part two of ‘rmit seminar’ thoughts

Finally, I return to the afternoon of the RMIT seminar. I began typing up my musings of this event a couple of weeks back now, and I’ve finally found the courage to finish up.

Last time I had got to the point where myself and a bunch of other bright young things stormed the stage to present our dramatic yet concise portraits of our own practices. There was a bunch of people; Kathryn Wardill, Helen Dilkes, Christopher Earl Milbourne, Nicole Polentas, Mary Hackett, Suse Scholem, Claire McArdle and me.

Owing to the shock of being told that I would be presenting first (untrue, in the end), and after having decided that the break was a good time for a snack (someone should have looked at her programme), I managed to only properly take in a couple of presentations. I really enjoyed Suse’s description of her multifarious practice, and was impressed by her delivery and images. I also remember Christopher’s comments about what really makes something jewellery, is just the fixing to the body, or (as he implied) the intent? Another interesting topic that begs more research.

Now, onto the heavyweights of the afternoon session.

Susan Cohn
Did not want to use images in her presentation (and I mention it as it did make her stand out amongst the other presentations, and not necessarily in a good way.) She spoke on the Contemporary Jewellery Movement (CJM) where she pronounced that her feeling was it had failed in what it had set out to achieve. My feeling was that in her presentation this announcement it didn’t quite deliver the shock that maybe she was counting on. I’ll put my two reasons for this; 1) I don’t think that there were many of her peers in the audience, people who would be more affected by this revelation from one of her generation’s most successful artists; and 2) there is a general lack of knowledge about her history of activism for the jewellery cause.

Yes, the reasons are related, and yes, I realise that I have just put my full ignorance of the CJM and its achievements out on show.

I don’t know enough of the history of the CJM in Melbourne, which was further revealed to me at Part B the following day, when people who have been in the Melbourne jewellery community a long time were able to fill me in on some of its history and Susan’s earlier involvement. I think it’s a problem that I don’t know this,  as well as shame. As my ancient history teacher, Mrs Beale, always said, “If they (in reference to just about anyone – the Romans, the Gauls, the Goths right through to Hitler…) had only studied their history, they wouldn’t have done …”

To retreat to my usual defense: “Hello, my name is Melissa, and I’m from Perth.” I would challenge anyone we would call (back home on the range…)  ‘eastern staters’, to know much about the contemporary jewellery scene in that part of the country. Still, there has to be a way to rectify this situation, no? Where are the history books? Where are the images and press clippings of street exhibitions that I’ve heard about? Where is the inter-generational engagement, beyond the university classroom?

Renee Ugazio
Proposed an interesting take on how she sees the jewellers mind, and how that then shaped her thesis of there being three different ‘sites’ for jewellery practice. While I found it in general a well considered presentation, owing to the notes she was rifling through, it was clearly a cut-down version of a larger paper. A longer, more in depth version which I would also like to experience. I could tell though from what I know of her practice (none of which actually made it into the presentation, which we were forewarned about), the works that she creates are conceptually and theoretically driven and link in exactly with what she was talking about.

I think her theory-practice cross pollination is incredible and instructive, so I am more keen to see her work after this presentation, to experience rather than just be told about her jewellist’s-world-view.

Caz Guiney
Spoke of her involvement in a curated project involving many visual and performance-based artists. Her work centred on the discovery and promotion of sites appropriate for showing jewellery works, which were not gallery ‘spaces’. I say ‘spaces’, as hers were spaces in the way that the volume inside an empty jar could be considered space. The sites she found and catalogued were all jewellery-scale-appropriate, and in her presentation of them to her ‘audience’ (as part of a ‘gallery tour’ she went on a trek around the city to point out the crevices and hooks that she had nominated as her sites) she decided to display in each a piece from a tailor made series of jewellery works.

In terms of enlivening the jewellery community on the day of the seminar, this one seemed to have the most spark. Many people suddenly realised that as jewellers we do often notice such spaces (another nod to Renee’s theory of a jewellers-world-view) dotted around the city, and so many attendees were intrigued with the idea of having these nooks and protuberances become places to show work.

The pieces Caz put on show as her demonstration works were all fashioned out of the kinds of jewellery brochures that occasionally hit our letterboxes (another good space for a show I’ve just realised), or can be found in stands outside of jewellery stores in the city. They were prefaced as being a very quick solution of how to demonstrate the sites as places to present work. I found that that these jewels tended to make you think of the space in a very traditional display sense.

In light of Renee’s talk it would have been interesting to see this shift into a non-jewellery-object realm, but as a practitioner I can see why Caz decided on a jewellery-outcome for her final tour. Yet maybe the sites only needed a temporary place holder to show the potential of each spot.  I thought that some of the spaces showed an interesting potential empty, which was somehow changed with the demonstration of works in situ.

Marcelle’s Exercise Class
Great idea, thanks organisers! We do need a strong jewellery community, in all senses of the word, so this showed us another potential area of weakness that we need to take note of . Owing to an old injury, I found that I already do most of the exercises that we ran through. This was however only a quick check to see if we need to investigate our own movement more, and so I was rather pleased to find out that due to a lack of tension in the nominated muscle groups, I must be doing my stretches well enough to count against my work at the bench. Still, does anyone know if there is a yoga program specifically for jewellers?

I’ve already mentioned his session in passing. To be honest, I was more interested in his final summations than most of what he managed to draw from the crowd. There were a few topics debated that I found to be of interest, so here’s my musings, in point form: NB – I’ve put my own comments in italics after each point – I’d like to change colour or something but I’m just not that good at HTML

Notions of craft – Damian’s opinion was that to be noticed as a contemporary jeweller you already have a fight on your hands, so “you’re better to have the fight with the word ‘craft’ in place than without” as even though it might be harder, the result will be worth more. BUT, if you want to be an artist, and get all that goes along with it – money, resale rights etc, then go for it, and good luck!
I’d be interested to have the craft discussion again at some time, as coming from a design background I’m still yet to take a firm position on whether it’s worth that extra fight.

Susan Cohn also said, in response to a question of the position of craft in her practice that she is “obviously a crafter.”

Jewellery schools being slowly eaten away: (ie. the demise of the Monash first year program and the cut back of tuition hours at RMIT) an interesting point in the discussion – especially Kevin’s point that in Sao Paolo they’d be marching in the street in protest.
hmmm, why are we being so polite?

The question was raised “how does one become a critic…?”
get a blog!
How can we have dialogue when there is no organisation to sponsor it, now that the JMGA is gone…
see above
[ok, to be less facetious, Mark mentioned that once a week he would have a chat with Susan, about the world, life, and jewellery  (note I have put them in reverse order of importance ;P). I would argue that’s all it takes, you and one other person, intent on engaging about what matters in the world of jewellery.]

By the end of the discussion session I was a little depressed, as I became aware that the dearth of dialogue in the industry is more pronounced than I had suspected. The feeling remains that every time a group of jewellers sits to discuss anything, similar points are raised, which all seem to meet a similar non-resolution. This could be extremely disheartening, but thanks to Damian’s final words we left with a glimmer of hope that we still have the ability to rise and be noticed.*

*I wrote that line over a week ago when I wrote the first piece, and found myself last week even more depressed  about the state of artist/contemporary/research jewellery. To be honest it’s taken some time to recover my normal cheeriness at my good fortune in being a jeweller, and some of my usual hopefulness for the industry.

I think this was due to me slowly digesting a combination of ideas around ethical and sustainable jewellery practice, and what seemed at the time a slow march toward the end of people being interested in alternative methods of self expression through wearing jewellery. (I must also mention that I’ve been ruminating on other writings on this topic, the probable foundation to my late display of pessimism.) In all I was afflicted with a major bout of “what’s the effing point?”

Luckily I was righted by a discussion with the artist that continued over this past weekend. She reminded me of the incredible courage needed just to become an artist. In her mind it is so clear-cut; such an honest act of bravery cannot go unrewarded.

I feel suitably chastened for showing such a lack of faith.

thanks to the intertubes

…I’m kept informed on how ‘the design process before computers’ went about. Turns out this vid is also demonstrating the laborious hand crafting process that existed for prototyping objects before computers. The designers got to do the easy bit! (I feel for you designers too, don’t worry; hand drawing involved french curves back then, and they are definitely no fun.)

Design story: The Decanter from Landor Associates on Vimeo.

It’s hardly ancient history though; I have seen many of these processes in action by current makers. Between the ‘hero designer’ coming up with the ideas and the consumer-tested, final-approved product, the middle part of the process still comes down to some nerds in dust coats in a shed, making objects with stuff.

And a related discussion – what actually constitutes hand-made – has been kicked off in the Etsy forums apparently (I read about it via the Ponoko blog wrapup.) It’s an interesting question, and pertinent to my work. I use laser fabrication some of the time, and even when I’m not using it, my works are still misrepresented as being laser-cut. That makes me think that people don’t really know the capability of the human hand, nor the full capabilities of computer driven manufacture.

Being accused of laser cutting, by even fellow professionals, has happened in such a manner as to make me think that laser cutting a Bad Thing. Is it? I have never really thought so. And given I piece together all the laser-cut bits by hand, can I still call the result hand-made?

I take the position that my responsibility is to my ideas, and not to a particular manufacturing process. So is it not in my interest to get as many of them out there as I would like to, in whatever way I choose? Do I then have to throw away the hand-made tag? Do I educate people on what is and is not hand-cut? Does that make me look like a fence-sitter, someone who just can’t decide if she’s a purist or a futurist?

Hmm, as usual, more discussion required.

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…

a day in the life

I’m going to add a review of yesterdays seminar in due course (in truth, when I don’t have a Part B meet to run to) since Damian encouraged us all at the end of his session to become critics, but in the meantime, a couple of snaps and one observation.

Damian loomed like a (good-natured) bouncer over his session, ensuring that the speakers spoke when spoken to. I would not have been game to shy away from appearing when summonsed by him either. Mostly for the tongue lashing that would inevitably ensue. (Though hearing what he got in between seat and stage for some speakers, I’d be tempted to linger just to hear what he could come up with.)

Mark Edgoose and team did a great job, a really significant day and hopefully a sign of  similar events to come.