So, back to Melbourne in July…

Whoa, was it back in August that I put out my last In Melbourne post? I promised back then to fill you in on what happened at the Seams Seems symposium, which I will now attempt to finish up.

On Friday the 19th of July, a blustery and rainy day in Melbourne, a committed group of art-jewellery fanciers headed out to the Monash MADA department at the university’s Caulfield campus to ogle some new works and listen to a raft of intelligent thoughts on the state of jewellery exhibition, making and education options in Australia and the USA.

The speakers for the Seams Seems symposium, timed to coincide with the opening of the Seams Seems exhibition at MADA, were;

Dr Robert Bell, AM: Senior Curator Decorative Arts and Design, National Gallery of Australia
Katie Scott: Director of Gallery Funaki, Melbourne
Lisa Fehily: Director of Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne
Professor Robin Quigley: Head of Jewelry and Metalsmithing, Rhode Island School of Design. Artist exhibiting in Seams Seems
Lousje Skala: Current MFA jewellery and metalsmithing candidate at MADA. Artist exhibiting in Seams Seems
Associate Professor Tracy Steepy: Graduate Program Director – Jewelry and Metalsmithing, Rhode Island School of Design. Artist exhibiting in Seams Seems
Wendy Parker: Coordinator Postgraduate Research and Jewellery and Object Design. School of Design Studies, COFA, Sydney. MADA jewellery and metalsmithing graduate.
Roseanne Bartley: Current lecturer in the MADA jewellery stream
Melissa Cameron: MADA jewellery and metalsmithing graduate. Artist exhibiting in Seams Seems
Biatta Kelly: Current PhD jewellery and metalsmithing candidate at MADA. Artist exhibiting in Seams Seems
Anna Varendorff: Current MADA jewellery and metalsmithing candidate. Artist exhibiting in Seams Seems

The day opened with a short introduction from Dr Marian Hosking, former head of the jewellery and metalsmithing stream at MADA (I believe she has retired, but is still finishing up with her postgrad students?) and the organiser of the symposium.

The keynote speaker Dr Robert Bell followed – with some insights about working with the jewellery collection at the National Gallery of Australia. I found his presentation really engaging, as he spoke about the contemporary jewellery collection, the acquisitions process (and the “poignant moment” of this process as a work transfers from private to public ‘hands’ is the last time that someone actually gets to hold the acquired works with hands un-gloved) and the then upcoming Bodywork exhibition, closing with his own personal story of how, at the tender age of seven, the Art Gallery of Western Australia forever changed his world.

The jewellery gallery within the National Gallery opened in 2009 and occupies a prime location, such that 75% of the people who go to exhibitions elsewhere in the gallery stop to see it on their way through. There are approximately 100 jewellery works on display there, making it an equal amount of pieces as are paintings on display on the International Floor. At this stage there are not a lot of labels detailing contextual material (the benefit that small works take up less space also means that there is less space for explanation panels) but they are in the process of installing QR codes to link to 200 word statements to each of the works.

The other news he shared with the jewellery community, which will be of no surprise to many by now since it has already started, is the Bodywork exhibition. This exhibition of Australian jewellery owned by the NGA will be travelling to ten regional galleries from 2013 to 2015. The exhibition began at the Moree Plains Gallery on the 7th of September, 2013, and will stay there until the 3rd of November, so if you’re in the area I urge you to go check it out!

I will have more on that show as it travels about the place – and I’ll talk more about about what Dr Bell explained to us about the collection and he did spend a lot of time outlining the curatorial position of this travelling show, as well as the difficulties faced by the curatorial team in choosing works to travel, specifically owing to the fragility of some of the constituent materials of the jewellery objects in the collection. He explained that the exhibition is taking in almost exclusively regional centres as it has been designed for galleries that traditionally would not be able to get access to such well executed exhibitions, and no doubt access to anything from the National Gallery owing to the prohibitive insurance and other costs associated with transporting and installing larger works.

And my big news, which was revealed to the audience by Marian Hosking and reiterated in this presentation, is that my work Infinity Affinity III was collected by Dr Bell for the National Gallery earlier this year, and is now currently on tour in the Bodywork exhibition.

Melissa Cameron, Infinity Affinity III 2011. Vintage pie tin, steel. Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Image © Melissa Cameron 2011
Melissa Cameron, Infinity Affinity III 2011. Vintage pie tin, steel. Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Image © Melissa Cameron 2011

Finally, his story about the WA Museum (I’m pretty sure that none of you will remember reading about my ‘aha’ moment at the WA Art Gallery) which was then physically linked to the WA Art Gallery in its architecture, was that he came from the dinosaurs and other treats that an old-fashioned museum had to offer, right into a magnificent carved wood sculpture, that had been made by a human! A work by Gerald Lewers (father of Darani Lewers) in fact greeted the seven year old Bell and changed his view of art forever, no doubt influencing his choice of profession. He reminded the audience that getting our jewellery, via exhibitions such as Bodyworks, into the view and minds of other children and adults was really important, as “Today could be the day,” that one such piece of art could change someone’s world view forever.

I won’t go into the same detail for the speakers that followed, in part because they presented for less time, and because they generally spoke about what you would expect them to. Katie Scott began speaking about taking on the directorship of Gallery Funaki in Melbourne after the passing of the beloved Mari Funaki, and her slowly and deliberately evolving vision for the future. She also spoke with great passion about her artists and the place her space takes in the world of galleries, and also detailed her reasons for the new fitout, the slides of which were wonderful to see how the space can be configured by and for the exhibiting artists.

Lisa Fehily spoke about what drew her and her family to collecting, and thus ultimately what impelled her to start her own gallery space,  Fehily Contemporary in Melbourne. She has represented jewellery in solo shows in the short time her space has been running and sees it in the light of any other artwork, remarking that “Contemporary jewellery is inherently conceptual.”

Lousje Skala and Robin Quigley got switched with a computer glitch, so rather than the running order as published above, Lousje Skala came next. Skala, who was represented at Schmuck earlier this year by her pristine printed nylon and chromed works, spoke about coming back to jewellery making after a hiatus, and how her ‘gift of deafness’ (Skala is profoundly deaf) enriches her works. She was at pains to point out that her perceived heightened “visual acuity” resulting from this deficit does not make her different or better than any other visual artist, but that it has, and continues to, inform her own experience. In explaining her process she revealed that she “Thinks like a scientist, behaves like a designer and produces the work of an artist.” I can wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, as I often feel that my position in the art jewellery world is not one of the solo maker – this often times being the easiest/most appropriate way to describe my output – despite the fact that in the creation of my works I alternate between researcher, designer, commissioner and producer.

Professor Robin Quigley spoke about the school and faculty that she is in charge of at Rhode Island School of Design, as well as the undergrad student outcomes. They are justifiably proud of their strong program. Associate Professor Tracy Steepy spoke about the graduate program as well as gave us an overview of many of the artists from RISD that were exhibiting in the Seams Seems exhibition.

Wendy Parker spoke about her programs, as well as the fact that the department is in flux, pending changes at the end of the school calendar this year. She also spoke about her own work, including the making of a ritual object for installation into fashion designer Issey Miyake’s house.

Roseanne Bartley very smartly gave the same presentation that she had given at the JMGA conference the week before and then the last three, myself, Biatta Kelly and Anna Varendorff spoke about our own practices. I was asked by Marian Hosking to speak about ‘staying connected’, so I did.

And following this I, and a few other current and ex students, took a tour of the new jewellery facility with Vito Bila (pics coming soon!) and then attended the opening of the Seams Seems exhibition.

Phew, you thought I’d never finish, eh?
I gotta be honest, so did I at one point…

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