RMIT Seminar thoughts, or “notes without scandal”

Jewellery Practice as a Site for Enquiry – 06.08.2010

This is, I realise on re-reading, a rather idiosyncratic trail of thoughts that I have had regarding Friday’s seminar. I can’t call it review, and only partly call it criticism (sorry Damian, I have failed you. By the end of the session he was imploring the audience to drop making in order to become critics.) Since I have not described the events particularly well, I recommend that if you didn’t attend, you might read the posts at Melbourne Jeweller on the topic. She gives more detail on speakers and a more rounded view of what happened.

Susie Ganch + Christina Miller
I found it interesting when they made mention of the fact that they were shocked when started researching the processes that go into mining gold, and they began this research only eight years ago. I then realised that having known that cyanide goes into mining since I was aged 12, it only makes me more culpable in ignoring my own supply chain.  (On one school-based trip to a gold-mining area we all, fully clothed, took a swim in a large, salty, plastic lined dam. Turns out that this was likely next to the similarly constructed but fenced off cyanide-affected processing dam…)

I generally don’t use gold, and have recycled some before in commissions, but knowing that I can’t recycle my own stainless steel and titanium (which I do use) in the manner that I could gold,  I’m almost reticent to find out in more detail how they are processed. But the strength of their presentation is that I feel guilty for working without knowing.

I remember the tours of working gold mines that I did as a child (from the last large remaining tunnels to the Kalgoorlie Boulder Superpit that eventually swallowed them up, to two-person backyard operations not far from Paynes Find in the Murchison Goldfields) where we were always presented with the history of mining. Historically mining was hard, not profitable for the majority of miners, and many people were cheated or killed in the process of mining it. To a twelve-year-old, the fact that people no longer died to mine gold (at least in Western Australia where I grew up), seemed a vast improvement.

Yet I have been very conscious of the many social issues that exist as a result of the mining industry in WA, due to both personal and professional experience. In recent times bodies such as Form have been instrumental in presenting more arts and culture to the towns that the mining industry has created and populated throughout WA. The outcomes of their work so far I don’t know. But more discussion on this another time.

I feel now, after some time to think and discussion at Part B on Saturday, that the Ethical Metalsmiths program strengths lie in the area of education, since in talking to research/studio/artist/contemporary jewellers I get the feeling that they are preaching to the converted. For students (and especially in a university context), the skills imparted with the salvage of metal and other materials, and the social aspect of dealing with clients professionally are really useful.

But the mountains of costume jewellery that they collect as part of their process is another  disheartening part of this story, as how much can you really reuse of this stuff?  I’ve worked with store seconds before too (old stock and broken pieces that have come from friends in retail), and there’s more than enough of that to go around. As Karen over at Melbourne Jeweller put it “I’d love to see the costume jewellery industry radically reigned in and eventually ceased … but how, it’s not a realistic hope is it?”

Roseanne Bartley
Roseanne presented images that showed skeletons of birds, which clearly indicate that plastic had been fed to them. This is the part of her presentation that will stay with me.

Having seen her work in other presentations, the new project that she has embarked upon sparked the most interest. By doing something as simple as taking a walk around her local area and constructing a chain along the journey, made of found detritus woven onto silk, one is made aware of the sheer amount of it that we all must ignore in every journey.

I see the strength to this idea in the performance of this act, and in seeing its repetition. Owing to that, is the jewellery outcome the most important part of this project? Like in other pieces of Roseanne’s work, possibly not.

Ilse-Marie Erl
At the time of her presentation I found her works touching and engaging. In the time since I find myself thinking ‘but who will know?’ She presented an image of one of the trees she had ‘jewelled’ (by taking a core sample of concrete and feeding it into a hole in a similarly sampled tree) which had swallowed up its incursion within the space of a year.

I guess that is the point. So much sentimentally is bound up in jewellery pieces. Many inheritances are kept, not because the stories are faithfully remembered, but the habit of, and the desire to, be connected to past generations (who perhaps did know the story and  value the object for it) remains.

The story of this work is a small yet profound commemoration, like the jewel that is kept as a reminder, but never worn. This did not result in jewellery per se, but a jewellery outcome, the notion of which which most obviously fed into Renée’s talk later.

Kevin Murray
Kevin presented a lot of information, and images, from recently curated projects. And like most presenters, very rapidly. Given I had attended the JMGA conference where a section of this had been presented by his co-curator Elisha Buttler of Form, I had already seen some of this presentation.

He raised the topic of social equality and its relationship with jewellery – like people donning the white band as a sign of support for the ‘developing’ world – while pointing out its weaknesses also. He mentioned the Design for the 90% project, which made me recall the recent call out for the Design for the First World competition, where this philosophy has been reversed.

While I understand the reasons for a broad overview presentation of his many involvements, (with some of the artists whose works were presented, being in attendance on Friday) I feel that the broad scope of it didn’t do justice to any of the problems outlined. I was left feeling a little at sea. Maybe that was the intention.

The seemingly facetiousness “Do you really believe that craft save the world?” was (if I recall correctly) the first question to greet him. A moot point after this presentation, I thought (despite my reaction); that much I could gather.

Simon Cottrell
Simon saw a break from the presentations of practices aimed at social, ethical and environmental discovery and change, with a presentation of his Masters-in-progress. He mentioned that as a point of difference his presentation was to be unashamedly introspective.

I like and understand Simon’s philosophy of his practice, and find it in sympathy with sections of my own. Therefore I enjoyed all of his references, and I found he managed to cultivate a willingness to follow him on his discussion even when I didn’t completely agree with him. In short, his presentation seemed perfectly reasonable. Yet I felt that he was defensive in parts, quite unnecessarily.

Maybe this is his usual style. Maybe I am naive, and he is a lot more contentious than I believed him to be…

And so, part one of my seminar thoughts concludes. Stay tuned for the next installment…


3 responses to “RMIT Seminar thoughts, or “notes without scandal””

  1. Thank you for the link and kind words Melissa! I enjoyed reading your view too … looking forward to reading the next installment