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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.

The concept of inbuilt obsolescence in products keeps me awake at night. Perhaps this is why a can empathise with the works of makers like Karen Ryan, Marc Monzo and Denise Reytan.

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. 

“Konfrontation” is the name of one class I am taking, led by Dutch designer/maker Herman Hermsen.

The aim of the project is to create one or a series of objects (which may or may not be wearable) which in some way deal with the concept of confrontation. This could be a confrontation between viewer-and-object, viewer-and-wearer, maker-and-object, or myriad other combinations.

My response to this brief is to create a series of wearables which deals with our individual capacity for violence and the acceptance (or, for the most part, inacceptance) of this very human attribute. It is confronting and difficult for the average person to accept that they could willingly kill, physically harm or cause pain to another sentient being (be it animal or another human). However, we are faced with this prospect every day. Humans eat and use animal products; and wilfully exploit and harm one another.

So how do we deal with these ever-present threats to our composure?

For the most part, we don’t kill our own meat, skin our own hides our gut our own fish. Our animals come from factories — plastic wrapped, pre-minced, de-boned, tanned, canned, safe and inert. We are not the slaughterers, not part of the violence. Behind doors, from field to supermarket to plate. Through avoidance comes transcendence, apparently.

And likewise, when faced with the prospect of human-to-human violence, we document it with morbid curiosity — film, television, hi-res, full-colour glamour-horror — we recoil in disgust, and are compelled to disgust; to dissociate ourselves from the violence; to avoid admitting our own capacity for violence. Our humanness. So creates necessity for such spectacle. So we can constantly recoil. So we can remind ourselves of how much we are “not that”.

Enjoying our avoidance over the 6 o’clock news while eating a steak dinner.

But I cannot deny myself that I do not have this capacity. In fact, I want to embrace it. The beautiful thing about being human, having free will, is our ability to make choices. Knowledge is bliss. I am not advocating violence, by any means. Suffering is the consequence of violence, and suffering is terrible. We must remember, we all have the capacity to suffer.

The thing I am most interested in are these ‘safety mechanisms’ we have in place, in order to somehow deny our own capacity for violence.  Constructs to protect our selfhood, our identity. 

My intent is not to create an overtly political or evangelical statement, but rather an enlightening one. I want to create beautiful objects with the remnants of violence. To explore the tension between self-identity, beauty and violence. I strongly feel that the statement is far more powerful if the audience draws conclusion of their own accord, rather than being smacked in the face with it. The last thing contemporary art needs is another misanthrope.

More importantly, I will confront myself within the process of making these works. Having been a vegan for five years (which I am no longer; as of December 2007 I have been a vegetarian) I have begun to accept the nature of human experience and my own capacity for violence, my own “humanness”. So I am willingly partaking in the cycle, buying animal parts, preparing and using these materials, these remnants of violence.

Now, onto the background research:

OurDailyBread1 OurDailyBread3 OurDailyBread2 OurDailyBread4

The film Unser Täglich Brot (Our Daily Bread) demonstrates the concept I want to explore. It is an un-narrated documentary constructed solely out of footage from inside food-production factories, in the form of a series of rhythmic, composed vignettes. There is no overt political, moralistic or evangelistic overtones, rather the hypnotic effect of repetitive production lines is what is so compelling.

The next instalment will document practical research – materials, techniques and aesthetics.

{N.B. this post has been edited for clarity.}

Next: KONFRONTATION, pt. 2

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