Melissa has been away to WA. Here’s what she saw.

I’ve been away, in WA, for the wedding of fellow jewellist Jin Ah Jo. While there I got up to some jewellery shenanigans, seeing shows, visiting stockists and new stores and even attending my first JMGA meeting on Monday night.

The shows I got to see were REMIX at the Art Gallery of Western Australia and 8 at Heathcote Museum and Gallery. Remix is a collection works by twenty Western Australian artists, chosen to represent the diversity of arts practice today. Thus the show has a real mix of artists – there’s video, photography, light installations, painting, furniture, and it includes jewellery artists Carlier Makigawa, Helen Britton and Helena Bogucki.

The jewellers included each had pieces that had been acquired by the Gallery in recent years. For this exhibition the acquired works were able to be put into context of each artist’s broader practice by including newer works by each of the artists, as well as the acquired pieces. Carlier had works from 2005, 2007 and 2010 that were jewellery – brooches, bangles and some of her amazing neckpieces, as well as some of her recent objects, Helena’s were all more recent, 2010 and 2011 I think, and neckpieces, brooches and earrings, while Helen had more of a spread. It was my first opportunity to see Helen’s drawings – made of costume jewellery from an archive of this jewellery at a manufacturers in Germany (?), which she spoke of whilst in Melbourne last year for her workshop. As for jewellery pieces, she had some older pieces as well as newer works, including some of her recent works that feature blown glass components. She had rings, necklaces and brooches.

It was interesting to see these jewellers presented amongst all the other artists in the show. There was obviously careful consideration of the jewellery scale, in that each artist had a decent sized display in comparison to the other artists, and thus had more works on display than many of the other artists. I think this is a good thing, as it allows those who may be unconvinced to be slowly seduced by the range and complexity of these artists’ works.

The 8 show is the work of eight WA jewellers, Helena Bogucki, Claire Brooks, Carolyn Gorman, Carrie McDowell, Claire Moody, Leah Tarlo, Fern Vallesi and Alister Yiap, who have previously been involved in a mentorship initiative with FORM in WA to help them kick start their individual practices. They are no longer a part of this system, but they have worked together with curator Soula Veyradier to create this group exhibition. Each jeweller has produced a series of eight (or more, 16 in some cases) works for this show, loosely based around the theme of ‘eight’.

The works range with each artists group of pieces – from those showcasing traditional silver-smithing techniques and materials (albeit employed in contemporary works), to beading combined with hand-dyed plastics right through to using recycled plastics components, water-jet cut plastics and using materials like leather and kangaroo bone. Plenty of casting was in evidence and powdercoating featured in two artists works.

Together the artists have also collaborated to produce the works of a fabled ‘ninth jeweller’ . Each artist was tasked with coming up with a separate box of materials for this part of the project, which provided a start point from which the selection passed from hand to hand for each artist to contribute to each of at least (in some cases there were two final pieces) eight more jewels.

The results of this collaboration are interesting; they’re generally less ‘polished’ – literally and figuratively – than the final works by the individual jewellers, but they are equally vibrant and interesting. Collectively they reflect time spent on threading, weaving and cold joining more than they show a heavy use of studio time, which makes me wonder if it was because of the materials in the boxes, or out of respect for the owner/giver of each set of materials that they were not beyond salvation should they need to be reclaimed. They pretty much all came out as neckpieces, which could be seen as a little timidity on their part or might have been a part of the brief. I’m not exactly sure what, if any, brief they worked to, as I only had a brief discussion with Carolyn Gorman about the show after I saw it.

For me, in the context of much of Part B‘s ‘Steal This’ experimental jewellery of last year, the link between weekly meetings that these artists conducted while working up the show, and the fact their collaborative works were more towards the ‘knitting circle’ approach (if I may be permitted to coin a phrase, incidentally one that was heavily used by the Part B membership regarding their making days), seems really interesting.

(I’ll have to explain how the Steal This show came about in future posts, since that last paragraph might seem rather cryptic if you never saw the show.)

In terms of Western Australian jewellery, I think that the fact that these two exhibitions are running simultaneously is really interesting. Helena Bogucki is the obvious link between the shows, but I think that their differences outweigh the commonalities. There was a focus on smaller scale, inherently wearable pieces that in several cases nodded to fashion for their inspiration and finishing in the 8 show, which again may have been a product of their cluster mentor programme. I think in some ways this also reflects on jewellery being taught as a discipline of design, which is how many of this group of jewellers were educated, at Curtin University. (Disclosure – I was in the Curtin jewellery programme at the same time as several members of this group.) The art gallery show was exactly that, jewellery conveyed and displayed as art form.

Anyway, both exhibitions are still running, 8 until the 22nd of May, and REMIX until August 15, 2011. I’d encourage everyone to get along to both of them if they can.