Tag Archives: poor craft

Postscript on Indian contemporary jewellery

Amman Rashid necklace (2011) Kingfisher beer bottle cap, lotus seed beads, glass beads, copper wire, cotton thread and carnelian agate, approx 14 inches, photo: Anil Advani

Amman Rashid necklace (2011) Kingfisher beer bottle cap, lotus seed beads, glass beads, copper wire, cotton thread and carnelian agate, approx 14 inches, photo: Anil Advani

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.

Korean Gyeonggi Ceramix Biennale 2011–site of a future ceramics renaissance?

'Toya' was mascot to the biennale. This version of the bowl man cradling a bowl was especially poignant.

'Toya' was mascot to the biennale. This version of the bowl man cradling a bowl was especially poignant.

Ceramics seems very important in Korea. Its ancient past is defined by styles of pottery. The ubiquitous onggi pot holds a family’s precious store of kimchee, hopefully enough to see it through the winter. And with the Gyeonggi Ceramix Biennale, Korea has established the key international event in the world of ceramics.

At the core of the biennale are three complexes each containing galleries, sculpture gardens and activity centres. The official centre is at Icheon, which features the international exhibitions, including competition shows and focus on French and Dutch ceramics. As you might expect, the competition was ‘hit and miss.’ There were quite a few ‘good enough’ generic pieces, but still enough remarkable works to make the trip worthwhile.

Over three floors of galleries, the work that particularly took my eye was by a Chinese artist, Meng Fuwei.

Meng Fuwei 2008.5.12 detail

Meng Fuwei 2008.5.12 detail

I’m not normally taken by figurative ceramics, but this work presented an uncanny sympathy between content and materials. The fact that both people and building debris were made of the same clay gave a real emotional depth to this installation. Looking at it, I realised that on hearing news of an earthquake disaster, I unconsciously separate out loss of human life from physical destruction to buildings. This logic helps us deal with the compassion fatigue brought on by 24 hour news cycles: even if a whole building had collapsed, at least the inhabitants might be alive. Meng Fuwei’s work closed off that mental escape. Alongside the rubble were scene of great pathos, as clay people cradled each other and dead bodies lie flat, their hands having been crossed in respect. Work like this deserves broader exposure. It not only tells us of what an earthquake must be like, but also intimates a real pulse beating in the heart of contemporary Chinese ceramics. Fuwei himself was a victim of the 2008 Szechuan earthquake, and has been making work about it ever since. This installation was awarded the Gold Prize.

Despite the odd powerful work, the main exhibition lacked a curatorial hand to guide the visitor. Given that the curator had resigned only three month’s before the opening, the organisers had done wonders to create a credible festival. There was an attempt to give curatorial structure to the international competition with a thematic based on the elements, ‘Journey into Fire’. But this seemed rather after the fact, and served to suggest how much more powerful the spaces could have been with a strong narrative frame.

Yeoju Bandal Art Museum was a more popularist complex containing exhibitions of applied ceramics. Much space was given to an exhibition of ceramic jewellery. I wasn’t particularly convinced by the work on display. I thought it would have been more interesting to see jewellery that made reference to ceramics as an art form, rather than include some brightly coloured glazed pieces. There’s been some interesting jewellery that draws on ceramic traditions, such as recent adornment in terracotta from Bengal.

Other exhibitions about ceramics and glass and digital media were quite strong. But I liked the best the exhibition of tableware settings. These ceramic sets spoke of the social dimension of ceramics as a way of bringing people together – not just the living.

'Thankful feast' table setting by Min Il Kim

'Thankful feast' table setting by Min Il Kim

The ‘Thankful feast’ by Min-il Kim is designed to be used during a ritual meal shared with ancestors. The key element is a plume of words from poem in Korean that are bring sucked into a ‘moon jar’. Porcelain on charcoal was a powerful combination.

The more traditional pieces could be found in the third complex, the Gwangju Gyeonggi Ceramics Museum. The highlight here was a joint exhibition of Korean and Chinese ceramics, including a feast of celadon. In an international event like this, it is especially interesting to see how Korean culture orients itself not just to the global centres of the West, such as France and Netherlands, but also its older neighbours including China. This is a key to its global positioning.

Thinking about the other powerful neighbour to the east, I was left wondering what a show of Korean and Japanese ceramics might be like. There was a touching hint of this dialogue at one of the forums. Over two days, the international visitors presented papers on the ceramic scene. Sadly, there was virtually no dialogue with the local Korean scene during these talks, apart from occasional barbs by the moderator, Jinsang Yoo, an art theorist from Seoul. The discussion became animated around the topic of acknowledging the work that ceramicists contribute in collaboration with contemporary artists. The Taiwanese professor Ching Yuan Chang reflected on the way Asia culture is oriented more to craft than the West, which hampers creativity because work is traditionally left unnamed. During a break, in company with the Japanese curator Akira Tatehata, I asked Jinsang Yoo if he had heard of the Kizaemon tea bowl, the famous work of the ‘anonymous craftsman’ that was ‘discovered’ by Soetsu Yanagi in the early 20th century. Tatehata very gingerly explained this emblem of Japanese-Korean relations – how the most revered piece of ceramics in Japan should come from the most humble of ceramic workshops in Korea.

At the time, I was thinking about the paradox contained in this story: when the value of work is attached to the humility of the maker, how can it be recognised in a way that rewards the producer? You can’t have work made ‘anonymously’ by Joe Potter. Or can you? Could anonymity be branded? 

But after some googling, an alternative possibility suggested itself. On Richard Roth’s blog post about this bowl, he quotes Yanagi’s impression of the response that Koreans had to the elevation of their most humble product:

Emerging from a squalid kitchen, the Ido bowl took its seat on the highest throne of beauty. The Koreans laughed. That was to be expected, but both laughter and praise are right, for had they not laughed they would not have been the people who could have made such bowls… The Koreans made rice bowls; the Japanese masters made them into Tea-bowls. 

In hindsight, Yanagi’s comments beautifully reflect the colonial thinking behind such primitivism. While the Korean work might be celebrated in Japan, it is really a testament to the sophistication of Japanese taste rather than Korean culture. Hmm. Wouldn’t it be interesting to imagine a series of ceramics which explored that Korean laughter a little more…

Some of the pageantry of the Ceramix Biennale, as traditional Korean dancers are interrupted by a team of runners arriving to light a ceremonial porcelain bowl

Some of the pageantry of the Ceramix Biennale, as traditional Korean dancers are interrupted by a team of runners arriving to light a ceremonial porcelain bowl

I was left with the impression that Gyeonggi Ceramics Biennale is a tremendously important event on the international cultural stage. We should be immensely grateful to the Koreans for giving this event their support and vision. I hope it remains a stage for international dialogue about clay. With good planning, it is possible for this event to even extend its reach. It has potential in particular for reaching out to the fragile ceramic traditions that are being revived in collaboration with artists. Korea could be the home of a ceramic renaissance. That would be something to revive the spirits of a flagging world.

The last word at the biennale opening: at the end of a fulsome award ceremony, the audience was presented with a speech of its own to make in conclusion.

The last word at the biennale opening: at the end of a fulsome award ceremony, the audience was presented with a speech of its own to make in conclusion.

Buddy, can you spare design?



There’s a raging debate in the US media about the call to bring design into account for its recent elitism. Echoing the recriminations over reckless financial dealers on Wall Street, Michael Cannell argued in the New York Times that the indulgent excesses of celebrity design will be a natural victim to the economic downturn. He says this is something to celebrate:

The pain of layoffs notwithstanding, the design world could stand to come down a notch or two — and might actually find a new sense of relevance in the process. That was the case during the Great Depression, when an early wave of modernism flourished in the United States, partly because it efficiently addressed the middle-class need for a pared-down life without servants and other Victorian trappings.

Naturally, there were many designers who took umbrage at these remarks. Murray Moss lead the defence in Design Observer to argue that one-off works like Campana Brothers $9,000 Corallo Chair represent great creative achievements that all should aspire to.

We are the fortunate benefactors, not the dupes, of design’s evolution since our recovery from the last Great Depression. We should defend that progression with resolve. We should push forward, in whatever ways are still possible, even more strongly. We should lock arms and support one another. And we should not hesitate to challenge those, like Mr. Cannell, who would somehow, mistakenly and punitively, equate the current global economic meltdown with design’s recent surge. We should, and will, refuse to go back into the box.

What seems missing from this debate is a sense of the creative possibilities of egalitarian design. This involves changing the social dynamic of design from individual distinction to collective identity. That’s kind of transformation has certainly been successful with online networking. We can only imagine what kind of promiscuous design it might foster.

The low craft in Santiago



Jo! is a new radical craft shop in the Santiago suburb of Bellavista, which is usually throbbing at night with street life. The objects within have mostly been made quickly out of recycled materials. I picked up a brooch made from keyboard keys for $2 Australian.

The owner is originally from the ‘provinces’ and remembers her first ever sale from a little garden that she maintained. In honour of this, she has established a huerto (plot garden) on the busy street. She was surprised to see the space respected and everything kept in its place. Once the plants grow, her intention is to place a notice inviting neighbours to take from mature plants.

Jo! seems another example of the kind of abajismo (pride in lowness) that is so dynamic in Chilean culture today. Another example are the cheap handmade books published by Anamita Cartonera in honour of people who live on the streets.

After the Missionaries



2009 will feature a number of forums for thinking about the role of art in a new bilateral world. The Selling Yarns conference in March will include workshops for artisan-design collaborations. In June, at Craft Victoria, the World of Small Things: An Exhibition of Craft Diplomacy will feature the fruits of dialogue between first and third worlds. And at the same time, an issue of Artlink will be published to air the complex questions in the new bilateral global order.



Here’s a call for expressions of interest for the Artlink issue: After the Missionaries: Art in a Bilateral World

Movements like Make Poverty History reinforce a vision of the world divided between helpless victims and those able to save them. Divisions between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations, ‘advanced’ and ’emerging’ economies, ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds, assume a singular path of history, on which the West happens to be ahead.

But the world is changing. Old hierarchies are challenged now by the growth of China and India as ‘superpowers’. They are more than victims of colonisation and Western imperialism. They have their own ambitions to be seen as leaders on the world stage. Over the past two years, China, India and Japan have all held summits for the leaders of the African nations.

Climate change forces us to reconsider the relations between North and South. A major challenge of climate change is to establish a plan that has support of both rich and poor nations. The global impact of carbon emissions requires a global consensus for action. While the first world focuses on carbon reduction, the third world argues that it should not be made to suffer for sake of the rich nations. Negotiations around this are critical for the future of the planet.

Australia has been positioned as a key mediator between first and third worlds. Though a rich nation by world standards, Australia does not have the reputation of an imperial power and finds itself amongst the countries of the South, at least geographically. As potentially the ‘most Asia-literate country in the collective West’, Australia has been granted the role of mediator between USA and China.

Art has an important role to play in this.

The history of Western cultural engagement with the third world has been shadowed by primitivism. The energies and traditions of the colonised world have provided fuel to modernist and post-colonial movements in rich nations. Such dialogues have been relatively unilateral. What do the subjects of the primitivist gaze gain from this attention? How do we engage with cultures of the third world in a way that is reciprocal? While politicians go through the formalities of global summits on climate change, what role can artists and makers play in stitching together a fabric of artistic exchanges between rich Australia and poor nations?

This issue of Artlink is intended as a forum for difficult questions demanded by our time:

  • On what basis can artists from the first and third worlds work together?
  • On what terms can an artist or designer engage traditional artisans?
  • Is visual art the exclusive domain of global elites?
  • Is world craft a version of ‘noble savage’?
  • Are human rights and environmentalism the thin end of the Western wedge?

We are looking for articles about:

  • First world artists working in collaboration with artists and communities in the third world
  • Designers engaging in product development with traditional artisans
  • Australian artists and designers working in the galleries and studios of the third world
  • Art practices that involve critical dialogue between first and third world experiences

Articles are due by 1 March 2009. Payment is $300 per thousand words. Please send expressions of interest to Kevin Murray at beyond@kitezh.com.

How to join the dots as a jeweller

Since her mentorship under Blanche Tilden, Phoebe Porter has emerged as a significant jeweller in her own right. Since then, Porter and Tilden have forged a common aesthetic at Hacienda Studios, drawing on the everyday urban fabric.

Phoebe Porter_Location Devices 8_screen res

Phoebe Porter_Location Devices 8_screen res

Above, The Network panel installation, stainless steel, urethane coating 380 x 42 cm
Right, Location Device brooch, stainless steel, urethane coating, 5cm diameter


As in their collaborative work General Assembly, Porter’s solo body of work operates at both an aesthetic and sociological level. For the Location Devices exhibition at e.g.etal Flinders Lane, Porter has constructed a sublime grid in radiant blue coated stainless steel, with blue circles embedded as nodes in a larger network. You can purchase one of these nodes, each of which can be clipped on to clothing. Porter has developed an ingeniously simple device for marking difference. The blue circle identifies the wearer as part of broader network of those who have purchased work from this grid. It’s an exemplary combination of form and anthropology.

Over the years, Susan Cohn has played a prominent role in Melbourne’s jewellery scene with exhibitions that put a rigorous modernist design to the service of urban tribalism. Location Devices shows how generative this way of working can be. But does it need the particular sociological soil that this city offers? How dependent are these bright anodised forms on the Melbourne black?

Poor craft from Israel

Deganit Stern-Schocken, Pendant: Untitled, Smashed cans, zircons

Another interesting series of work at Klimt, this time from Israel. The exhibition ‘Crafting a Culture’ features work from four Israeli jewellers. The work of Deganit Stern Schocken in particular has interesting resonance with the poor jewellery scene in Australia.

With an interest in architecture, Schocken explores links between the body and the street. In the piece above, she has incorporated precious stones into some aluminium road kill. It offers an interesting urban twist to the story of ornament that makes precious that which is of least value in our world.