Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Article - Helen Britton

Radiation, Fascination and the Pleasures of Detail


During Helen Britton’s stay in Auckland, she will lead a studio workshop for jewellers.[i] In a first draft of the workshop brief, titled Detail Mania, Britton discusses the ‘very small space’ of jewellery and through a series of questions, draws attention to the numerous decisions, conscious or otherwise, the process of making concentrates into that ‘very small space.’ Britton’s final question asks, “What qualities exist in a piece of Jewellery that draw people in, fascinate them and make them want?”


Water Garden (Courtesy of Objectspace)

I am not sure how purposefully Britton wrote the word ‘fascinate,’ but I want to pick it up. Fascination seems a good word to attach to jewellery. I have explored the word before; on that occasion I discovered that Motorola had used the term fascinator to name an encryption/decryption device designed for secure voice applications.[ii]  The use suggested fascination as a kind of cloaking device, or perhaps as a translation machine. This time, I want to think about fascination in relation to the particularities of detail. To begin, some definitions:


To be fascinated is to be caught in an irresistible field.

To fascinate is to bewitch or place under a spell; it is the ability to deprive a victim of the power of escape, as a serpent does, particularly through the power of the gaze.

A fascinator, is a magician or an irresistibly attractive person, and a headscarf worn by women, either crotched or of a soft material.[iii]


The first thing that strikes me about fascination is that I am the one on whom fascination operates. When I say, “That person fascinates me” I acknowledge that they have power over me, that the fascinator’s influence is irresistible. Fascination is not a matter of how I feel about the fascinator, but rather a matter of their influence over me. It is not so much that I am looking at them but rather, that that they are seeing me. The reference to a woman’s headscarf suggests fascination as a kind of framing device, as isolating the thing it wraps.


Midnight Cowboy (Courtesy of Objectspace)

Georg Simmel, an early German sociologist, writes that each individual emanates, to a greater or lesser degree, what Simmel calls ‘human radioactivity.’ He writes:


One may speak of human radioactivity in the sense that every individual is surrounded by a larger or smaller sphere of significance radiating from him; and everybody else, who deals with him, is immersed in this sphere. It is an inextricable mixture of physiological and psychic elements; the sensuously observable influences which issue from an individual in the direction of his environment also are, in some fashion, the vehicles of a spiritual fulguration.[iv]


Simmel’s reading of relations between individuals is highly charged.  His talk of radiations and fulguration, lightening type rays, makes the individual’s sphere of significance an elemental concern. He seems to suggest a world populated by energy fields meeting, colliding, resisting and sometimes merging with each other. The irresistible field of the fascinator now seems a matter of ‘human radioactivity.’


Lonely Boy (Courtesy of Objectspace)

The ability to fascinate is not restricted to humans. Simmel goes on to discuss how the material qualities of a piece of jewellery create a sphere of significance that surrounds the piece. When an individual wears a piece of jewellery, the ‘radiations of adornment,’ which are the sensuous attention jewellery provokes, transfer to the wearer, adding to their human radiations and causing a consequent enlargement or intensification in that individual’s sphere of significance. For Simmel, ‘the personality, so to speak, is more when it is adorned.’[v]


If jewellery has the power to fascinate, and I think it does, we must acknowledge that jewellery extends outwards toward the world. In some sense, jewellery sees us and returns our gaze. Not only does it return our gaze, it is also capable of ensnaring us in its qualities. In her workshop brief, Britton asks what the qualities are that allow jewellery to make us want it. With her work, she suggests that the careful detailing of a piece provides it with the ability to fascinate.


Britton’s jewellery abounds in detail. Each piece is an accumulation of small decisions concerning construction, materials, pattern and ornament. Some works of contemporary jewellery engage my attention through the precise relationship of form to material. Only when I investigate a particular work closely, do I then discover the small details of construction that hold the piece together. Britton’s work on the other hand immediately overwhelms me with detailing.


Dry Valley (Courtesy of Objectspace)

The quantity of detail, along with its complexity, slows down seeing. When I take in the simple piece, I do so in a glance. The eye quickly reads surface qualities and form, building an image of the thing it sees without the need to draw close. The work makes itself available even at a distance, the flash of metal and the swelling of a curve perhaps sufficient to seduce me.


Viewing Britton’s work, however, takes time. From across a room, the abundance of detail in an individual piece makes a quick reading difficult and perhaps that immediate confusion, or the need for intimate inspection, pushes me away, but if I find intricacies attractive, the fascination has begun. Moving closer clarifies detail. The eye travels the work understanding its construction, discovering how the parts form a whole. In the looking, the details of the piece capture me. I stay too long and find myself fascinated by jewellery’s radiations.

 By Grant Thompson

[i] Helen Britton’s workshop Detail Mania will be held on the weekend of October 7-8. 2006 in the Jewellery Studio of the  Manuakau School of Visual Arts.

[ii] Jerry Proc, Crypto Machines. (http://webhome.idirect.com/~jproc/crypto/fascinator.html).

[iii] Grant Thompson, ‘Traditional Route 13:50:00,’ in, Cities and Eyes Bronnenboek. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005, p230.

[iv] Georg Simmel, The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Translated, edited and with an introduction by Kurt H. Wolff. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press 1950, p339.

[v] Ibid., p340

This article was commissioned on the occasion of Helen Britton's inaugural New Zealand exhibition at Objectspace titled Helen Britton: Urban Paradise Playground from 30th September 2006 - 21st October 2006. Published with kind permission from the author and Objectspace.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Article - Fran Allison


and the work of Fran Allison

To have your work associated with sentimentality could for many be considered an unforgivable insult. When I first approached Fran Allison with the proposition of writing a piece on the relationship of her practice to this highly loaded term she felt far from complimented. However through discussion Allison has come to the conclusion that the works she creates sit firmly within the territory of sentiment.

The reason for Allison’s change of heart is her new found understanding of the true definition of the term. Among other things it refers to personal experience expressed through feelings or emotion . This reading in itself is not distinctly different from popular perception, but the less then flattering connotations arise when sentiment becomes ‘cloying’. This subtle shift in perception changes sentiment from a straight forward expression of personal experience to a clinging, uncomfortable display. Allison believes that if the viewer, (including the academic), is made aware of the intended meaning of sentiment then they would be more open to an appreciation of work which references memory and nostalgia.

Allison believes that the negative associations many have towards sentiment and sentimentality is due to patriarchal conditioning. She considers there to be a distinct gender bias in the way individuals relate to the handmade which can be traced back to basic stereotypical differences between the sexes. The male system of response is considered to be logical, academic and orderly whereas the female becomes the antithesis; emotional, over-dramatic and unpredictable. Allison suggests that her work, which is very much entrenched in the arena of emotive response, becomes associated with this female response system and is therefore considered to lack depth. This is a reading she is very quick to dismiss. Because Allison’s practice is driven in many cases by a sense of nostalgia through the use of iconographic materials and symbols she believes she has the basic starting blocks to develop dialogues which critique readings related to the handmade and the domestic. By creating works which elicit emotional reactions Allison has provided access to ideas which more often then not work against stereotypical views of domestic craft and its association with sentimentality.

In her practice Allison has created a number of works which play on the relationship of domestic iconography to gender stereotypes. Her experimentation with the materiality of objects has led to an in depth understanding of how to reference issues while simultaneously questioning their relevance. In ‘pretty’ Allison combines all of the trappings of the ‘girly girl’ complex she has consistently rallied against. The neckpiece and brooch set feature all of the traditional associations, with shades of soft pink, delicate doily flowers and cushioned felt stems. Their overwhelming girlyness belies the distaste out of which they were conceived. Allison’s critique of the domestic does not stop at issues of femininity, her references to childhood nostalgia and the mother figure again question the way assumptions are made on face value. ‘Cheers’, a brooch made from the dislocated handles of two white china tea cups joined to form a love heart could be considered an analysis of the preconceptions we have about the happy home, the title relating a slightly forced over-optimistic joviality in the traditional call for thanks, which does little to reaffirm views that a women’s place is in the home. Both the ‘Bunnykins’ and ‘Running Bunny’ brooches rely on childhood associations that are both real and imagined. The children’s dinner sets these characters have been plucked from were designed to reinforce romantic notions of English country traditions which have no real application in an antipodean context. Childhood colonial conditioning imported from the motherland has dictated the way our memories have been shaped. These are not necessarily readings Allison has intended, but they clearly illustrate the breadth of interpretation that these seemingly innocuous works can illicit, and banish any preconception that her practice is an affirmation of antiquated domestic values.

Underlying much of Fran Allison’s work is an interest in ideas. Her practice, although very much about body adornment, is not solely based on an exploration of aesthetics. She is deeply aware of the impact iconographic materials and symbols have on the emotive responses of the viewer. Allison utilizes this consistently in an effort to draw attention to the gender biased readings of works experienced by makers exploring domestic themes in craft. Her willingness to embrace sentiment as an appropriate positioning for her practice does little to help break gender related stereotypes unless there is a greater understanding and acceptance of the true definition of this term. None of us can say we do not have feelings, that we have no emotions. The only obstacle left to us now is to concede that we are all susceptible to the lure of sentiment.

By Karl Chitham

'Running Bunny' Brooch, (Courtesy of the Artist)

'Cheers' Brooch, (Courtesy of the Artist)

Sentiment - The first in the Made To Order craft series appeared in ArtAll Magazine #77. This article has been published with kind permission from Artists Alliance.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Multitude - Urbis Article

This article appeared in Issue 52 of Urbis magazine:
The Multitude: Contemporary New Zealand Jewellery, curated by Karl Chitham and Caroline Billing for the 2009 Christchurch Arts Festival, was an open jewellery box of what's going on in new Aotearoa bling and trinketry. This show brought together the talents of top practitioners Fran Allison, Pauline Bern, Renee Bevan, Octavia Cook, Mary Curtis, Andrea Daly, Sharon Fitness, Warwick Freeman, Ross Malcolm, Shelley Norton, Alan Preston, Elfi Spiewack and Anna Wallis. The result was an Aladdin's cave of fascinating jewellery. The creative ingenuity and aesthetic intuition of these jewellers is breathtaking, especially in the way they combine the unlikeliest and often humblest of materials to create something exquisite. Gone are my preconceptions that the beuty of personal ornament is predicated on precious metals and polished stones, but also these carefully crafted pieces suggested playful and imaginative senses of humour. The display cases were innovative and simple. Cardboard and glass boxes were suspended from the half-lit cavern of the SoFA gallery basement in the Christchurch Arts Centre showed off the treasure they contained great style without distracting the eye. An exhibition that provides a complete design package is always a delight.
By Andrew Paul Wood   

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Multitude - Posters

In keeping with the focus on innovation The Multitude was accompanied by a limited edition poster campaign. Each of the four poster graphics was specially created by designers Nick Eagles of The Letter Q, Hannah Kerr of The Letter Q, Alastair Gray, and Alan Deare of Area Design.   

The posters could be found throughout the CBD during the period of the Christchurch Arts Festival 09. Festival goers and Christchurch locals found it difficult to ignore the bright pink graphics while walking the city streets.

A small number of posters are still available for sale. For enquires email karl.chitham@gmail.com

The Multitude - Works

Warwick Freeman, Handles, 2009 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Shelley Norton, Untitled, 2009 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Sharon Fitness, Tentacles Brooch, 2009 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Ross Malcolm, Untitled...Potted Colour Series, 2009 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Renee Bevan, Brooch, 2009 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Pauline Bern, Gather, 2008 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Octavia Cook, The Cook & Co Dynasty (An Amalgamation of Pedigree), 2009 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Mary Curtis, Untitled I, 2008 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Fran Allison, Doily Daisy Chain, 2008 (Courtesy of the Artist) 

Elfi Spiewack, All Cloak No Daggers, 2009 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Andrea Daly, Talisman Brooch - Garden of Eden Series, 2008 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Anna Wallis, Surveyors Chain, 2009 (Courtesy of the Artist)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Multitude - Installation

The Multitude was installed in the basement of SOFA in the Christchurch Arts Centre. This dark, atmospheric space with its grungy decor and low ceilings was the perfect location for an exhibition, which was from the outset, a challenge to accepted modes of contemporary jewellery presentation. Whether visitors liked it or loathed it, the exhibition left an impression with all those that ventured down the narrow basement stairs. 

All of the works, with the exception of Elfi Spiewack's meticulously constructed bone cloak, were displayed in cardboard cases designed and constructed by Katy Wallace an innovative New Zealand furniture designer. The cases and the works were suspended giving the impression that the show was a series of floating treasures which had materialised in the heart of Christchurch. The works were a mix of alternative and traditional materials resulting in some very surprising outcomes.

Here are a few images of the exhibition installation taken by Caroline Billing and Mark Adams. Take a look through and judge for yourself. 

Fran Allison

Fran Allison, Warwick Freeman, Mary Curtis/Renee Bevan

Shelley Norton

Ross Malcolm

Andrea Daly, Anna Wallis, Warwick Freeman, Mary Curtis/Renee Bevan

Ross Malcolm, Shelley Norton, Andrea Daly, Anna Wallis

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Multitude - About

The Multitude opened on Tuesday 21st July and ran from 22nd July – 9th August 2009. This exhibition was curated by Karl Chitham and Caroline Billing to highlight contemporary jewellery practice in New Zealand. Exploring a world that for many was a complete surprise, expanding the horizons of what is considered to be jewellery and redefined the way we look at it.

The exhibition featured the work of thirteen of New Zealand’s most innovative jewellers including Warwick Freeman, Alan Preston, Anna Wallis, Octavia Cook, Andrea Daly, Fran Allison, Elfi Spiewack, Sharon Fitness, Renee Bevan, Mary Curtis, Ross Malcolm, Shelley Norton and Pauline Bern.  

Co-curator Caroline Billing described The Multitude as ‘A visual feast which gives the audience a taste of some of the amazing work we have to offer here in New Zealand. It is a must see if you are keen to look outside of the box and see something that will make you really think about the role jewellery plays as an individual statement’.

The exhibition was on show in one of Christchurch’s significant art hubs and offered some exciting and surprising viewing for the unsuspecting Arts Festival visitor.

SoFA Basement (below SoFA Gallery)

South Quad, The Arts Centre, Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch

Mon-Fri, 11am – 5pm, Sat-Sun, 12pm - 4pm

Fran Allison

Fran Allison completed her jewellery education in England in the early 1980’s gaining a Masters degree from the Royal College of Art, London in 1984. Allison was an organiser of the prestigious London Dazzle jewellery event and lecturer at RMIT in Melbourne. In 1994 she relocated to New Zealand and took up a position as lecturer at Manukau Institue of Technology. Allison has participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions including Assorted Titbits at the Dowse Art Museum and JOC (Jewellery Out of Context), which toured internationally. In recent years Allison has been involved with Weeds, a joint project with Shelley Norton, Andrea Daly and Lisa Walker.

Renee Bevan

Renee Bevan is a contemporary jeweller who lives and works in Auckland. She exhibits her work both nationally and internationally. As well as working part time at Fingers Gallery she is the jewellery technician at Manukau Institute of Technology, School of Visual Arts. Bevan has assisted in the organisation and facilitation of several significant workshops, symposiums and events aimed at the contemporary jewellery community. Bevan was recently selected for the prestigious annual international contemporary jewellery exhibition Schmuck 2008. Also in 2008 she undertook her first curatorial project Overcast which was part of the 2008 National Jewellery Showcase event in Wellington.

Pauline Bern

Pauline Bern began her career as a jeweller in the United States in the 1970’s.  On her return to New Zealand she exhibited work with Fingers in Auckland and has participated in many of the founding jewellery projects and groups in New Zealand including Details Jewellery Group and The Persuasive Object Craft Conference. Bern has taken part in a number of group exhibitions such as Paua Dreams at Fingers, Close to Home at Snowhite Gallery and Handycrafts at Te Tuhi – The Mark. Recent projects have included Scrub, Grate, Whisk, which toured New Zealand and The Ring Project at The NEW Dowse in Lower Hutt. Bern is a senior tutor at Unitec NZ in Auckland.

Octavia Cook

Octavia Cook graduated from Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, in 1998 with a Bachelor of 3D Design in Jewellery. Since then, Cook has participated in numerous projects including collaborations with clothing designer Natalija Kucija from 1999  to 2004. In recent years Cook has developed the Cook & Co brand which has featured in a number of exhibitions including Her Majesty’s Pleasure at Objectspace, Telecom Prospect at City Gallery, Wellington and Venerable Heirlooms from the Cook and Co Coffers at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. A member of Workshop 6 jewellery workshop in Auckland, Cook is currently expanding the Cook & Co brand internationally.

Mary Curtis

Mary Curtis has been a practising jeweller since the late 1980’s. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Jewellery department as part of the Manukau School of Visual Arts in Auckland. Curtis has attended residencies in Edinburgh, Scotland and Munich, Germany. She has exhibited extensively throughout New Zealand and has been included twice in the Dowse Jewellery Biennale. Curtis lives and works in Auckland where she is a Senior lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology School of Visual Art.  

Andrea Daly

Andrea Daly is a practicing jeweller who works from her own studio and is a Partner in Fingers Jewellery Gallery. She studied in Australia at Sydney College of the Arts and completed an undergraduate Bachelor and Post Graduate Diploma in Visual Arts majoring in Contemporary Jewellery. She later went on to complete a Masters in Philosophy majoring in Art History at Auckland University. Daly has been involved in teaching on numerous night courses, weekend workshops and guest lecturer spots as well as being a lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology in the Visual Arts Degree Course until 2004. She now lectures Jewellery Design on the Hungry Creek Visual Arts Diploma and works in her studio.  

Sharon Fitness

Sharon Fitness graduated from Manukau Institute of Technology, School of Visual Arts in 2008. Since then Fitness has already established herself as a maker to watch. She has had solo exhibitions at Masterworks and Fingers Galleries, Auckland and a window work in Objectspace. Fitness has participated in a number of group exhibitions including Graduate Metal X1, Adelaide and Weeds Invites, Auckland. Fitness currently works at Masterworks Gallery in Auckland. 

Warwick Freeman

Warwick Freeman has been creating jewellery since the 1980’s. Freeman was an early member of the Fingers jewellery collective and one of the artists featured in Bone Stone Shell: New Jewellery New Zealand, an exhibition of contemporary New Zealand jewellery which toured Australia and Asia in 1988. Since then Freeman has become known for his innovative approach, developing significant bodies of work and publications including Given and Owners Manual. He is represented by a number of international galleries including Gallerie Ra in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 

Ross Malcolm

Ross Malcolm completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts majoring in Jewellery at The Manukau Institute of Technology in 2004, where he is currently working part-time as a Jewellery Technician. Since graduating, Malcolm has moved from strength to strength, winning a number of awards including Supreme Contemporary Award, National Jewellery Showcase, in 2007 and Overall Winner of the Molly Morpeth Canaday 3D Awards in 2006. In recent years Malcolm has been developing a series of works titled Potted Colour which draw on his interests in ecology and sustainability.

Shelley Norton

Shelley Norton graduated from Manukau Institute of Technology, School of Visual Arts in 2002. She quickly became a regular exhibitor, taking part in numerous contemporary jewellery shows throughout New Zealand including JOC (Jewellery Out of Context) curated by Peter Deckers, Overcast, curated by Renee Bevan and As Good As Gold, curated by Fran Allison. Norton has had work featured in the international publications 500 Bracelets500 Brooches and 1000 Ringsby Lark Books, New York. In 2005 Norton participated in the first Weeds exhibition at Fingers, Auckland, with Andrea Daly, Fran Allison and Lisa Walker. The group has since had two further exhibitions and will be travelling to Munich later this year. 

Alan Preston

Alan Preston was a co-founder of Fingers Contemporary Jewellery Gallery in Auckland in 1974, and was also featured in the iconic exhibition Bone Stone Shell: New Jewellery New Zealandwhich was to define New Zealand jewellery in the years that followed. Preston is an adjunct professor at Unitec NZ and his work is represented in many of New Zealand’s collections. In 2007 Preston gained a Creative NZ grant which allowed him to develop new works for a major solo exhibition Made in Aotearoa at The NEW Dowse in Lower Hutt. The exhibition toured to a number of national institutions and resulted in an independent publication titled Between the Tides written by Damian Skinner.

Elfi Spiewack

Elfi Spiewack was born in Kassel, Germany. She studied Jewellery Design at the University College of Design in Pforzheim, Germany and has been a practising jeweller since the early 1990’s.  Emigrating to New Zealand in 1999, Spiewack has exhibited extensively throughout the country since 2000 including exhibitions at Fingers in Auckland, Quoil in Wellington, Inform Contemporary Jewellery in Christchurch and Lure in Dunedin. She has also been included in a number of shows in Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and the United States. Spiewack recently toured Bone, Hearth & Fire to Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. 

Anna Wallis

Anna Wallis has developed a significant jewellery practice since she gained a Certificate of Craft Design from Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin in the early 1990s. Wallis was a founding member of the celebrated Workshop 6 jewellery workshop in Kingsland, Auckland and has participated in numerous jewellery exhibitions including Pretty and   Popular Science in Auckland,BrandSpankingNew in Wellington and Alien in Sydney, Australia. In 2002 Wallis was a jeweller on the motion picture ‘The Last Samurai’ and in 2004 on ‘Perfect Creature’.  Wallis has entered a number of awards and in 2004 was awarded Overall Winner of the Molly Morpeth Canaday 3D Awards: Jewellery and gained a Merit Award in the OceaniaGold National Jewellery Awards, Dunedin in 2006. Recent projects have included works in Overcast, curated by Renee Bevan, and Sugar Mountain at Objectspace in 2009.