Text from papers I have presented at two symposia:
Joya Viva Forum 2014 – C3 and the Melbourne Connection
Seams Seems: Staying Connected, 2013
The full text of the presentation I made at the Joyaviva Forum, delivered on the 1tth of April, 2014. The forum was organised to coincide with the opening of the exhibition Amuleto Joya Viva: A Través Del Pacífico, otherwise known as Joyaviva: Live Jewellery Across the Pacific at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares in Coyoacán, Mexico City. Joyaviva is an exhibition curated by Dr Kevin Murray that involves jewellery artists from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Mexico, making works of ‘live jewellery’.
The speakers (in order) were:
- Dr. Carlos Zolla Luque: coordinador del Programa Universitario de Estudios de la Diversidad Cultural y la Interculturalidad (PUIC-UNAM)
- Martacarmela Sotelo: (Mexican artist in Amuleto) Conceptualising ideas for their materialisation
- Melissa Cameron: (Australian artist in Amuleto) Contemporary jewellery in the streets of Melbourne
- Hanna Hedman: (Swedish artist) Amulet or talisman?
- Kevin Murray: (Curator of Amuleto) Luck by design: The challenge of the contemporary amulet
Joya Viva Forum 2014 – C3 and the Melbourne Connection
The Charged Charm Card project attempts to turn the act of giving a good-luck charm around. The power – or superstition – of a good luck charm is that the owner wields it against bad luck, in the hope that they will not receive any while they are adorned with or possess the charm.
In this version of the narrative, a person receives a charm – protects it, touches it, prays with it even – in the hope that they do not receive bad luck. Nothing yet has happened to the person in the physical world, but mentally they are guarding against misfortune by using the charm. The good luck charm becomes a way to work through an individual’s fear.
But then… All the while the charm is supposed to be warding off bad, a bad thing happens. The charm failed! Is the charm then proclaimed useless, because it couldn’t protect the owner? What does happen to a charm when the believer no longer believes?
Jill Hermans, my partner in this project, and I realized that it was not the failure of the charm, but the failure of the situation it is in. How can a charm that has just failed at its job be a comfort to its owner? It’s right at the point that the charm has just proven it does not work that its wearer needs consolation most. What can the owner have faith in now?
When something bad has happened instead of blaming an existing charm for not protecting well enough, we decided it was a good opportunity for the bad luck recipient to receive a counterbalance, in the form of some good luck. It was from this idea that the Charged Charm Card was born. Receiving a surprise gift, in the form of a charm, helps the unlucky smile again by turning around the emotional charge of the situation.
This is a Charged Charm Card. And this is a charm. It works like this. If you have a charm card and you see someone who has had a small misfortune, while you’re consoling or commiserating with them about their bad luck, you offer to make them a charm. Once you have popped out your charm and put it onto a thread for them to wear, you give it to them. The result, we hoped, was that the person would feel happy again once they received a charm, despite the misfortune that had just occurred. Thankfully the ability to restore happiness through gifting a charm was proven over the course of our project.
Side note: We were very careful in our description and instructions that people use the charm appropriately. We’re aware that there’s a scale of bad things, that a charm might not heal a broken arm but it might stop someone who missed their bus from thinking that their whole day is ruined.
In reversing the charm giving process we found a way to set up the good luck charm to succeed! You feel bad, then you’re gifted a charm and suddenly you feel better. The charm was responsible for lifting your spirits. It has already worked and you’ve only just received it!
In giving the charm to someone who is mildly distressed, the object becomes charged with the recipient’s emotions, and acts as the catalyst for changing the emotional charge of the situation. Early on the term ‘emotional charge’ became a keyword in our investigations as artists, so we designed our set of charms around the idea of ‘charge’ and changes of bad to good energy. Thus all of the jewellery we designed used symbols of energy and power as a metaphor for what we hoped our charms could achieve – empowerment and energetic change.
The language we were using about the charm presented another obvious solution to the problem of how to encourage someone deploy a charm? Our idea was predicated on having someone on the scene with a charm as soon as a misfortune occurred. We figured that when someone is reaching out for an empathetic response to his or her trauma, it’s not really a good time to dash off to the jewellery bench to whip up a quick charm. In order to work seamlessly the charms had to be on standby at all times. Everyone carries a purse or wallet with at least one kind of charge card, so we figured that a card that one could slip out, like a credit card, to create a charm exactly when it was needed, would be a workable solution for our volunteer charmers.
In our project we gave 12 participants a C3 card, with some instructions and paperwork to record the charm transaction. We asked our volunteers to give away a charm to a person who had received some bad luck, right at the moment that it happened. Then they would record how the person was feeling before and after they were gifted the charm.
We asked these 12 participants to also track the progress of the charms, to find out who the new owner was and to ask them how they felt about receiving a charm. We asked them to photograph the charms in their new surroundings using their smart phones, and to send us back the little report cards and images that had recorded at the event of the charm’s gifting, so that we could learn about the type of misfortunes that could be ‘cured’ with a charm.
We found that the Charms have been traded for the sadness at a football team losing, and the loss of a favourite T Shirt. We treated a lot of anxiety about work; from stressed interns to those waiting on pins and needles for incoming job offers. We had health anxiety too – one person was fearing an upcoming trip to the dentist, while another was pictured taking some cold medication at the same time they self-prescribed a ‘Resist’ bracelet, to help them resist the virus. And we found that in every circumstance, after a person had received the charm they were immediately feeling happier. In some cases, a lot happier.
As with any souvenir, they are likely to put into mind the emotions that were present at the time of their receipt, so some recipients may choose to continue to wear the charm while others may choose to protect themselves by not wearing it. It is this continued relationship with the object that we were most interested to discover, and we are still getting feedback from our charm owners. We have found that some do and some don’t wear their charms on a regular basis.
The simple act of giving a charm achieves three things; it takes the recipient’s mind off the immediate trauma of the situation; it provides a souvenir of the kindness of others; and in the long term, it has the potential to transfer the memory of that trauma from the situation to the object – onto the charm itself. It protects the owner by keeping hold of that memory, thereby releasing them from its negative influence.
I think that the charged charm is a particularly secular Australian take on the idea of an amulet. Like a good-luck-charm, it operates with the same appreciation of objects and their ability to exert power over us, but not the same appreciation of the supernatural that might prompt someone towards a traditional amulet or charm. It is a more pragmatic, even prosaic version, more akin to taking out an insurance policy; despite the fact that each is procured in advance in defence against a similar range of maladies.
To have a Charged Charm Card in your pocket is to be prepared for bad luck, rather than to try and work against it. Yet there is a parallel to the good luck charm, in that it is always close by. Although keeping it with you at all times is an admission that bad things will happen to people around you, no matter what you try to do to avoid it, there is an optimism to wanting to be able to repair psychic damage and restore good faith in others. Being prepared in this way is to acknowledge that while potential misfortune surrounds us, most are more or less easily overcome. The quickest way through many a misfortune is to notice and acknowledge the issue, and if there is no real remedy, do your best to charge up and carry on.
The C3 project is also the result of a particular time in the Melbourne jewellery scene. The Melbourne jewellery community is huge, and is made up of many camps. There’s groupings around each of the universities and community trade colleges (called TAFEs) and around many galleries and large community focused and smaller artist focused studios. There’s even groups around specific high-rise buildings, that house many jewellery supply stores and studios. In short, there’s plenty of jewellers around, but if you’re newly graduated or new to the area finding people to talk jewlelery with can be a little daunting. And thats where the group Pbat B came in.
When I was living there I was regularly involved with a slice of the jewellery community who call themselves Part B, a group that endeavoured to take people from all of the different communities and mix them together in order to talk jewellery on a regular basis.
Founded in 2009, Part B is a Melbourne-based research jewellery group, made up of a fluid collective of emerging and established jewellery practitioners. For the members, the focus is face-to-face communication about jewellery matters, through monthly gallery gatherings in and around Melbourne. The secondary concern is finding interfaces for engagement between the greater community and research jewellery. Together we were doing our best to try and infiltrate the day-to-day with more frequent and casual expressions of beauty and individuality, using jewellery as our focus point.
It is through the monthly meetings that members discuss what is going on in the community at large, and recurring topics of conversation start to be noticed. Early on, when we only had a very small group, we noted a common desire to subvert the existing paradigm of jewellery production and display. There are a lot of jewellery galleries in Melbourne that have relatively similar display methods, and there are regular shows by each of the teaching institutions that are often similar-looking productions. Despite having members with many levels of experience, it was understood that the events taking place in our city always attracted a similar attendance group of makers and devotees. We decided to make it our mission to change this, and to try and grow the network of fans by changing where and how our work was being shown.
It operates as a collective, so it is only over time that the concerns and enthusiasms of the group are fully teased out and developed into cohesive ideas and statements that are suitable to be addressed in a large group format. Once a theme is decided and agreed upon, it generally points to an appropriate forum for its display. For each exhibition all past participants in the gallery get-togethers are invited to create works – we do this to privilege discussion over giving people yet another opportunity to create works for a group show. We want to work with artists who are invested in our community, who have an understanding of the group. Generally the events have a theme and even when they occur in more traditional spaces, the display is created to reflect this, allowing the collective to challenge the participants and audience alike.
In 2010 we began by exhibiting a body of work in Hosier Lane, a mostly pedestrian laneway in the inner-city, with an exhibition entitled Steal This! Each of the artists was encouraged to make work that would engage with the location, which is the most famous graffiti-filled laneway in a city that is very graffiti-friendly, and the traffic that walked through it during peak-hour each evening.
For the artists the stipulation was that the work had to be magnetic, and that it was to be given away for free. The making process in this exhibition was particular, in that it centred around group making sessions, convened so that the group could talk about a different set of topics than those that came up at the monthly gallery gatherings. In having our discussion while our hands were busy, we spoke more of our craft – finding ourselves on topics that generally only come up during this process. In these sessions, deliberately set up away form the bench and each person’s most familiar materials and methods, most artists produced a small series. The works, while not especially representative of a maker’s oeuvre, were representative of the process and aligned to the space in which they were to be displayed. Knowing they had been invented for and invested in community (much like the yarn bombing that was also beginning in Melbourne at the time) it was easy to set them free. In doing so we were releasing snippets of our conversations as a community – the documentation of our meetings – into the world.
Around the same time the following year we scheduled another even around the idea of ManJewellery. This time the making happened in our private studios, and our makers were limited to no more than three exhibits, which had to be displayed on a man for the exhibition – and if you were a man, that counted. Most of used male friends and partners and friends of friends as models. Each man wore one work, and a QR tag with the artist’s details embedded into the link, into a bar in the inner-city.
We documented this exhibition beforehand, taking photos of our ordinary men wearing extraordinary jewellery, before we unleashed them onto the streets of Melbourne, with most of our artists and models getting on public transport to the nearby exhibition venue. The show ran, unbeknownst to the bar owners, for about three hours. The images from the day were then used to create an online show. ManJewellery was exhibited on the online international craft community Crafthaus.
The influence of Part B on the C3 project is in its similar alignment with community. As in the Part B events, Jill and I wanted to get the idea into as many hands as we could, in as an uncomplicated fashion as we could.
We took 12 members of our own community and asked them to be charmers, giving each of them at least 3 opportunities to do so. We asked them to source their own recipients, by making new or strengthen existing connections with other people. We encouraged them to exercise their own creativity – at least in a small way – by making a charm from their kit of parts. We asked them to do it sensitively, but to do it straight away. Before the bad feelings had time to convert into any other form.
And we asked all of these people to report back on their experience. We forced them to be bold, to stride up to strangers and start a dialogue over a small piece of metal jewellery. Telling us what happened in a heavily mediated format encouraged them to do first and think later. When they filled in their cards we encouraged them to reflect on the circumstances of the incident, but hopefully also on project itself and the role of creativity – and jewellery – in their lives.
We hoped that they would repeat the process over and over, to test the results and their resolve, and many of them have. The forecast impact was that 99 people would receive charms. Not quite as many people as that have, but not for a want of trying (at least one of our charmers has made two pins from a pair of earrings.) With some creative charming, we could still end up with more people being charmed than even we anticipated.
The reach and the repetition of the actions required in the C3 project have been our biggest potential benefit, but they have also been our greatest challenge. For us, and as it turns out, for our makers too, keeping track of paperwork was always going to be the hardest part. Many of the cards remain in circulation, and I know that so long as there is empathy in humanity, there will continue to be the need for a charm.
The full text of my presentation from the Seams Seems symposium at MADA: Monash University in Melbourne, delivered on the 19th of July, 2013.
Seams Seems: Staying Connected
When I was growing up my Dad would read the newspaper as if it was a trade magazine. In fact for his profession, I guess it was. He owned and managed a civil engineering company, and the politics of the day had influence on the projects, government and private, that would be approved for construction. So after the front part of the paper was read, he then read the requests for tender, the bedrock, if you will, of his day-to-day business, and finally the births, deaths and marriages, mostly for the deaths. While watching us at swimming lessons on Saturday mornings he would read the weekend magazine, but I guess that was for fun.
I consider it important that as a person engaged in a professional activity I interact with my community. As I know that there are no limits to where learning, or inspiration, can come from I seek out different organisations, fora, and even individuals to connect with. I go to exhibitions, conferences and symposia, I participate in workshops and sometimes give them, I join local and online communities and through them participate in discussions, debates and exhibitions, and receive and read a bunch of different newsletters from my own and other communities, galleries and individual makers. I believe that lifelong learning is both important and my responsibility, and that as a member of a community it is my right and my duty to know what is going on.
Finding sources for the knowledge that my father was able to get from a single daily newspaper has been more of challenge given the artform, but over the almost four years since I graduated and began my practice in earnest, I have managed to amass a variety of sources that keep me connected to what is happening in the art jewellery world.
In my previous career as interior architect I was exposed to a raft of high quality trade magazines from which I could learn about developments in my profession, and while there are fewer print versions of the same in the art jewellery world they do exist, and in fact their numbers are increasing. Thanks to the Internet these titles are more available to those seeking them, and there are also a multitude of online publications and several subscription email newsletters to add to their ranks.
I have found that contributing to the discussion in my own small way, via [this] blog, through the development of online materials for the exhibitions that I have been involved in and via profiles on several online jewellery and crafts communities, I have been able to participate in a broad discussion about my field. The added bonus for a fledgling artist in being able to engage in this way has been being able to avoid the sometimes-prohibitive outlays to prepare and distribute catalogues, previously almost the only trail of information about such exhibits. Having these materials online; available on my own websites and those maintained by others, has allowed a broad dissemination of my works and resulted in making many new contacts, from those who have subsequently sought me out for advice, exhibitions, commissions and even the occasional comment.
For my practice, blogging was originally about keeping a diary of my developments, as I recorded the set-up of my first studio. The dissemination of my activities soon became a priority, as others in a similar position wanted to know about things that I was familiar with –advice on sandblasters or specific processes that I was using in my work. Being able to refer to a central repository of all of the information I had absorbed as a part of my working life meant that I often point to that collection rather than respond individually to questions emailed to me about such issues. It also meant that, and this was more subliminally I think, I responded to the comments and questions by altering my writing somewhat and reporting what would be more useful for my audience.
Another collection of information I sought as a career-young artist was opportunities to participate, in exhibitions, competitions, publications, awards, conferences, workshops and in dialogue. I soon realised that most of this information was time sensitive – deadlines happen all the time, courses and lectures come and go, critique changes as the participants learn more and exhibitions both open and close. I had to keep repeating my searches for new opportunities, and keep track of many of the same sources as their opportunities – their output – changed. To stay on top of a seemingly infinitely renewable avalanche of data I use several techniques, most notably an RSS feed reader (Feedly, since the recent demise of the beloved Google Reader) to keep a track of the over one hundred and seventy sources that make up my blog feed. These sources allow me to take the temperature of my industry daily (or whenever I choose to read my feeds) and just like a newspaper I can scan the headings and pick and choose those that are most relevant to investigate further.
Then there are the organisations and galleries newsletters that come direct to my inbox, often without warning. Like many of you here I have found that by belonging to enough organisations and committees and attending enough workshops, openings and events, not to mention exhibiting, writing and curating, I find myself a recipient of countless unsolicited yet professionally related and targeted emails. They can be a burden if my management hasn’t been up to snuff, but through them I am lucky enough to say that some really great opportunities have just literally fallen into my lap… top.
And so, with a similar idea of dissemination that I learned through my making practice, I blog the opportunities that come up too, in a monthly Deadlines post. I find that reviewing the opportunities in this fashion, as I condense them into a tight list format, I refine for myself which ones I think I will respond to, and which are not appropriate for me. In a way I believe that this saves time, as when I first see a relevant opportunity for my profession I mark it, but don’t necessarily consider it in full. By the time I review an opportunity again to publish it, I find that my brain has done the filtering as to what is a best fit for my practice and timeline, and so I get on with those. The recursive nature of this monthly review has been a good habit to develop, as like most people I read important information in strange places these days owing to a smart phone and a relatively nomadic lifestyle, (albeit for someone who can stay in her house for days on end, alternating between basement studio and first-floor office (or make that the second floor for my American friends’)). Giving myself a second chance to read and reflect on some of the goings on means that I have an opportunity to better retain the information.
Lucky for me many of my connections are online, and so have not changed despite my move from Melbourne to Seattle in early 2012. The move has provided me with additional connections, as well as the opportunity to strengthen ties with what was previously only a peripheral cluster of contacts. My new local contacts include the Seattle Metals Guild, which I see as a replacement for the face-to-face time I used to spend with the Part B community of art jewellers in Melbourne. As an artist who is yet to share a studio with anyone, and given that I do not teach regularly, I like to be able to get out of the studio and share – in part to remind myself of the real world context and consequences of what I do.
Some connections have lead to great things; after attending the Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia conference in 2010, incidentally at which I organised an exhibition of jewellers who had all relocated from Perth early in their careers –meeting most of them through other contacts or on online and only once I had embarked on organising the show – I attended a workshop given by another conference presenter, Elizabeth Turrell.
Thanks to sympathetic practices – we both work in steel and share a use of the cruciform as motif – her in a ‘Red Cross’ and I (at that stage) in a rounded quatrefoil shape – we got to talking, a conversation that eventually led to my embarking on a residency at her studio at the Centre for Fine Print Research in Bristol. A relationship begun in a gallery and cemented at a workshop, in Perth of all places, has now resulted in that residency as well as an intercontinental co-curated exhibition, with thanks to email, Skype, text messaging and a multi-author blog.
Working and talking with other people also means collaboration, and I have worked with other artists on self-initiated collaborations, large collective installations and as an exhibition organiser and curator.
Recently in the C3 project for the Joyaviva exhibition, I paired with artist Jill Hermans to create a set of unfinished jewellery works with an accompanying pamphlet of making circumstances, directed at volunteers who were to finish the objects as needed in order for them to be gifted to a wearer. We distributed these and invited the recipients to make and to share the work in their own circles of friends and family. Thus these works reached the connections of our connections, expanding the circle of makers and of wearers.
Even more recently I had a large collection of my works exhibited alongside two other artists, placed there by a curator who made the connection of concern for spatial relations between mine and the others’ works. Also as a part of the Bridge exhibition series in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I was asked to design a “Drop In Studio” activity, created to help forge a connection between the audience and the maker through a hands-on project. People who have no connection with me other than seeing my work were able, with a simple set of instructions, to create pieces to take home with them.
My connections matter to me; they are what allow my work, and by proxy my career, to exist in the many locations and time zones in which it does. My work has travelled to many more places than I have been able to follow, and keeping up with I think is really about keeping tabs on the little pieces of myself that I have carved off and sent away, as ambassadors of my thought processes and worldview. In concert with their and my travels, my worldview changes, as does therefore my subsequent art. The continued evolution of my practice depends on a simultaneous evolution of my thought and action, informed by my, and my works’, connections to other people. Maintaining and facilitating connections to the objects I create and to my collaborators, wider community and my audience – my wearers – is essential to my practice.
(The other images from accompanying slide show incorporated copyrighted material that I had fair-use permission to use on the day, but cannot be republished; my apologies.)