Olivia Shih is a contemporary jeweler, artist and writer based in Oakland, California. Born in the US and raised in Taiwan, she is interested in the cultural nuances that can be explored through wearable sculpture. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and a BFA in Jewelry and Metal Arts from the California College of the Arts.
Although Anna Cheng grew up in a family of jewelers, she spent more than 10 years working as an interior architect before founding Ame Gallery. “Working in contemporary jewelry,” Anna says, “is a bridge between my education in architecture and my family heritage.” In a recent exhibition, Building Jewellery, Ame Gallery showcased a cross-pollination of the two fields by displaying architecture-inspired contemporary jewelry and hosting a jewelry workshop for six Hong Kong architects.
Olivia Shih: This project, Building Jewellery, intended to illustrate the relationship between architecture and contemporary jewelry. Can you discuss what that relationship is? What drew you to this particular topic?
Anna Cheng: Architecture is very close to me because of my previous profession as an interior architect. Since I started working in contemporary jewelry, I have noticed that there are many things in common between the two. To me, architecture is a way to perceive the world, and its concepts are not limited to building environments. I wanted to explore its concepts in contemporary jewelry and see how artists express elements of architecture in their work.
Building Jewellery included the unexpected element of a workshop, where six Hong Kong-based architects learned skills to create jewelry with their hands. Why was it necessary that these architects physically “build” jewelry instead of drawing designs and sending them off to a goldsmith?
Anna Cheng: I believe one of the important ways to appreciate craft is to experience the making process. The daily work of these architects is to convey their ideas through drawings, and their ideas are executed by others. I wanted them to experience making the piece they designed and to feel what it’s like to execute their own ideas through the jewelry making process.
Raising awareness about contemporary jewelers in the minds of the public has always been a challenge. What is the level of awareness in Hong Kong?
Anna Cheng: Contemporary jewelry is not as widely recognized in Hong Kong as it is in Europe or America, and we have fewer related events compared to China and Taiwan. Hong Kong is an important jewelry hub, and this city hosts one of the biggest jewelry fairs in the world. But the variety at the fair is very limited. One of the main reasons for this is education. There are not many schools or institutions that offer contemporary jewelry and metalsmithing courses.
However, change is slowly taking place. The visual art program in one university and design institute here offers contemporary jewelry-related courses, cultivating new talent. We’re also looking forward to more collaborations within the Asian region that will attract a larger audience.
Do you foresee rich possibilities in crossovers among jewelers, architects, and designers? What kinds of outcomes do you see developing?
Anna Cheng: Absolutely. After we conducted the workshop with the architects, we saw potential in crossovers with other creative fields. I believe the audience we should immediately reach out to are the “creatives” because they are more receptive to the concept and art of contemporary jewelry.
Looking over the work of the six artists in the exhibition, I’m delightfully surprised by how many different ways artists can translate architecture into jewelry. Amira Jalet creates pieces from cement and uses welding techniques, for example. Jessamy Pollock plays with a sense of architectural space by manipulating simple planes, and Yung-huei Chao shrinks corrugated steel rooftops into sprawling jewelry. In the process of doing this show, what have you learned about how architecture and jewelry relate to each other?
Anna Cheng: During the process of doing this exhibition, I was overwhelmed by the many different relationships that architecture and jewelry share. Not only can physical architectural forms and structures be translated into jewelry, but other factors, such as material, scale, and space, are constantly being explored and reworked in both disciplines.