Metalsmith Reviews

The post title says it all. In the just-released issue of Metalsmith magazine, Sharon Massey has written a review of my portion of the Bridge 12 exhibition that took place at the Society of Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh from last November to this March. Needless to say, I’m well chuffed. Check it out here.

It also happens to be right next to the review of the Sydney incarnation of the Once More, With Love (OMWL) exhibition, also from last year, in which I had a piece. You might remember me showcasing more than one piece on this blog, but the second three works went to the Melbourne incarnation only, which was held earlier this year at Northcity4.

The review was written by Marjorie Simon, and in it she called Anna Davern’s work “a sort of psychedelic offspring of artist Harriete Estel Berman.” I’m not sure if she’s referring to Davern’s usual works from sublimated aluminium and recycled biscuit and other platters and tins or the piece in the exhibition, though based on Davern’s work for the OMWL show, I think it is safe to assume the former. In fact, it sounds as though this predominantly refers to Davern’s sublimated aluminium Rocks series of earrings, which while they may have also been on display in Studio 20/17 gallery at the time, are not particularly representative of the recycled material works that Davern creates.

I can understand that Simon is writing for a predominantly American audience and is therefore trying to give the briefest and widest of introductions, yet I think the comparison does a disservice to both artists. Davern is very specific in her choice of tins, making work from them that investigate issues of colonialism and Australian identity, producing works in very different form to those created by Berman. And yes, Davern’s prior form with the material was noted, but in such a way as to question both her originality and conceptual underpinnings, because of the association made with the widely-known (in America) Berman.

I guess as I am no longer in my home (wherein Davern is regularly used as a referent rather than the other way around), and thus am no longer a part of the dominant culture, I have a heightened awareness of the casual way in which the dominant culture can so easily (if unwittingly) re-define cultural content. The idea, for example, that that all artworks can be considered types easily compared to something originating from ___ (insert dominant culture here), and those outside of that context have no choice but to accept the comparison, accurate or not, is possibly why I am responding a little too fervently to what is just an inadequate comparison. Maybe it all comes down to me and my sensitivity given my current geographical location.

I understand that this article is a very short review, not enabled by space nor resources to go into depth about any of the artists. Despite this, I think that one of the few benefits of a globalised world might be a shared sense of empathy and understanding of cultural difference, coming from the fact that we all know from experience that in translation there is always the potential for nuance to be lost. Because we have semantic and political borders, we are aware that we can look at any object including an artwork, and investigate it more respectfully, and fully, if we consider it in its own cultural context. (This is, after all, why museum exhibition panels exist.)

And while the context of this exhibition is certainly influenced by the artists who brought a process of recycling jewellery objects regardless of precious metal value to the leaders of the Australian group, namely Americans Susie Ganch and Christina Miller of Ethical Metalsmiths and the mentioned Radical Jewelry Makeover (RJM), the pieces for this exhibition, produced by a myriad of artists from differing backgrounds in another country, has however had very little influence from this quarter. Especially because, as it was noted, the artists were able to make works in their own studio, an idea that has since been adopted by RJM in America. The exchange between the cultures lies in the format, and not in the works.

As I understand it, both the content and context of Davern’s recycled work is Australia, and if mentioned at all should be explained as such, in spite of intended audience (which must also include Australians owing to the location and source of the exhibition and works) and any missed opportunity for a potential shortcut to comprehension. In this instance it is my opinion that the understanding generated by the comparison is so far off the mark as to not constitute an understanding at all.

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Just to finish,
Marjorie Simon, thank you. Thank you for your assured writing, and your willingness to critique the exhibition and the works, something that happens all to infrequently, especially in Australia. (And thank you again for your recent kind words on this blog. They were, and still are, much appreciated.)

I trust that you will engage with what I have written here in the spirit of lively debate that it was intended, knowing that, after all, it’s a very small quibble that I have blown up into almost-inappropriate dimensions to make a larger, and perhaps (as you might rightly feel) unrelated, point. Thank you also for allowing me and all who read your piece in Metalsmith an insight to an exhibition that many of us did not get to see. And of course, your comments or counter-critique are warmly invited for publication here also.


October 25th (26th in Australia) 2013

Snag Conference 2013

Wow, and I thought my last post messed with my timeline…

I recently wrote an article for the Art Jewelry Forum about the 2013 Society of North American Goldsmiths conference that took place in Tornoto, Canada, back in May. It got published today, here.

Please let me know what you think.

backtrack – more Pittsburgh

I know, I’d just moved on to what was happening in Perth last month, but I have a little note to add to what I already told about the workshop entitled Building Jewelry from Found Objects that I taught at the beginning of the month, thanks to the recently refurbished SCC blog.

Kyrstyn, one of the group of amazing attendees I had for my SCC workshop, has taken the time to write both a review of the workshop as well as a curriculum proposal (she is studying to be a teacher at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh) for students to do a writing exercise based on the instruction she received and the works produced.

Creativity begets creativity. It’s a wonderful thing.

Website weevils

Melissa Cameron. Point Line Plane Object I, 2012, from the La Geometrie series. Stainless steel, vitreous enamel. Image © Melissa Cameron, 2012.

Over on my main website the paucity of ‘Upcoming’ information had been noted by onlookers and insiders and brought to the attention of management. Gradually some of my shortcomings in the photo editing department had been corrected, leaving me to avoid viewing whole sections of my own damn website simply for my own sanity. There have been recent outings of a number of new works, of which I am quite proud and of which I had as yet unseen images. And the printer broke, leaving design work at a standstill (don’t worry, it’s not terminal, it turned out to have a bad batch of yellow ink).

The prevailing conditions were just about right… All that was needed was a shirtload of time and a backlog of podcasts to listen to.

Thus I’ve put down the tools this past week to weevil about on my website. To be perfectly honest, I got back from Australia with a tenacious strain of The Plague and so settling into the increasingly damp basement (despite the probability of needing to turn on the enamelling kiln which might help alleviate that problem) didn’t seem like the best decision for my health. And so, once I made if off the couch and back upstairs to my mean machine in the study, it was GAME ON!

Et voilà! I present to you the annual subtle overhaul of my virtual home. Despite first impressions which may lead one to believing that it’s just business as usual, there’s been quite the renovation; many existing images were fixed, images from older series that were held back awaiting exhibition/book publishing have now been added, as have many new works, including just about the whole La Geometrie series from this year. And yes, it is about a year since I last did this. Perhaps I should think about trying it biannually?

And finally, to explain myself. The first category, the ‘Exemplar’ group is there to bring works of all sections together in a single unique rainbow. This is mostly for applications in which the overseers have requested a single website link to images by the artist. It will be staying, for the time being.

Hey, you gots to leave some room for improvement, eh? 😉

Make my day

I did a strange thing on Saturday, for me anyway. I woke up with a burning desire to make jewellery.

I have a bit of a regime that I stick to from Monday to Friday. Monday I work in the studio, making jewellery. Tuesday I do paperwork, upstairs in my office. This time of year I’m busy getting my tax stuff in order, as well as the usual tasks of photographing works, making up price lists and invoices and responding to calls for entry, general emails and ordering materials and other supplies. Sometimes this spills into Wednesday mornings, but I try to keep myself on schedule.

From Wednesdays to Fridays I work in the studio. I don’t have any family where I am right now, and Turbo works long hours, so I spend fairly long days down there, uninterrupted. It’s great to have the luxury, but it is taxing. At my last studio, hours were 9am – 7pm, and 6pm on weekends. I only broke curfew a handful of times in my two years there, when a deadline for images loomed, or once or twice when leading up to exhibitions. Sticking to the hours was easy enough, since don’t like to work too late or put in too many hours when tired, because, as all jewellers know, making stuff takes it out of you. You have muscle fatigue as well as brain fatigue and sometimes eye strain added into the mix. It’s not like we’re doing keyhole surgery, but sometimes it feels pretty close. Since we’re generally dealing with dangerous equipment, toxic chemicals, sharp tools and such, I think it’s purely a matter of self preservation to be organised and to quit when you’re ahead. That’s the other thing, if I’m ever going to make a big mistake, it’s going to be the last thing I try to squeeze in at the end of a jam packed day. So I’ve learned to pack it in. Mostly. It’s a battle hard fought inside myself, since I used to be able to keep drafting to all hours and then have a wine or two with dinner (yep, that long ago, when I used to drink wine!) and go and red-line a bunch of drawings before bed. That’s fine when you’re on paper (literally) but a shitty idea in the jewellery studio.

So after a taxing week, my weekends, especially Saturdays, I rest and recuperate. Sleep in, maybe go out for brunch. Relax. Regenerate. On Sundays I used to get back into the office, like when I used to post here a lot more frequently. Sunday was a blogging and supplementary paperwork day. And a day to catch up on my reading, as I have – well what I think is at least – a formidable blog list that I try to stay on top of. And if I’m curating a show, I might lose some making time when I’m dealing with emails and writing documents during the week, so I will try to catch up with or anticipate incoming paperwork on Sundays so I can spend as much time in the studio as I can.

Lately though, my working hours have been intense, and the interruptions negligible, so I’ve had whole weekends to my ‘other’, non-jewellery-fixated, self. Time to spend and share at will, without nagging interruption from ‘work’. We have a new city to explore, and, lets face it, less buddies around to hang out with, so me and Turbo, we depend on one another more. Suffice to say, in recent times my weekend has changed shape a little. But then there was last Saturday.

I made a chain last week, one that I’d been turning over in my mind for a while. It’s a rarity for me, to the point that I think I could count the amount of proper neckpieces I’ve made on a single hand, and many of those have been for the La Geometrie series this year. Since my pendants are often big and detailed and time consuming, I had felt for a long while that in price alone, a hand-made chain would tip them over into almost unsalable territory. And as I have mentioned recently, for a long while I’ve been working of The Sieve works. This pattern lent itself to large yet complex pendants, each of them visually rich while maintaining a certain precision. With their aesthetic in mind I made the decision that any chain should reflect the strands of cable that held the works together. I used a lot of snake chain (not really a favourite, but appropriate for the work nonetheless) and a few other varieties that suited the scale of the pieces. I’ve recently been enamelling sections of the final Sieve works, and I thought that my chain idea would fit well with the last big Sieve pendant, so I finally decided to go ahead with it.

And I didn’t quite finish it, despite working til almost 8pm on Friday night. Well, I had a finished length of chain, with a stretch of links left over that I quickly turned into a pendant, but I didn’t get to attaching the main length of chain to the Sieve-pattern pendant. But I was so happy with the chain, including the five-part piece of it that I played with continually that night after it became my little pendant on a length of neoprene, that I immediately wanted to make another. Immediately. The idea had settled in my brain and would not let me go. In fact, just writing about it makes me want to get downstairs to work on the new one on the bench. I want so much to see it in red.

So on Saturday when I woke up, and Turbo asked what I wanted to do for the day, which lay as a clean slate ahead of us, I said I wanted to make jewellery. Unusual, to the point of being unheard of, but not as outlandish as suddenly deciding to, say, become a pilot… I’m a jeweller, and on my day off, I wanted to make jewellery. So I did.

It wasn’t a big working day, since some of my usual time pressure was gone, so we still went out for lunch as planned. On our walk back I didn’t mind at all waiting for the Fremont Bridge to close so that we could cross it, which I definitely would if I was there waiting on the other side of the channel on a week-day. All up, I spent a bit over six hours in the studio. I measured, saw pierced, drilled, trussed, sandblasted, enamelled, fired, cut, soldered, strung and soldered again at a great pace. It felt like a borrowed day, so I was keen and determined and absolutely no-nonsense. I had worked out how to make the piece with the first incarnation earlier in the week, so it went quicker, even with the changes I wanted to make. Once again, I didn’t quite finish. But I was satisfied just seeing the whole piece laid out, looking practically how it would once finished. I wanted to play with it, to see it move, but my first flush of curiosity had been sated, the eternal question of “how will it look?” had been answered.

I finished it yesterday and I finally got to play with it. The next question, “how will it feel?” could be experienced. I immediately I wore it. I turned its links and felt it move in my hands and around my neck.  The feedback loop had been completed and I was ready to move forward with the information gathered, so I immediately started making another. The next one currently occupies the position that the now-completed version previously took up on my bench.

I played with my neckpiece some more once I finished work, testing it, redesigning it, recolouring and restringing it in my head. Using it to design and visualise its descendants. Assessing while admiring. I like it, but I can’t wait to finish the next one because it will be better.

Man, this business is addictive.

On Jewellery

Question: Who does the most interesting writing on jewellery?

Who fires you up, or makes you think? Who do you habitually agree with? When you plonk down in front of your computer, or with a cup of tea and your favourite journal for a read, whose name pulls you in? Or, potentially even more instructive, when you’re busy and you triage the articles before you, who do you really pore over, and who might you just skim, or even skip?

I admit that I read lots of blogs, so I go via blog titles mostly, and the ones I find myself compelled to read first – for the content or the writing itself – are often not jewellery but arts or architecture related. And although I’m loath to admit, sometimes I feel as though I read the longer-form jewellery articles just for my health. You know, the article/writing is not that tasty, but it will make me stronger in the long run…

(By the way, I’m not talking individual artists here, [excuse me again while I generalise] as the blog posts of a maker are a continuing first-person narrative. I’m talking about jewellery writers – critics, historians, reviewers, and possibly even curators or gallerists who regularly talk about jewellery.  And for these purposes I’m also excluding academics, unless their academic research focusses on writing and not making.)

Places like the Art Jewelry Forum blog have a revolving list of articles by different authors, so if I do read something worth taking note of, I will find the writer’s name for future reference. But since it’s a multi-author blog (though Susan Cummins does a lot there at the moment) there’s not much chance that the writer will have one of their articles pop up twice in a row.

What I’m getting at is I could barely give you a handful of writers who regularly offer solid jewellery discussion and criticism. Bruce Metcalf. Damien Skinner. Kevin Murray. Susan Cummins. These people I know. As you can see, I think I need educating, so, who am I missing?