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This course is also run by Dutch designer Herman Hermsen, and involves the design and execution of an exhibition of student work – small-scale series production available for sale. Part of the theory behind this exhibition is that during times of economic instability, buyers are less likely to invest in expensive, one-off artworks, while simultaneously being skeptical of mass-produced goods from large-scale manufacturers.
For the maker, this opens up a niche – handmade pieces from independent designers at a reasonable price point are now more desirable to the market.
The exhibition has 9 student participants, mostly final-year or masters students (which makes me more than amateur…) who are each developing their own marketable range of products – wearables, accessories or decor pieces.
So how can we make a coherent exhibition out of this broad range of work? It seems that the contemporary jewellery scene is the only place where it is commonplace to exhibit production pieces. Of course, the dichotomy of exhibiting jewellery is that it almost negates the function of the pieces themselves — what is a piece of jewellery if it is behind glass, without a body, a wearer, a life? It becomes and empty object, the dialogue of the piece is changed, overlooked.
To me, these pieces need to communicate something about their context. For me, there is a constant struggle to justify my making production pieces in a world that is already flooded with products. Empty objects, only given purpose by the consumer, to be returned to emptiness once the next-gen designs appear.
In order to deal with these anxieties, I find myself drawn to forgotten objects as a basis for my work. Jewellery, being a highly personal and communicative medium, seems an apt place for re-contextualising these ‘lost’ objects. At the same time as making production pieces, I want to subvert the concept of mass-production itself. But how?
For the last 3 years or so, I’ve been working on an ongoing production series of ‘Teacup rings’. These rings are constructed from the handles of second-hand melamine teacups which were in production in Australia between the 1950s-1970s. During this time, melamine was a fashionable material for kitchenalia, picnic ware and crockery. I buy the cups from op-shops, garage sales and estate sales. Each wearable piece is hand-carved and unique. The shapes in the pieces reference the original lines of the products from which they are derived, as well as the natural movements of my tools when I carve. If you are interested, the pieces are available from Workshop Bilk.
I’ve decided I will keep working along this theme, using vintage plastics from abandoned mass-produced objects. Aesthetically, I like the concept of referencing the original forms. I have begun a few experiments, but more on that soon.
I’m also in charge of the graphic design/marketing team for this exhibition, this means there’ll be logo/identity design, packaging, promotional material, website and installation work to follow, too.
I realised there is something inherently destructive about the way we all approach materials. There is something destructive in all methods, all attempts at change.
As humans, we once revered things – places, materials, objects. Once mountains were sacred places, trees were the work of gods, the natural order of things was acceptable, beautiful, illuminating. But through our attempts to control things – materials, processes, places – we have reduced the world to the sum of its parts. We move mountains on a daily basis.
Of course, innumerable advantages have come from our explorations – tree becomes wood, wood becomes house, house adds 50 years to the life expectancy of a man. An overly simplistic model, of course, but the approach has almost certainly been about control and destruction in order for creation to take place.
My explorations, arguably, have also involved destruction. But I have tried to move this process away from destruction and more towards deconstruction – allowing the material to decide it own form through my interactions.
I consider the larger context of this work, relative to the original form of the material and it’s intended purpose. The fabric, made of unbleached cotton fibres, is usually used for clothing, to envelope the body and protect it from the elements. the fibres themselves are natural, harvested from a tree, combed and carded and spun into strands. So then, what becomes of this deconstruction of the material?
* * *
I start to think about what to put inside the fabric shreds. I have some pig knuckle bones from the legs I skinned for my Konfrontation project. I had boiled them down from the flesh, further deconstructing the object. The bones are smooth with undulating, irregular forms. They vary only a little in size, and when moved around in my hands, they tend to nestle in one another’s forms.
I make a little installation on my wall with magnets and these works. I meditate on the forms and their materiality.
These bones, remnants of life, of a form and an ‘else’, evoke a sense of loss in me. I think that maybe this process, wrapping these remnants is a kind of mourning. My work with animal remains for my Konfrontation project has taught me that there is a profound and significant association of loss and loneliness with these things.
In these works, I am cradling these remnants. I let them decide the forms through gravity, through their own weight and physicality. They change the form of the fabric, creating tension as they drag it downwards. The softness and fluidity of the fabric envelops the bones, trying to understand their complex geometries, keeping them close.
* * *
I think about the format of these works. Should they be wearable? An installation? Their context changes when faced with a living body. The viewer will interpret them in a different way when they appear as a wearable. There is always an element of choice, decided communication between wearer and viewer.
Conversely, as an installation piece, there is a larger dialogue between maker and viewer, and between viewer and object.
I kind of want to make an installation which includes a body. A body not adorned with mourning pieces, but a mourning adorned with a body. More thought required.
We are instructed to choose a material we have a kinship with or would like to further explore in this class. I know I would like to explore the properties of textiles, and I have two in mind: one is silk organza, a light, fine woven fabric with little drape and a fair amount of body (I have some in black and in white); the second is an unbleached cotton jersey – standard knit, soft, light and drapey with a one-way stretch. Both of these fabrics are made of natural fibres and each has its own inherent qualities.
I begin with the black silk organza. It is stiff, strong and light. It is semi-translucent, and has a visible warp and weft. It has a small amount of give on the bias, but almost none along the grain. I can easily pry fibres from the raw edges of the fabric, each thread long and even.
The second fabric is very different. It drapes; caresses and folds over the surfaces it touches; it stretches and flows with ease. It’s colour is flaxen, off-white with flecks of brown and grey. Using the crochet hook, I begin to unloop individual stitches from the raw edge of the fabric. I tug gently at the column of stitches, which form ladders in the fabric, perpendicular to the raw edge. Adjacent stitches merge into one gap. Entire rows become hanging threads, crinkled from their previous formation. Making ladders in the fabric change the tension, the flat plane of the fabric that existed now has more volume, more surface, extending beyond it’s previous borders. Further work makes an intricate, delicate kind of lacework. The drape becomes cascading shreds and threads.
There is something missing from the equation. There is a kind of emptiness, the strength, the fragility, and lightness of the material is undefined. The stretch and tension is now latent. I take some glass beads, and bind them into the fabric, one by one, creating a huddled mass, weighty and finite. The material is pulled taut around the beads, parallel lines in the ladders warping around the beads, creating rhythmic concentric patterns. The remaining fabric trails behind, given a new quality purely by contrast.
This course is taught by Contemporary maker Prof. Elisabeth Holder.
It involves the exploration of materials via an approach which deconstructs a traditional methods. Instead of engaging with a material with the intent of controlling the form which it will finally take, we are encouraged to engage in a dialogue with the material, Allowing the material to determine it’s own form, through it’s own inherent qualities.
First class: Elisabeth enters the room and places 20-odd A4 kraft envelopes on the desk, each numbered. Then she proceeds to pass around a hat full of folded papers, also numbered. Each of us draws a number, and takes the corresponding envelope. Some envelopes are light, flat, empty looking, others have strange protrusions creasing their surface.
My envelope, number 18, is relatively flat and slightly weighty – a bit nondescript.
When all the recipients claim their envelopes, (there are six or so unclaimed. Excess secrets.) we all begin to tear them open. It is like christmas, preparing myself to react adequately, regardless of my impression.
On first impressions:
– Tasteless, odourless, no distinct sound on manipulation (except throwing it against a hard surface)
– amorphous, reformable
– opaque, except when in very, very thin layers, becomes semi-translucent.- oily residue
– leaves traces of itself behind on skin, paper
– Also holds traces of its surrounding.
– affected by temperature, heat makes it more pliable, cold more stiff
Now, we are instructed to remember and consider our first experiences of the material.
* * *
I am young, perhaps six or seven years of age. I am in a cubby house made of timber in my back yard, built by my dad. I spent hours in that place, drawing, painting, making potions and perfumes and tea and toys and figurines. Tiny imaginary machines, homes for creatures and toys.
I have a box of coloured plasticine, eight colours or maybe more. I am always careful to keep the colours separate – only ever pressing different colour lightly together, so as it return them to their separate wads of colour when I was finished. it only takes one mistake, for the piece to be forever changed. It wasn’t as though the colours mixed, like my paints did, but rather swirled into an impossible chaos of multiple colours.
It was summer, and I became distracted by the flowers and sun and insects, so I abandoned my workshop for a few weeks to the heady rhythms of the outside world. Returning to my bench, I found my box of plasticine, transformed by the sun’s glass-house effect on the plastic container from neat wads of colour to one great colourful mass, cast to the interior shape of the box.
I was disappointed, but also mesmerised by this incidental artwork – I stuck a heart-shaped piece of soap in the centre and kept it in my bedroom, in its box, for years. I never touched it again.
* * *
Next, we are to take the material, and consider what we might like to do with it. Think about the form we want it to take. I want to see how fine I can make it, stretch it out into one long, striated ribbon, fold it back onto itself, so the light filters through the surface, finding places to hide inside the curves.
And then, we are instructed to make it.
I try stretching the plasticine out – it is surprisingly unpredictable, highly elastic, but not uniform. It tears and ripples. It is at first kind of disappointing, because I know immediately I won’t be able to do what I wanted. Or at least, the material doesn’t want to be controlled as such. So I resolve to let go of my vision and let the material decide on a form. I begin to gently stretch and tear pieces of the material away from the lump, prying it between my fingers. As it gets thin, it warms and changes immediately under the heat of my fingertips. The torn pieces are very fine around the edges, rippled and glassine, like a carnation petal or internal issue. I start placing pieces onto the table surface, layering them, letting them curve and gently bend, finding their own forms. Even after I place them, the pieces continue to change and fall over time, slowly evolving.
The form I make is incredibly voluminous and intricate, like seaweed or some organic material. There is no symmetry or geometry, but there are forces at work – the piece is not static, but rather in a constant, slow flux. Collecting materials from the air around it. Not resisting heat or pressure or time, but gently accepting it.It can never be returned to its original state. Or perhaps, it’s original state doesn’t matter. It is flux, embodied.
I find myself attributing a kind of poeticism to the material, and feeling a kind of kinship. Like it is teaching me something about experience and acceptance.
After reflecting on our objects, we have a mini exhibition of our explorations. Everyone is given a dozen or so small strips of paper. We are to make a small evaluative statement about everyone else’s works – anonymous, placing the paper face-down next to the work. I have included them below.