Ba, is the special place to collect black clay for making beads. The clay gets sifted through to remove all stones and grit. Water in which cassava (an edible starchy tuberous root) has been boiled and some sand are mixed thoroughly into the matter to make the soft clay firmer. White sand from the beach is used first but to make sure the clay retains its black colour sand from the muddy black mangrove area of the sea is added later on. This mixing in of sand and cassava water is continued till the clay has the right consistency. To check a roll of clay is formed and wrapped around a finger. If the roll does not break the clay is ready to be used. It now has a smooth and almost oily consistency. The beads need to dry in the sun for 1-2 days. Then they are put on the ground and a fire is build over them using mangrove wood. For black coloured beads the firing time is 2 hours and for brown coloured ones it is 4-6 hours. After firing the beads are lightly varnished.

During the time it takes to make these beads the women are not allowed to have sex. Women who are menstruating are not allowed to make beads. These restrictions are called tabu and are still in place today.

 

Voivoi cord made by Kini

Voivoi is the fibre of the long, sharp blade-like leaves of the pandanus plant. First these leaves are boiled and then laid out to dry in the sun. Once dry the wrinkled leaves need to be smoothed out by pulling them back and forth over a metal rod or file. Now they are ready to be cut into thin strips to be used for weaving. Voivoi is sold in rolls at the markets in its natural colour and in black. Black voivoi is made by boiling the material in a leaf from a little shrub. Almost every Fijian home features hand woven voivoi mats. Kini from our group is using the fibre to weave the cords for our neckpieces.

Urmilla is modelling a Paddle sample of the production line

Urmilla is modelling a Paddle sample of the production line

Naz is modelling a sample of the Triangle range

Naz is modelling a sample of the Triangle range

Sai is modelling a sample of the Banana Boat range

Sai is modelling a sample of the Banana Boat range

Sisi is modelling a sample of the Vula (moon) range

Sisi is modelling a sample of the Vula (moon) range

Bula, WoW Ba proudly presents a sneak preview of some of our pieces for the Robert Kennedy range for Fiji Fashion Week in Suva end of May. These are our ingredients plus mother of pearl and a lot of work and patience:

Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva

Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva

Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva

Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva

Craft Aotearoa launches in Wellington

Launch of Craft Aotearoa at NZ Academy of Arts

Launch of Craft Aotearoa at NZ Academy of Arts

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.

Keri-Mei Zagrobelna at her work in Kete, the craft fair at Wellington

Keri-Mei Zagrobelna at her work in Kete, the craft fair at Wellington

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.

 

Reuben Friend, curator at City Gallery, (extreme right) showing a mallet by Lionel Grant, housed in a specially made box by Tim Wigamore (on extreme left). He made the point that the taonga (cultural power) was as much in the box as in what it contained - a statement some strongly disagreed with.

Reuben Friend, curator at City Gallery, (extreme right) showing a mallet by Lionel Grant, housed in a specially made box by Tim Wigamore (on extreme left). He made the point that the taonga (cultural power) was as much in the box as in what it contained - a statement some strongly disagreed with.

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.

Mia Hamilton's ceramic wall jewellery

Mia Hamilton's ceramic wall jewellery

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.

The Story of the Yellow Ring

Margarita Sampson grapples with the rates of exchange between celebrity and local jewellery

Ted Noten, Little Miss Piggy ring, photo by Zoe Brand

Ted Noten, Little Miss Piggy ring, photo by Zoe Brand

In 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.

Ted Noten Little Miss Piggy installation, photo by Zoe Brand

Ted Noten Little Miss Piggy installation, photo by Zoe Brand

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.

The Joyaviva project – ‘live’ jewellery that changes your world

Joyaviva has recently opened at RMIT Gallery, Melbourne. So begins a journey across the Pacific, to explore how the power of jewellery might be renewed for contemporary challenges.

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.

Artists:

  • Australia: Roseanne Bartley, Melissa Cameron & Jill Hermans, Caz Guiney, Jin ah Jo, Blanche Tilden, Alice Whish
  • New Zealand: Jacqui Chan, Ilse-Marie Erl, Sarah Read, Gina Ropiha, Areta Wilkinson, Matthew Wilson, Kathryn Yeats
  • Chile: Guillermina Atunez, Francisco Ceppi, Analya Cespedes, Carolina Hornauer, Massiel Mariel, Angela Cura Mendez, Valentina Rosenthal, WALKA STUDIO

The exhibition is at RMIT Gallery until 24 March. Make a wish…

Australasian Craft Network calling

The Australasian Craft Network has been established as a bridge down-under with the World Craft Council.

The World Craft Council is the umbrella organisation of five regional associations (Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America), within which are various sub-regions. Historically, Australia and New Zealand have been in the South Pacific sub-region of the Asia Pacific region.  The WCC General Assembly meets every four years. Regional groups meet annually.

The WCC has two main goals:

  • To disseminate knowledge, to help craftspersons and revive languishing crafts in these regions and to provide a network and fellowship among craftspersons of the various nations, and to ensure that they are in communication with each other.
  • To bring crafts and craftspersons into the mainstream of life, connecting with the past through maintaining inherited traditions and looking into the future through the use of modern technology to experiment, innovate and reach out to new markets.

In 2008, the Pacific Craft Network was established as a means of disseminating information from the World Craft Council to the island communities, as well as providing a platform for development of projects particularly in association with the Pacific arts festivals.
To complement that, the Australasian Craft Network provides those non-islanders of the South Pacific with a similar conduit to the World Craft Council and also a means of organising activities to the broader benefit of craft culture.
In particular, there is interest in a future conference to consider the relevance of craft today in our region. Initial questions include:

  • Should craft, as a form of tactile literacy, be an essential part of education?
  • How does craft contribute to a healthier society?
  • Could the Global Financial Crisis lay the ground for a craft renaissance?
  • How does craft related to emerging practices such as ethical design?
  • How is a professional craft practice viable when there are no more collectors?
  • What are positive models for the relationship between craft and design?

Are there questions that you would add to this list? Please feel free to reply with your suggestions.

Members of the Australasian Craft Network will:

  • Receive emails of World Craft Council activities, including upcoming workshops and forums
  • Contribute to shaping events in the Australasian region that connect with the international craft world

To be part of this network, please submit your details here. You can also ‘like’ the Facebook page here.

ACN coordinators:

Dr Kevin Murray, vice-president, World Craft Council Asia Pacific Region
Lindy Joubert, Australian national entity, UNESCO Observatory
email australasiancraftnetwork@gmail.com
website: www.australasiancraftnetwork.net

 

 

 

 

Diamonds are for everyone

How contemporary jewellery breaks the alliance of risk and management.

Risk management

Like other media around the nation, The Age newspaper heralded the recent carbon tax as ‘Julia’s Gamble’. It’s an odd take. How could such a bureaucratic exercise as an emissions levy be viewed as a game of chance? The immense business of re-aligning flows of capital across the nation comes down to a fragile human drama—how one politician manages to hold herself together as she walks the gauntlet of media and public. Good policy isn’t quite enough. We still need to toss the coin.

We are awash with statistics of Australia’s impecunity. Complementing our astronomical greenhouse emissions are regular reports of our addiction to gambling. Last year, the gambling turnover in Australia was $153 billion. An Economist special issue had Australia as a world leader in the amount of gambling spent per capita—each Australian loses on average $1,300 a year, or $22 billion. The Australian Gaming Council is understandably optimistic, expecting a four-fold increase in TAB and on-course gambling.

It is not just the amount of gambling that we notice, but its increasing reach into daily life. Gambling odds are now seen as incisive augers of the fortunes of political parties leading up to an election—‘money doesn’t lie’. Gambling is presented as a way of supporting your favourite team. The website for the online betting business 888 Australia talks up gambling as a form of participation: ‘Instead of screaming from the MCG side lines, why not bet on the game… nothing says confidence and support like a placed bet.’ Gambling ‘products’ go beyond the final outcome to continuous odds and idiosyncrasies, such as the first goal. The ‘one day in the year’ when Australians used to ‘flutter’ has come become every second.

The current flood of gambling reflects a familiar metaphor for the Australian condition. The ‘lucky country’ has been able to ride out the GFC thanks to the good fortune of its mineral deposits. Thus an exhaustively planned policy to introduce a carbon tax is viewed as a toss of the coin.

Given this, one could be forgiven for seeing gambling as a source of grand evil in Australia. But is playing with luck always a lost cause? Why go a half measure in mandatory limits for poker machines? Why not ban gambling completely?

The prospect of a world where chance is over-regulated evokes the other blight on Australian society—managerialism. Those working in universities decry the way teaching and research is reduced to quantitative accounting, leading inevitably to the bottom line. What Frank Furedi in the Times Higher Education calls ‘the formalisation of university life’ entails the removal of context and judgement from academic practices. The aim of ranking schemes like ERA is to serve a dashboard hierarchy in which the complexity of research can be reduced to a series of dials sitting on the desks of managers.

Similarly, we decry how managerialism has infected politics. ALP ‘machine men’ put public polling before ideology. The expanding ad-scapes in public transport are evidence of the public-private partnerships that seek to capitalise on common needs.

Risk and its management seem to be our Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand we have a blatant disregard for money in compulsive gambling, and on the other an over-valuing of it in managerialism. Are they symptoms of the same cause or potential antidotes of each other?

The spirit of risk has become industrialised in clubs like sweatshops milking the unmet human need for chance. Capitalism has become hyper-efficient in gathering huge fortunes, but unable to build anything enduring with it. With Crown Casino, the Packer empire has blossomed as both a player and consumer of the lucky dollar. The bulimic alliance of capital and its purging needs to be broken.

The key is in the lock, we just need to turn it. Gambling is a natural antidote to managerialism. In its traditional context, gambling can be effective in countering the sacred quality of money. The ‘lucky dollar’ is usually taken out of circulation and used as a charm. The ‘luck economy’ reveals the fetish element of commodification. In Singapore, shops selling charms quote prices with lucky associations, such as $388. Rather than the atomised scene of pokie venues, traditional gambling is intensely social. Balinese cock fights or two-up in Melbourne lanes were scenes of vibrant local culture.

The alternative currency of contemporary jewellery

Melbourne has recently been the site of radical jewellery practice that seeks to question conventions of value, particularly in monetary form. This group sits within the marginal but globally diverse realm of contemporary jewellery.

The ‘movement’ of contemporary jewellery began in post-war Europe as a critique of preciousness. The aim was to liberate ornament from a purely monetary value. Rather than use only diamonds and gold, artists celebrated the preciousness of alternative materials, such as aluminium and plastic. While this was initially a way of giving value to labour, particularly creative innovation, recent jewellers have been more radical in questioning the basis of monetary value itself.

This occurs today in various parts of the world. At the annual festival of ornament in Munich, Schmuck, the jeweller Stefan Heuser presented a work titled ‘The Difference Between Us’. It consisted of one hundred identical cast sterling rings. The only difference between them was price, which ranged from $1 to $100 in dollar increments. Monetary value was the only element separating the rings. While most rushed to buy the cheapest rings, a few chose prices for aesthetic reasons. Would you prefer a ring costing $49 or $88?

Ethical Metalsmiths from the USA promotes jewellery production that doesn’t involve environmentally damaging mining. In their Radical Jewelry Makeover events, participants bring their unloved jewellery to be recycled into new original pieces. They receive a credit for their contribution which goes toward purchasing a new piece. Money doesn’t have to change hands, just the bracelets.

Jewellery provides a way of deconstructing money as a material substance. In a recent survey of Latin American jewellery, Argentinean Elisa Gulminelli created a small sculpture that juxtaposed a mountain of pesos from the past with a tiny coin representing their current equivalent. What’s today’s currency is tomorrow’s trash.

In New Zealand, Matthew Wilson has applied his Maori heritage to the fine weaving of metal. Alongside this, he has developed a striking technique of extracting the motifs of coins from their background. Out of mass manufactured articles, he has created individual works of art. There is something magical in the way he has liberated coinage from its heavy duty of exchange. His work brings into stark relief the enduring national symbols.

In Melbourne, a particular school of urban jewellery has evolved that seeks to make value out of nothing. This can involve collecting aged plastic from gutters, as Roseanne Bartley does in her Seeding the Cloud project, where she her Coburg neighbourhood to create an elegant necklace out of what the streets provide. Bartley is a New Zealand ex-pat who was originally taught bone-carving by a Maori in Auckland. She has specialised in using leftover materials, such as her series Homage to Qwerty that made handsome jewels out of typewriter keys and strikers. She has been particularly interested in the sociology of jewellery as a way of connecting people together, even constructing human necklaces for a performance work. Seeding the Cloud employs the jeweller’s craft to create poetic expressions of place out of its detritus.

Her colleague Caz Guiney has evoked great controversy in questioning notions of preciousness. Her City Rings project in 2003 placed gold ornament in secret locations around Melbourne CBD, such as a gold brooch on a rubbish bin. This quickly became the topic of the day for talk radio, as government funding was seen to be thrown away on trash. In an almost atavistic ‘gold fever’, prospector scaling city buildings to find Guiney’s jewels. Guiney eventually had to call her project off to prevent law suits from those injured in the process. Since then, Guiney has continued in a more modest way to plant jewellery in public urban spaces, short-circuiting the relationship between preciousness and private property.

More recently, the collective Part B has sprung up to realise jewellery ‘flash mob’ style events in the city. Last year, their exhibition titled ‘Steal This’ invited the public to come and steal works on display in a Melbourne lane. Another collective, Public Assembly, is located in the Camberwell Market and produces jewellery from curious vintage objects that visitors find in the nearby stalls. The resulting pieces can then be paid for by donation. For these collective jewellers, the worth is not in the materials themselves but the stories that people bring with them.

Of particular note is the project by Vicki Mason, Broaching Change Project, which is designed to introduce the idea of an Australian Republic into everyday life by person to person contact. She has produced three beautifully made brooches based on the wattle, oregano and rose, as currencies of communal gardening. Despite their obvious value, she distributes these for free. The only proviso is that when someone notes how attractive these are, you are obliged to give them over, as long as they agree to do the same when it comes to them. Since the project started early 2010, various hosts of these brooches have been contributing their comments about a garden-led republicanism.

Such jewellery re-connects with the origins of ornament as a form of protection. By contrast with the pearls and diamonds that find a resting place on the bodies of the status-conscious wealthy—with little resale value—the power of amulets increases through circulation. We need to put Pandora back in the box and put on the heirloom charm bracelets.

Gambling can be a source of social connection by demystifying the power of money. But this has become industrialised in our time. Far from opening our lives to chance, it furthers our atomisation. Risk or management, which is it to be? Heads or tails?


A version of this article was published in Arena Magazine, #113, 2011. It was written as part of New Work grant supported by the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.

Wellington charm school–power jewellery for today

Wellington charmers relaxing after a two-days of intensive talking and making

Wellington charmers relaxing after a two-days of intensive talking and making

Peter Deckers’ jewellery course at Whitireia Polytech has been producing a generation of particularly active contemporary jewellers. With projects like See Here, they have been not only making engaging art works but also finding new contexts for them to be seen.

The Wellington Charm School was one a series held in New Zealand, Australia and Chile. Around 24 jewellers, mainly from the Wellington region, spent a sun-blessed weekend in Porirua designing new charms for specific contexts. We had four particular themes: disaster, illness, travel and love.

One of the highlights was the session where each participant brought out their example of an existing charm. Most had objects of extraordinary poignancy that created links across generations, often to deceased parents. For the Maori participants, it was interesting to hear stories of how their charms were ‘activated’ through pilgrimage. It’s tempting to think that ‘power objects’ are a particular feature of the New Zealand upbringing, for both Maori and Pakeha alike.

An especially poignant moment when Vivian Atkinson laid down a seemingly endless charm bracelet

An especially poignant moment when Vivian Atkinson laid down a seemingly endless charm bracelet

Another notable feature of this workshop was the plausible medical applications of charms. The relevance of such objects to conditions such as blood pressure and asthma make it seem quite reasonable to imagine jewellers-in-residence at health clinics.

A charm for bushfires made by the workshop technician Matthew Wilson in trans-Tasman solidarity

A charm for bushfires made by the workshop technician Matthew Wilson in trans-Tasman solidarity

Typified in the Bone, Stone, Shell exhibition of 1988, modern New Zealand jewellery has been defined by the adaption of materials and techniques from Pacific adornment traditions to Western culture. The children of that generation seem interested not just in the process of material translation, but also the spirit of the taonga, the empowered object.