‘Shaky’ start for charm schools in Chile

The Southern Charms project had a ‘shaky’ start in Chile. The workshops were very popular and produced wonderful new forms of power jewellery, but the recent tragedy of the earthquake was a dominant theme.

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The Valparaiso ‘clinic’ attracted around 100 participants, thanks to the good work of Professor Patty Gunther, who has been leading innovative programs in social design at the Universidad de Valparaiso. With such a number, I was very grateful for the assistance of local jewellers Omar Luengo and Nicholás Hernández.

Omar Lunego talking to participants

Omar Lunego talking to participants

Our task was to identify problems that required something more than a simple practical solution to be resolved, and then to design objects that might fill that void. Patty had provided boxes of the fragments left after the earthquake had destroyed so many precious things. How to turn this destruction into beautiful jewellery was a subtext of this workshop.

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The workshop addressed this with great gusto and overnight amazingly well-formulated objects emerged. As usual with Valparaiso, the tenor was idealistic: broad problems were identified such as loneliness and environmental change. The results tended to take the form of objects that could be broken up, with the parts distributed to people who would then have a point of contact with each other. One of the pieces responding to the threat of tsunami used the Mapuche myth of the sea serpent tren tren to great effect.

Santiago Charm School

Santiago Charm School

The Santiago ‘escuela de encanto’ was more specialised in jewellery. The workshop was organised by local jewellers Francisco Ceppi and Valentina Rosenthal and took place at the Museo Bellas Artes, the august national art gallery. Participants included 34 of the city’s top jewellers. Their problems were more concrete than those at Valparaiso, including the job interview, school examination, chemotherapy and overseas student exchange. Earthquake related problems included the emergency bag kept by the door and protection for the house. Over two intense days, groups developed designs for objects to help us cope with these challenges. The charm for examination was based on the tradition of the torpedo, where students insert a scroll of formulae into their pens to help get the right answers – though in this case the paper contained messages of encouragement. The charm for chemotherapy used the very plastic tubing that makes this procedure so uncomfortable, transforming this into a colourful bracelet form. What worked particularly well were the performances, where groups enacted the power of their objects.

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We all learned a great deal from these workshops. We learned how important it was to have a tradition on which to build – something that provides ‘roots’ for the object. And the performances revealed the choreography of giving that helps charge the object with its ‘power’.

The seed has been sown. We’ll see what results from this when the Southern Charms exhibition arises next year, hopefully now touring back to Chile. The present challenge is to extend the Latin American component to include Bolivia, with its global voice on climate change. But more immediately we have the workshops looming in Sydney and Melbourne. The focus on earthquake in Chile could have an interesting echo with the issue of bushfires in Victoria. Both challenges demand more than just technological responses, they require contexts in which people can come together, rather than fend for themselves.

  • For updates on the Southern Charms project, tune into #charm101 on twitter.
  • Visit the Santiago blog here.
  • Bookings for the Melbourne Charm School here.
The scene directly outside the Museo Bellas Artes where something was always happening.

The scene directly outside the Museo Bellas Artes where something was always happening.

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