or: What went down in BrisVegas doesn’t necessarily stay in BrisVegas…
This was my 3rd JMGA conference, my first being in 2008 in Adelaide while I was a masters student. My first experience was a great one – though the main feeling I remember taking away from it was that “I’ve found my people!” After being an interior designer and attending Design Institute of Australia conferences and other expos in the design world, this was my first opportunity to gather amongst the professionals (or grown-ups) of my new industry. I was immediately surprised by how likeable and moreover how similar everyone else seemed to me, right down to the dress sense! This year I was out to recapture the excitement of that experience, owing to the new city (I’d only flown through Brisbane up until this point) and the length of time it had been for me between seeing my jewellery-folk. It wasn’t all my fault, it had been an extra year between conferences owing to the Brisbane flooding and for me it had been over twelve months since I had caught up with many of the other attendees.
So, come the first morning I was ready and raring to get amongst some full-on conference action, and while this year I was not dressed in black like all the rest of my people (you call that winter, Brisbane?! though the wonderfully colourful Danae Natsis was giving me a run for my money so I didn’t feel out of place) I was keen to hear what everyone had to say.
The conference proper began on Friday the 12th of July, and the opening salvo was by our first keynote speaker Peter Deckers, who, in an early slide had me wondering what the hell I am hoping to achieve by remaining in the art jewellery world. Are we all clinging to the sinking ship? While that question didn’t specifically get answered during the course of the next three days (yet it often seemed to loom), I did have plenty of chances for a consensual love-in with my fellow jewellery-kind as we were treated to some great presentations. The better ones dwelt on the Participation and Exchange of the theme, showing in real and dynamic ways that jewellers, and the objects that they make, can make enduring connections to the society they are a part of.
The standouts for me were (and I’m not totally relying on memory for this, I take notes when I’m more engaged in these events, to the point that it’s almost mathematical – more notes = more interest) Peter Deckers, Roseanne Bartley, Tricia Flanagan, Genie Lee, Kevin Murray, Laura Bradshaw-Heap and Kristin D’Agostino. Now, I also really enjoyed Christine Scott-Young talking about Part B and Mary Hackett on the topic of Blacksmith Doris, but these guys are good friends whose projects I know fairly well, so while I took no notes, I certainly enjoyed their presentations and particularly the opportunity to talk about and listen to the questions that came directly after them. Also I took a bucketload of images during the engaging and delightful presentation made by Mel Young and Lauren Simeoni, so if I go by weight of pictures these two totally won the conference!
It has been a while and these ramblings are not polished, so apologies to all if I misrepresent anyone or anything in what is to follow, but I’d like to make some connections between the speakers that I have noted. Some of these formed on the day(s), and a few leapt from the pages of my notebook as I assembled these thoughts. (I also feel bad that I did not go to town on reviewing this conference as I did on the SNAG one earlier this year for the AJF website, but as a presenter I felt that I lacked the critical distance necessary.)
In semi-chronological-order, (I am going to break that later on, sort of) after Peter Deckers pointed out the worries of the Eurozone, I have on my list Roseanne Bartley who presented Thinking Big with Something Small. Bartley’s dissection of the notion that comes across any right-thinking makers mind, namely, that it is supremely naive to expect that one could ‘use jewellery to change the world’, left me feeling better about my decision to walk this path, and added a sense of importance to her presentation of how she goes about her practice with this explicit aim in mind. A different, or perhaps fuller explanation recontextualised, in my mind, the works of hers that I know and have seen her present before both at other symposia and in the gallery.
In a similar vein yet in the opposite direction, Kevin Murray (at the end of day 2) with India Australia Dialogue-An Indian Rite of Passage for Australian Jewellery, began his presentation about art jewellery and jewellery in general in India, and used this to flip what I knew about his previous projects in India on its head. He illustrated his words with the images of Katheryn Leopoldseder‘s pieces of dwellings – with the idea that the house is possibly the location of one’s status and wealth in Australia, whereas in India that place is more likely the body. This idea therefore explains the high importance that pure gold has in the jewellery worn there, noting that while each system is different, neither is ‘better’. This, added to the Indian art jewellers he presented on, I felt that this context added a new dimension to the later part of his presentation, giving greater weight to the notion that owing to the lack (or at least incredibly low incidence) of those in the art jewellery world – or perhaps any other designers/artists – using the methods and skills available in that country, there are artisans having to give up their trade (in other crafts, yet ones sympathetic with jewellery that could be used by art jewellers from outside if they found an appropriate inlet into – or outlet for – such skills) owing to it not being a profitable living. Once again (as I have seen this happen at other fora) this discussion became contentious in a room full of makers for whom the design and output of their works is only arrived at via the intrinsic nature of their making process, and thus to whom outsourcing is almost an anathema. The artists discussing this were passionate about keeping their local skilled workforce; which I felt in some way was the same point that Murray was trying to make, but in a broader sense. He appeared to be arguing that the handmade is culturally on a precipice, and if someone (including outside artisans if the local ones can only see jewellery as gold) does not save the artisan in India, this knowledge will be permanently lost, to all of us.
It is interesting that in Australia, as in the USA (as I discuss at leeeength here) there is still very significant ties to the idea of the artisan (simultaneously skilled ideator and maker) in the art jewellery world. Murray noted during the discussion following his presentation that there is a division of labour in other artforms, and that he considers the idea of art jewellery artisan to be a romantic view often adhered to by jewellers, and that in reality we need not be the same person (and this is where my thoughts of that sinking ship, ahem, resurface.) But it is a premise that I find I have to agree with. As you would have noticed, I am using the term art jeweller throughout this text, and deliberately because I feel it best encapsulates the audience who collected and the artists who spoke at this conference. I also feel that ‘art jeweller’ as a notion in the very wording implies the ability for the separation of idea/thought from action. (Admittedly, an equally if not more popular descriptor at this conference was ‘maker’.) I too believe that there is the ability for some form of reciprocity with the material that can also coincide with a new version of outsourcing (the more difficult ‘sell’ in Murray’s particular presentation, I do realise), and that jewellery has a long and continuing history of using different skills from different people to make a single object. [And while art jewellery at first distinguished itself from ‘high street’ jewellery by claims of single-artist authorship, they often collaborated with materials that had gone through significant human-interference before they could even begin to make claims as to that authorship.]
In between these two presentations, which happened more than a day apart, were the presentations from another keynote speaker Tricia Flanagan, and Genie Lee. Flanagan presented on her many community focused projects (she is a public artist with links to fashion and objects, so in her practice covers similar ground to many art jewellers) though it was her ability to plant herself square in her contextual territory – in what she said was “A post acquisitive society” and in a “Western capitalist context” – that impressed me most.
This self awareness, and her notion of the role of the artist in the world as an outsider, observer and even community facilitator had parallels in the presentation by another keynote speaker, Laura Bradshaw-Heap. Heading up day three as our final keynote, Bradshaw-Heap noted that her work is “A means to meet, work and create with new people.” She presented her jewellery works and her social projects, the two sides to an interesting and varied artistic practice. She spoke further about her making with community groups, and how she has to carefully distinguish this work from the studio making that she does in relation and reaction to this work. She also mentioned that she is actually preparing to pursue further studies in ethnography, owing to her discomfort in the slippage that occurs in her own practice between relational art and ethnography.
The other presentation that split Murray and Bartley was one by New Zealand MFA student Genie Lee, Between You, Your Object and the space in-between. Despite her revealing that she had been chided by the organisers for not having a highly academic paper, nor a proper ending, I was completely charmed by her project; which was asking migrants like herself to think of the most important thing that they brought with them on their journey. She photographed each person as they told the story of their journey and the object (many of them being jewels), in their own home. These photographs, along with the story, was what she presented to us. In her opening she spoke of jewellery in physiological terms, that it is a transitional object, and her presentation bore out her point that jewellery making is us creating a second heart to pass on.
And once again, the similarity of Lee’s content to Kristin D’Agostino’s final-day presentation, with her thoughts Dipping a toe in the participatory realm: Project versus Practice is serendipitous. D’Agostino is (by proxy) another artist from the New Zealand contingent (there were many speakers from NZ this year, a fact that I really appreciated as I got the opportunity to meet people like Kristin with whom I have corresponded for years but had not yet met.) She shared her thoughts on jewellery practice in general – that jewellery is the original participatory art as, “This art is incomplete without the viewer’s physical interaction.” as well as the more participatory projects that she is involved with – The Overview Newsletter and the Broach of the Month club. Once again it is a maker involving the public in her projects, by force if necessary, getting her (and others’) pieces out into the world and then having the wearer tell the story of what it’s like out there as
human plinth art-jewellery wearer.
At this point I have to congratulate the organisers, and particularly Catherine Large and Elizabeth Shaw, who were precious about keeping to the theme, thus ensuring quality time to properly pursue the interests of the audience through the dialogue resulting at the end of each presentation. There were many issues wrestled throughout the weekend, that in the follow-up were collectively dissected or hammered home through this discussion, and I thought the level of discourse was encouragingly high.
Finally, if you do want to read my presentation, How to become an artist jeweller: a community case study, or as I amended it on the day – How to become an artist jeweller: a Seattle community case study, I have just added it, as well as the full text from my 2010 JMGA paper Examining the connections between architecture and jewellery: Looking into the last 100 years to inform a vision of jewellery practice in the future, to this blog. They now have their own page, (also see above.) I have done the same with my most recent symposium presentation, but more on that coming soon.
And that, my friends, brings this summation home.
May you all find someone to be your
human plinth decorated subject, and thus may we all live happily ever after! (Far, far from the ocean and its sinking ships…)