part two of ‘rmit seminar’ thoughts

The RMIT symposium in early August 2010; Melissa finally returns to the scene to complete her sketchy rendering of events…

Finally, I return to the afternoon of the RMIT seminar. I began typing up my musings of this event a couple of weeks back now, and I’ve finally found the courage to finish up.

Last time I had got to the point where myself and a bunch of other bright young things stormed the stage to present our dramatic yet concise portraits of our own practices. There was a bunch of people; Kathryn Wardill, Helen Dilkes, Christopher Earl Milbourne, Nicole Polentas, Mary Hackett, Suse Scholem, Claire McArdle and me.

Owing to the shock of being told that I would be presenting first (untrue, in the end), and after having decided that the break was a good time for a snack (someone should have looked at her programme), I managed to only properly take in a couple of presentations. I really enjoyed Suse’s description of her multifarious practice, and was impressed by her delivery and images. I also remember Christopher’s comments about what really makes something jewellery, is just the fixing to the body, or (as he implied) the intent? Another interesting topic that begs more research.

Now, onto the heavyweights of the afternoon session.

Susan Cohn
Did not want to use images in her presentation (and I mention it as it did make her stand out amongst the other presentations, and not necessarily in a good way.) She spoke on the Contemporary Jewellery Movement (CJM) where she pronounced that her feeling was it had failed in what it had set out to achieve. My feeling was that in her presentation this announcement it didn’t quite deliver the shock that maybe she was counting on. I’ll put my two reasons for this; 1) I don’t think that there were many of her peers in the audience, people who would be more affected by this revelation from one of her generation’s most successful artists; and 2) there is a general lack of knowledge about her history of activism for the jewellery cause.

Yes, the reasons are related, and yes, I realise that I have just put my full ignorance of the CJM and its achievements out on show.

I don’t know enough of the history of the CJM in Melbourne, which was further revealed to me at Part B the following day, when people who have been in the Melbourne jewellery community a long time were able to fill me in on some of its history and Susan’s earlier involvement. I think it’s a problem that I don’t know this,  as well as shame. As my ancient history teacher, Mrs Beale, always said, “If they (in reference to just about anyone – the Romans, the Gauls, the Goths right through to Hitler…) had only studied their history, they wouldn’t have done …”

To retreat to my usual defense: “Hello, my name is Melissa, and I’m from Perth.” I would challenge anyone we would call (back home on the range…)  ‘eastern staters’, to know much about the contemporary jewellery scene in that part of the country. Still, there has to be a way to rectify this situation, no? Where are the history books? Where are the images and press clippings of street exhibitions that I’ve heard about? Where is the inter-generational engagement, beyond the university classroom?

Renee Ugazio
Proposed an interesting take on how she sees the jewellers mind, and how that then shaped her thesis of there being three different ‘sites’ for jewellery practice. While I found it in general a well considered presentation, owing to the notes she was rifling through, it was clearly a cut-down version of a larger paper. A longer, more in depth version which I would also like to experience. I could tell though from what I know of her practice (none of which actually made it into the presentation, which we were forewarned about), the works that she creates are conceptually and theoretically driven and link in exactly with what she was talking about.

I think her theory-practice cross pollination is incredible and instructive, so I am more keen to see her work after this presentation, to experience rather than just be told about her jewellist’s-world-view.

Caz Guiney
Spoke of her involvement in a curated project involving many visual and performance-based artists. Her work centred on the discovery and promotion of sites appropriate for showing jewellery works, which were not gallery ‘spaces’. I say ‘spaces’, as hers were spaces in the way that the volume inside an empty jar could be considered space. The sites she found and catalogued were all jewellery-scale-appropriate, and in her presentation of them to her ‘audience’ (as part of a ‘gallery tour’ she went on a trek around the city to point out the crevices and hooks that she had nominated as her sites) she decided to display in each a piece from a tailor made series of jewellery works.

In terms of enlivening the jewellery community on the day of the seminar, this one seemed to have the most spark. Many people suddenly realised that as jewellers we do often notice such spaces (another nod to Renee’s theory of a jewellers-world-view) dotted around the city, and so many attendees were intrigued with the idea of having these nooks and protuberances become places to show work.

The pieces Caz put on show as her demonstration works were all fashioned out of the kinds of jewellery brochures that occasionally hit our letterboxes (another good space for a show I’ve just realised), or can be found in stands outside of jewellery stores in the city. They were prefaced as being a very quick solution of how to demonstrate the sites as places to present work. I found that that these jewels tended to make you think of the space in a very traditional display sense.

In light of Renee’s talk it would have been interesting to see this shift into a non-jewellery-object realm, but as a practitioner I can see why Caz decided on a jewellery-outcome for her final tour. Yet maybe the sites only needed a temporary place holder to show the potential of each spot.  I thought that some of the spaces showed an interesting potential empty, which was somehow changed with the demonstration of works in situ.

Marcelle’s Exercise Class
Great idea, thanks organisers! We do need a strong jewellery community, in all senses of the word, so this showed us another potential area of weakness that we need to take note of . Owing to an old injury, I found that I already do most of the exercises that we ran through. This was however only a quick check to see if we need to investigate our own movement more, and so I was rather pleased to find out that due to a lack of tension in the nominated muscle groups, I must be doing my stretches well enough to count against my work at the bench. Still, does anyone know if there is a yoga program specifically for jewellers?

I’ve already mentioned his session in passing. To be honest, I was more interested in his final summations than most of what he managed to draw from the crowd. There were a few topics debated that I found to be of interest, so here’s my musings, in point form: NB – I’ve put my own comments in italics after each point – I’d like to change colour or something but I’m just not that good at HTML

Notions of craft – Damian’s opinion was that to be noticed as a contemporary jeweller you already have a fight on your hands, so “you’re better to have the fight with the word ‘craft’ in place than without” as even though it might be harder, the result will be worth more. BUT, if you want to be an artist, and get all that goes along with it – money, resale rights etc, then go for it, and good luck!
I’d be interested to have the craft discussion again at some time, as coming from a design background I’m still yet to take a firm position on whether it’s worth that extra fight.

Susan Cohn also said, in response to a question of the position of craft in her practice that she is “obviously a crafter.”

Jewellery schools being slowly eaten away: (ie. the demise of the Monash first year program and the cut back of tuition hours at RMIT) an interesting point in the discussion – especially Kevin’s point that in Sao Paolo they’d be marching in the street in protest.
hmmm, why are we being so polite?

The question was raised “how does one become a critic…?”
get a blog!
How can we have dialogue when there is no organisation to sponsor it, now that the JMGA is gone…
see above
[ok, to be less facetious, Mark mentioned that once a week he would have a chat with Susan, about the world, life, and jewellery  (note I have put them in reverse order of importance ;P). I would argue that’s all it takes, you and one other person, intent on engaging about what matters in the world of jewellery.]

By the end of the discussion session I was a little depressed, as I became aware that the dearth of dialogue in the industry is more pronounced than I had suspected. The feeling remains that every time a group of jewellers sits to discuss anything, similar points are raised, which all seem to meet a similar non-resolution. This could be extremely disheartening, but thanks to Damian’s final words we left with a glimmer of hope that we still have the ability to rise and be noticed.*

*I wrote that line over a week ago when I wrote the first piece, and found myself last week even more depressed  about the state of artist/contemporary/research jewellery. To be honest it’s taken some time to recover my normal cheeriness at my good fortune in being a jeweller, and some of my usual hopefulness for the industry.

I think this was due to me slowly digesting a combination of ideas around ethical and sustainable jewellery practice, and what seemed at the time a slow march toward the end of people being interested in alternative methods of self expression through wearing jewellery. (I must also mention that I’ve been ruminating on other writings on this topic, the probable foundation to my late display of pessimism.) In all I was afflicted with a major bout of “what’s the effing point?”

Luckily I was righted by a discussion with the artist that continued over this past weekend. She reminded me of the incredible courage needed just to become an artist. In her mind it is so clear-cut; such an honest act of bravery cannot go unrewarded.

I feel suitably chastened for showing such a lack of faith.