Susan Cummins: Can you give me some insight into your fascination with the repulsive?
I have always been drawn to both biology and art and when I was growing up I had a personal battle, deciding whether to become a biologist or a jewelry maker. My mind was made up when I couldn’t face dissecting the eyeball of a sheep in science class. It’s strange but even though I was so interested in biology some things just repulsed me too much.
During my second year at HDK (University of Gothenburg) I made my first jewelry piece based on the feeling of attraction and repulsion. Of course at this time I did not really know that this was the theme. I just knew that I really disliked maggots and I made a big green maggot bracelet made out of plexi glass, with movable parts so that it mimicked the movements of a real maggot. I was trying to turn something that I disliked into something that I liked. I continued with a whole series of maggots made out of rubbers and silicones and this work opened up something within me. I became really fascinated with human emotions and how we feel towards different materials and subjects. I also realized that I enjoyed hearing stories about what people are repulsed by.
When I started at the Royal ColIege of Art (RCA) I turned the focus on myself instead. I started to work with insects and skin because these are two things that I was personally really repulsed by. I wanted to see if I could turn what I found repulsive into something beautiful. One of the first pieces I made in the series was Beetle Juice. It started with the fantasy of what was hidden inside an insect. I thought about the yellow slime that you sometimes see if you happen to see a squashed insect. I thought about what would happen if I changed the thing that disgust me the most about the insects into something attractive that I would want to look at. I decided to replace the inside of the beetle I was using with yellow synthetic diamonds. I found that I could make not only me but also other people discover the beauty in unexpected places and I managed to make people admire and want to look closer at something most people would not want to look at. This subject still really fascinated me so I have continued working on it and exploring.
Throughout history jewelers seem to have a fascination with insects. Why do you think that is?
Which jewelers do you admire?
Aud Charlotte Ho Sook Sinding was a master! She managed to make something as repulsive as fat tissue and skin diseases look beautiful! I am also very drawn to both Hanna Hedman and Tanel Veenres work. They both work very well with the symbioses of photography and jewelry and they manage to build a whole poetic world around their pieces. I also like jewelry with a quite quirky and humoristic side to it. Like work by Ted Noten and Alexander Blank. Sari Liimatta is another favorite of mine. There are many jewelers that I admire deeply for their different processes, aesthetics and concepts.
All these schools have thought me different things and I feel very lucky to have been able to study at all of them. Before I begun my studies at HDK-School of Design and Crafts I had attended a two year long course in silversmithing and different jewelry techniques. When I started at HDK it was a big eye opener and I was introduced to the world of contemporary jewelry and alternative materials. The jewelry department there is quite experimental and free so it allowed me to start experimenting with both concepts and new materials.
At Hiko Mizuno I learnt another important lesson, how to communicate with my pieces without being able to talk about them and explain them. There was a big language barrier between me and the other students and also the teachers so I got to practice how you can communicate ideas without actually using words!
At Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) I learnt mainly how to juggle many different projects at the same time. Both at HDK and Hiko Mizuno I had focused mainly on one project at the time but at RISD I learnt the difficult task of multitasking, working on many different projects under though time pressure. I also went there because I wanted to learn more about casting resin and electroforming. Tracy Steepy was my resin mentor and Michael Glancy taught me everything about the ‘dos and don’t’s’ when it comes to electroforming. And these are two of the main techniques that I use in my jewelry making today.
I think all these schools and all the professors and teachers that I studied under have helped me develop as an artist enormously. Some might say it gets confusing to study under so many different professors but for me it has been great. You just have to learn how to stand on your own two feet and to listen with both a critical and an open ear to the advice that is given to you.
What are you reading?
At the moment I am reading On Jewellery by Liesbeth den Besten and Art and Animals by Giovanni Aloi. I also have to recommend the online magazine called Antennae that deals with different subject of animal art.