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Contemporary New Zealand jewellery seminar day
On September 19th at Röhss Museum of Fashion, Design and Decorative Arts I attended a seminar about contemporary New Zealand art jewellery (“Reconsidering identity – a seminar on New Zealand contemporary jewellery”). The seminar was followed by the opening of an exhibition at Gallery hnoss by one of the speakers, and the day was rounded up by a party at Konstepidemien.
I will start with the scariest part (and thus this whole post will be backwards): At the buffet party mingle after the reception I was handed this perfect opportunity to talk to all these successfully working jewellers. It has been a long time since I felt so small.
As I tried to explain what I was doing there I heard myself saying this is just a hobby. (“I’m really a maths teacher and a physics student.”) What’s with that? I do a lot of things. Just a hobby?
Anyway, I tried to answer the “Why not fulltime?” question. Again I heard myself say things like “It just happens to be that way” and “If it starts taking more of my time, I’ll let it” and “So far I have a job and don’t feel any time conflict between it and my jewellery making”. (That’s not entirely true; I have work, studies and jewellery making and there is never enough time, always priorities – but that is because studies always take up all the rest of the time, or if you chose to do something else you are left with a guilty conscience about not having studied more. Always.)
But that’s mostly excuses. The true answer lies in marketing. I hate it. It is so boring and I am completely useless at it. But without marketing no income.
I was in a really introvert mood this day so I missed out on an extraordinary chance to get to know people, build up my network and advertise myself and all sorts of things Extrovert SaraErika would accomplish. Oh well. That’s the way it is.
Backwords, right… Before the party was the reception at the exhibition. Konstepidemien in an old epidemic hospital which now holds galleries and artist studios. One of the galleries is tiny, tiny hnoss. Or perhaps I should say “huge, tiny hnoss”, because although the exhibition area is smaller than my flat (and, you know, that’s pretty small…) it hosts exhibitions by well-known jewellery artists from all over the world.
This time Warwick Freeman.
From New Zealand.
I shall not pretend to know who or what is big in the world of contemporary jewellery art – “art” because it became obvious to me that the whole day was about jewellery as an art genre; things to exhibit, rather than wear – so when I say hnoss hosts big artists those are words of people I met during the day. They seem to agree though. And Internet supports that they are well known artists.
The world of contemporary jewellery art is a rather narrow one and even though I felt, at this party, that I was welcome into it if I wanted I have no idea how to behave to get there. (Or even if I want to. Is it okay to admit such things in public? Well, they change daily anyway.)
The New Zealand ambassador came down from Stockholm to hold an introductory speach at the seminar and at the start of the reception – and the embassy contributed with lovely New Zealand wine.
(How come I was the only one who looked like I’d spent the whole day in a lecture hall? I mean, all of us had, right?)
Now I can no longer push off saying something about the exhibition itself. That is difficult because the review will be different depending on through which pair of glasses I view it.
Warwick Freeman works with – and tries to find out which are – typical or important New Zealand symbols. At the seminar he spoke about making “statements” in his jewellery.
For example he is using the hook – the mythological fishing hook with which Maui pulled up the North Island from the Sea. The every day object that has become a national symbol. He is experimenting on making it into an every day object again. We were shown pictures at the seminar of the artist pulling up dinner fish with his stylized hook of pure gold. But also on finding the hook in “modern” every day objects (e.g. coat hangers) and again make it into a symbol. And in the collection of hooks at gallery hnoss the line between symbol and object is completely dissolved.
But what if I hadn’t heard him talk about it? If I didn’t know that the stones in the twelve rings on display at hnoss were picked from specific places in New Zealand, on a journey from the northern to the southern tip – if I didn’t know about the statement – then what would I see?
They are still good looking rings. His jewellery is really beautiful in form and it is interesting and often surprising in material.
But I think it would have bugged me, not being able to figure out where it came from. I’m usually content just watching good looking things without further thought, but these items show so clearly that there is a deeper thought behind them – they just don’t always show what it is. And that’s slightly unsettling. Probably in a good way…
The seminar was concluded by Lisa Walker showing lots of pictures of her jewellery through the years, and reading journal notes and anecdotes about her relation to her work.
It’s really okay for people to wear odd looking brooches.
The whole thing was very relaxing and at the same time rich in contents and interesting. (Oh, that sounds really boring, doesn’t it? It was the opposite of boring!) These seemingly randomly collected thoughts also build an image of an artist.
It’s okay that my work don’t always seem to make sense as jewellery.
Warwick Freeman talked about myths, about material, and about places for making. About places for making up things, and for constructing things. About his workshop and the traces his making had left there. About marks on the bench pegs…
About material typical for New Zealand and about what could happen if materials are switched. About how different materials look and how that expression could be captured by something completely different. About the bench peg again.
About Kupowai who’s out hunting with his two headed dogs. About Maui who’s pulling New Zealand out of the Ocean with his fishing hook of jaw bone, baited with his own blood.
About wanting to make a statement. About whether or not you can control if what you wanted to say really comes through. About whether or not that is important.
The world probably don’t need another piece of jewellery.
The world probably don’t need another statement.
But first out was Liesbeth den Besten and she spoke of the history of contemporary jewellery art in New Zealand. She describes it in three steps: 1. splendid isolation, 2. collaboration and infiltration, 3. conquering; How New Zealand jewellery conquers the world.
She starts in the seventies with the bone-stone-shell movement, where these materials are the focus for a group of artists who are trying to find what is a typical New Zealand look. Without a domestic jeweller’s school, it’s either autodidact or educated in Australia or even further away. Nothing is inherited that way.
With or without Newton’s law of action and reaction, the bone-stone-shell movement is countered by “Weeds jewellery collective” and Liesbeth describes them as “feminine where bone-stone-shell were masculine” referring to both products and participants. As if to emphasize that she shows a collage of Weeds’ work consisting of crocheted brooches in bright colours. When I search for pictures from Weeds myself I can’t find anything that supports that image, but maybe that is only a time effect; an effect of them being active today and not making items looking like that anymore… The third step in Liesbeth’s chain of evolution is represented by the exhibition “Handstand” where the rules of how and what jewellery is are stretched. We are shown pictures of Vivien Atkinson’s lace necklace made of icing, piped directly on the buyer’s body, and Selina Wolfe’s piercing brooch in silver. The best place I can find for you to read and see more of Handstand is in Matt Blomeley’s blog.
How many artists does it take to form a movement?
Liesbeth’s lecture was very interesting since I didn’t know much at all about the New Zealand jewellery scene. And it was a good thing it came first, to give the rest of it a sort of framework to stick on. All three talks were very different, and all three talks were very good.
…but first of all – coffee!
There wasn’t a very high pressure of questions in relation to the talk (I can’t complain, I didn’t ask any) but one question did rise a bit of a discussion about artists so called Bread & Butter Line, i.e. a collection made primarily to be sold in regular jewellery stores. Liesbeth talked about it as if it was regrettable that – how did she say it? – artists didn’t get to use all their creative energy. I think that is regrettable because I find a piece of jewellery more interesting on a person than on display. And I think that limitations in price and/or size could spur the creative energy rather than limit it. It sounded a bit elitistic to me, that’s all.
Both Warwick and Lisa seemed to have put a lot of thought into who should wear their work (which, especially Lisa’s, doesn’t always seem easy to wear) and what happens to it when it leaves the exhibition. I think both of Lisa’s quotes above show that, and while Warwick was talking about wearers, statements, environment, loosing it in the bottom of the purse… he was pressed to admit:
Sometimes jewellery is just a pair of earings.
Thanks to HDK School of Design and Crafts, galleri hnoss, Röhss Museum, the New Zealand embassy and Paletten Magazine for arranging the event supported by Göteborgs Slöjdförening, Estrids Ericsons stiftelse, Iaspis and finally Göteborgs stad. And thanks to mom for pulling me along.