United in Variety: Sieraad International Jewellery Art Fair at the Westergasfabreik, Amsterdam 2016 November 10-13

Fitting my entire display into twenty three kilos of checked baggage to fly to Amsterdam was more liberating than frustrating as I shed unnecessary items and went with the bare essentials to run my stand. On the other hand the choice of bag I packed it all in will require revisiting next time. “The Elephant Bag” (as it is known) saw me through two, year long stays in the USA. Now I remember why I don’t use it very often. While it is capacious it is also unwieldy especially at rush hour on the Tube and especially when they close the doors on the Jubilee line due to overcrowding. Never mind, my flight was delayed anyway not that I knew this as I sweated and cursed my load via Kennington to London City Airport.

There were twenty other jewellers coming from the UK and I met up with seven of them when I arrived for a cab ride to the Westergasfabreik, we needed the largest cab they could find at Schiphol Airport. We spent the rest of the day setting up in the industrial setting of the old gas holder.

SIERAAD 2016 was opened by the Dutch “Princess of Craft” Margarita de Bourbon de Parme who is herself a jeweller, furniture maker and textile artist which set the tone for an incredibly smart and well educated audience. It was a real pleasure to talk to so many knowledgeable buyers, whose excellent English was appreciated by me and the other non-Dutch artists there. It really was a truly international art fair, many nations were well represented from all over Europe with exhibitors coming from as far afield as Australia, USA, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Columbia, Uruguay and South Korea. The fair was by no means dominated by Dutch artists. The variety and standard of work being shown was astounding, the show was entirely dedicated to art jewellery from the precious to the deliberately non-precious with over eighty exhibitors using materials from platinum, gold and gemstones to plastic broom bristles, leather and paint.

I was so busy it was tricky to get a moment to look round the show, as a jewellery lover myself I really did not want to miss the opportunity to see so much incredible work in one place. Gallery Ra, one of the original Amsterdam galleries to dedicate its space to art jewellery was celebrating forty years of success, owner Paul Derrez had a selection of works on display from his personal collection that included some classics that I had only seen in books before now.

Of all the fantastical work there two artists stood out for me. Christoph Ziegler a German jewellery and performance artist whose inspiration comes from the humble domestic sphere and uses found objects and shining plastic broom bristles to great effect in his brooches which encapsulate grandeur and humour. He calls his performances “Möbeling” which roughly translates as “Furnituring” but it sounds way better in German!

The second artist was Russian Ksenia Vokhmentseva whose crocheted forms where a pure abstract interpretation of her emotions. She has explored her depth of feeling through shape after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. “Sometimes It Doesn’t Hurt” is a compelling body of work both dark and poignant. Unsettling but fascinating her work reminded me of how Alexander McQueen approached his self expression.

In amongst the contemporary jewellers was an exhibition of ethnic jewellery from around the world by a collaboration of Dutch Museums. Stunning antique pieces, that the work of all exhibitors had to hold their own against. They reminded us where we came from and that some functions of jewellery have never changed. SIERAAD Art Fair was a very positive experience for me, my work was well received and it enabled me to see it in an international context in amongst the work of artists from all over the world. Whether you go as a visitor or exhibitor to SIERAAD it is worth taking the time to appreciate it as a rare gathering of jewellery art.

Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A and Collect 2015 at the Saatchi Gallery

I expected to love my visit to these two exhibitions, to see gorgeous things and return inspired. Instead I have been left with a sense of ambivalence and uncertainty. The Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is all a blockbuster exhibition should be. Big, bold and slightly overwhelming in it’s presentation. It was truly an experience and particularly in the case of the Cabinet of Curiosities section awe inspiring. I should love Alexander McQueen’s work, it is dramatic and fantastic, colourful and unsettling. The tailoring incredible and beautiful, the use of materials and textures fabulous and I do love his work up to a point.

The opening quotes in the exhibition spoke of McQueen’s desire to empower those women he dressed, make them awe inspiring and scary. The clothes he designed were just that but what ever shape,colour, material or inspiration he used under every ensemble was the inescapable stick figure of the fashion model. Display after display there was the same homogenous female body. The male body was entirely absent, where was his menswear? The male body has seemingly been banished from his cannon of work.

There was much talk of his undeniable skill in tailoring and taking the shape of the body into account in all his designs, he was quoted as saying he designs from side, the worst side for curves to ensure an all round interesting silhouette but again he was only using one homogenous female form. For all the talk of crossing boundaries this one seemed to be one he could not even see, his work was entirely unable to break the bounds of fashion model’s tall thin body.

The only hint things are otherwise was his Voss collection where writer Michelle Olley posed as the death of fashion, which is apparently a fat woman with no clothes on. I was pretty insulted by all the assumptions surrounding that show piece. Her body was the only hint that any other kind of woman (or indeed any other kind of body) could exist outside the fashion model “norm”. Yes I know that was kind of the point and one of McQueen’s fascinations was the “other” body but in the forrest of identical mannequins it just came across as crass. I was disappointed that this was the impression the exhibition had formed on me, I wanted to be taken in and marvel at the genius we were being told he was.

I also began to get the impression I was stuck in a visual Radiohead album, relentlessly serious with no humour whatsoever. Even Shakespeare tragedies have some light relief, there was nothing light here, fashion is a very serious business and Alexander McQueen took himself and his work very seriously. I am always dubious of anything that cannot laugh at itself occasionally, it lacks something essentially human and fails to fully connect and communicate. I could not help but wonder about comparing his timeline with that of another towering figure of British fashion, Vivian Westwood. His work remains distant, trapped in an impressive bubble, billowing and gorgeous like his Pepper’s Ghost illusion of Kate Moss but ultimately untouchable and uncommunicative.

Perhaps it was my mood after visiting the Alexander McQueen exhibition or walking past those beautiful but unoccupied mansions bought as investments by rich foreigners in the streets between Kensington Gore and Sloane Square, or the recent election result but the Craft Council’s lavish presentation of contemporary craft at the Saatchi Gallery Collect 2015 was problematic too. This is a festival of the most fabulous objects presented by the worlds best contemporary craft galleries. It is billed as a place to see and buy museum quality contemporary craft. The quality of the work on show was undeniably excellent and evidence of museums purchasing was clear in little cards denoting which pieces had been bought by what museum with what funding. Private individuals making purchases were also in evidence.

Again, I wanted to be affected by what I saw, I wanted to be moved by the beautiful aesthetic of the work on show. I was but again only up to a point. Highlights for me were the Cynthia Corbett Gallery with Chris Antemann’s £82,000 worth of truly taste free, baroque Lemon Chandelier and Jo Taylor’s elegant flowing blue porcelain. There was also drawers full of Anna Heindl’s Farbkorper jewellery collection at Gallerie Sofie Lachaert. Tord Boontje’s Chairy Tales was an interesting and enjoyable exercise in narrative sitting apparatus or maybe you could call them personality perches.

However, many of the galleries seemed to be showing exactly the same things they had 2014. I walked past several of the same objects or artists who were in exactly the same places as they were last year! It was as if the show had been wheeled away last year and wheeled out again this year. The lack of context given to the works was also irritating, beautiful objects stranded in a no-mans land of arty blankness some galleries had not even marked who the pieces were by. There were several galleries new to the show and new artists marked but they were all seemed to be very small works. Given this is the Craft Council’s flagship event and that a ticket to Collect was about the same price as a ticket to the McQueen exhibition (£17) I felt they could have all tried harder to be more cutting edge and up to date. As it was the repetition from last year gave a stale and stranded sort of deja-vu feel to the whole affair. Last year I left Collect feeling motivated and inspired this year I felt it was static and disconnected. It left me questioning how all these objects had become so disconnected from the fervent creative drives that created them. They all felt like they were destined for those beautiful empty mansions I had walked by to get there. Context is everything and the way Collect is presented made me feel like craft was adrift in an impersonal space.

Perhaps I should have stopped to see the Caroline Broadhead/Angela Woodhouse dance piece “Sighted” aiming to give an experience context to craft through exploring ways of looking but the notice requesting the audience to stand for the 20 minute silent dance piece put me off, that and the silent part.

Both shows were fabulous, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them with a good friend who also loves to “enjoy the aesthetic” as she describes it. With both shows I expected to have my disbelief suspended, I expected to be taken in to the worlds of wonder that both McQueen’s work and the contemporary objects at Collect promised. I wasn’t, the scenery kept intruding and the actors were wooden.

Down to the Waterline – “Stain-Less” in Sheffield

They like their fountains in Sheffield.  The first thing that greets you on leaving the railway station is a wonderful cascade of water.  I walked across the city centre to my hotel and the peace gardens had fabulous fountains and children leaping around them, it seemed every courtyard was running water for the newly warming Springtime.

Fountains outside Sheffield Station

Fountains outside Sheffield Station

This watery theme was appropriate as the reason I was in Sheffield was to attend the opening of The Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s 2013 members exhibition “Stain-Less” at the Sheffield Institute for Arts Gallery as part of Sheffield’s annual Galvanise Festival of Contemporary Metalwork.  2013 is the centenary of the invention of stainless steel and you will have read about my designs for the show in my previous post.  My two pieces were now complete and installed in the gallery, and I was excited to see the company my work was in.

The other exhibiting members of the ACJ had produced some fabulous work using just about every interpretation of “Stain-Less” from the deadly serious work of Maria Hanson “How Many Years Without Bloodstain?” reflecting on the few years between 1913 and 2013 that the UK has not had armed forces engaged in conflict to the light hearted “Ultimate Stainless Tie” by Jodie Hook.    There was work by Dauvit Alexander “Empire State Human” highlighting the moment when Sheffield lost it’s steel industry, pieces by Chris Boland, Gill Forsbrook, Nicola Turnbull and Zoe Robertson focusing on the internal chemical make up of stainless steel or its production and work by Rachel Colley and Grace Page extolling the stain removal properties of soap.

My two pieces were based on the Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.  Experience – The Lily is the sharper looking of the two and incorporates some stainless steel dinner knives, a familiar domestic form of the metal.  Innocence – Bubbling Brook mimics the innocent action of swishing your hand in a stream.  The ink inlays refer to Blake’s pen dipped in the water staining it to write “…songs that every child may joy to hear.”

Song of Experience - The Lily

Song of Experience – The Lily

Song of Experience - The Lily

Song of Experience – The Lily

Song Of Innocence - Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence – Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence - Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence – Bubbling Brook

Of course half the fun of going to an event like this is not just the pieces on display but the people you meet and the jewellery they wear.  There were several ACJ members there; our chairman Terry Hunt who was wearing an interesting brooch depicting an x-ray of the stainless steel pins and plates mending the show photographer’s broken ankle, Annette Petch, Tam Saville, Chris Boland (whose “Flux Rings” were amongst my favourites at the show), new board member Jo Garner and outgoing editior of Findings Muriel Wilson who was wearing Maria Hanson’s “Order and Chaos” 1997 armpiece and a lovely little Ute Decker Brooch.  The Lord Mayor of Sheffield and the Master Cutler where also resplendent in their gold chains of office.

Visitors enjoying the exhibition

Visitors enjoying the exhibition

The exhibition runs until 31st May, details here but if you can’t make it the catalogue is available from the ACJ by contacting enquiries@acj.org.uk

Unexpected Pleasures – The Design Museum 05 December 2012– 03 March 2013

Is this the right room? Oh yes, I think so – a bit hard to tell.  On entering Unexpected Pleasures the visitor is confronted with an array of beautifully designed and clearly very expensive but otherwise blank table cabinets.  They are black and round with three massive domed bolts holding the glass down (they are real I couldn’t resist a tiny unscrew of one!).  Inside sorted into collections of about six pieces per cabinet is the jewellery displayed on black foam.  I found myself peering down these wells trying to decipher what I was looking at and when looking at any piece that was also coloured black (there are several) I was reminded of Douglas Adam’s spaceship with “weird black controls, which are labeled in black on a black background, a small black light lights up in black to let you know you’ve done it…”.  The lighting was not helping matters either.  I felt the display did not show the jewellery off to is best which is a shame. For example Steinhaufen by Karl Fritsch, 2004 so prominently displayed in a glorious colour image on the Design Museum website was tucked away in a cabinet so it was hard to tell what colour it was or even that it was a ring.   I suspect the design of the cabinets was intended to make the visitor feel as if they were discovering those promised “Unexpected Pleasures”.

The exhibition was in four sections, smaller works in table cabinets at the front, a room-like historical section in the middle, behind that large neckpieces, then the “Worn Out” photography section at the back, a slide show of images people wearing jewellery and a video wall which seemed to be people wearing contemporary jewellery at a party (the wine was flowing at least!) which attempted to address the conundrum of displaying jewellery without being worn.

The range of contemporary jewellery was excellent in an important exhibition that is the first of its kind at the Design Museum.  As an introduction to artist made jewellery it really tried hard. The pieces were collected together in loose themes and came from artists all over the world, were there enough from the UK? Does that matter in an international art form?  There was also a section on the earliest emergence of contemporary art jewellery in the 1940s – 1960s.

The lack of human context so apparent in the front of the gallery suddenly changed once you had circumnavigated the “historical room”.  Here at eye level was an array of big necklaces from famous names such as Marjorie Schick, David Watkins, Caroline Broadhead and Lucy Sarneel.  Behind them was a wall of images showing pieces being worn or photography by jewellery artists that were purely two-dimensional works.  Maisie Broadhead’s “Keep Them Sweet” is a gorgeous image but a problematic one in the context of this exhibition, its claim on being jewellery was a sweetie necklace used as a prop.

A personal tradition before leaving an exhibition I like to select the piece I would most like to take home with me.  This time it is Sari Liimatta’s “Phoenix” 2010.  A piece that, for me, embodies what artist made jewellery should; interesting technique, arresting beauty, expressing an intense emotion, with an undeniable ambiguity, exquisite craftsmanship and most importantly wearable.

I bought the exhibition catalogue which you can buy online here it is a little pricey at £35  but is a lovely hardback book with essays and lush images.  As usual I found some other great books in the shop On Jewellery – a compendium of international art jewellery by Liesbth den Besten and Collect Contemporary Jewellery by Joanna Hardy a guide intended for the novice collector but useful for a maker from the other side of the fence too.

“Unexpected Pleasures” was an excellent start if somewhat disappointing in its display, I hope the Design Museum will continue to champion contemporary jewellery and help raise its profile with the general public.

I took a few shots at the exhibition as visual notes for writing this review included below to give a flavour of the display, however, if you want fabulous images of what was at the exhibition I’d get the catalogue if I were you these were just shot on my iPhone!

The full review will appear in ACJ Findings Magazine spring 2013 edition.

 

Camilla Prasch Mega 1/7 2009

Camilla Prasch Mega 1/7 2009

Cabinet at Unexpected Pleasures 2013

Cabinet at Unexpected Pleasures 2013

Peter Chang Bracelet 2007/08

Peter Chang Bracelet 2007/08

I Loved The East London Design Show

I was lucky enough to win some tickets to The East London Design Show  (ELDS) courtesy of The Design Trust so I trundled along to Shoreditch Town Hall in Old Street to take a look.  It was partly to see if it would be a suitable show for my own work but also to do a little Christmas shopping.

ELDS is different from other shows I have exhibited at where the focus is designer maker made craft,  it is focused on the design of work as a product and there was a wonderful variety of designs and objects to choose from.  Of course I always look for jewellery and I was not disappointed but there were also, leather goods makers, shoe designers, printmakers, T-shirt designers, vintage style dress pattern makers, fashion designers and designers of home and interior wares.

The variety of exhibitors made it an excellent place to browse and chat to people truly passionate about what they do.  The venue was spacious, pleasant and had that eons of polished brass feel about it that Victorian built public buildings often have, nice cafe provision too, although they didn’t take cards and I never remember to get cash out!

I had a good long look round and had a lovely time choosing Christmas presents for my family (which I won’t reveal here just in case they read this post!) and of course couldn’t resist a couple of treats to self.

First there was a ring by Anna Byers, whose geometric inspired jewellery really caught my eye as I do love repeated patterns and geometric forms.  It was her subtle use of colour and movement that really made her work stand out.  As I was trying on the ring she mentioned it was part of her MA project of course I couldn’t leave it behind then!  I had to give it a loving home and we had a long chat about selling special pieces of work.  It was a real honour to become it’s owner, thanks for selling it to me Anna.

Geometric Motion Ring by Anna Byers

Geometric Motion Ring by Anna Byers

 

The second piece I couldn’t leave with out was a chunky rabbit head ring by Me & Zena gold plated with green crystal eyes I have come to call him “Blingy Bunny” with plump little cheeks and perky ears he sits really happily on my finger.

Blingy Bunny Ring by Me & Zena

Blingy Bunny Ring by Me & Zena

Do you know what? I really liked the fresh attitude of the East London Design Show and I think I may well make it one of my pre-Christmas shows next year.