Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of AJF and California College of the Arts.
The show of work by Andrea Wagner at Platina gave me an opportunity to catch up with the artist. I first met her in Amsterdam when she and several other jewelers were working together in a loft studio. At the time, the idea of the garden and its relationship to architecture was of interest to them. I remember realizing that people in the small country of the Netherlands need to think about land and building in a very deliberate way. There simply isn’t room to take it for granted.
Susan Cummins: Are you still thinking of this Jardin Intérieur in the same way now as you did then, or have your ideas developed? How?
Andrea Wagner: The first time we met, I was in a rough period following a couple of life upheavals. My prolonged living circumstances in what was originally intended as a temporary solution turned my craving for privacy and my own space into a real obsession that started infecting my work. A micro series from that time was even called Arcadian Flights! Another small body of work leaned on the idea of floral friezes on buildings, with the resulting pieces looking like flowers turned into shelters.
During that period a short newspaper article caught my attention. It mentioned the French expression “jardin intérieur” (which translates as inside or interior garden), referring to the freedom and privacy of one’s realm of thought. The clipping ended up yellowing away on my studio wall.
Too far enmeshed in my personal all-consuming domestic woes back then, I gave little thought to Dutch land- and housing planning, or to what other artists may have been thinking about such themes!
Two years later, the stagnant pattern of my situation finally broke, and I acquired a spacious apartment perfectly suited to both live and work in, once it was extensively reconstructed. I suddenly turned architect of sorts, hiring in external help.
Moreover, new work began for a solo show.
After three years navigating life with the hand brake on, it was like when it rains in the desert, and my mind and soul exploded into bloom! It was impossible to hold back the indulgent glory of expanding abundance appearing in my work. I decided to run with this diversity as long as pieces were still identifiable to this specific series.
Who is The Architect? What is your interest in architecture?
Andrea Wagner: The Architect is just metaphorical and tongue-in-cheek for someone with that profession doing some soul searching. Naturally, it even refers to me.
It's intended as a whimsical or mischievous prompt to make less separation between architecture and nature instead of simply regarding greenery as trimmings around buildings or squares in urban surroundings. It would be wonderful if more environment-friendly methods of architecture were encouraged in which functionality works together with nature and actually uses its potential for temperature control, water and air purification, or other areas of function.
Although the title is playful, there are deeper psychological and spiritual aspects to uncover if you go down that rabbit hole. “Jardin Intérieur” also translates to inner self, opening up another layer of meaning.
The Architect Who Faced His Jardin Intérieur (together with its recent sub series, which I humorously dubbed ... And The Architect Is Still Facing His Jardin Intérieur) also works as metaphor to dare face up to and integrate into one’s life any secretly harbored dreams and create something new.
In my opinion, work concepts should leave breathing room for interpretation as long as the artist knows what he or she is doing.
There hadn’t really been architectural examples that reflected my notions at the beginning, except for a book on designs by architect Paolo Soleri that were mainly from the 1960s. He was far ahead of his time.
In later years the expressions “ecological” and “environmental” have shed their tree-hugger image and been snapped up by hipsters and designers. Real advances in new material compounds of natural fibers and good design ideas in all areas also began creating extremely desirable habitat solutions. I’m very excited to increasingly see spectacularly beautiful and bold design ideas in architecture that directly incorporate nature for functional purposes, even in large public buildings. Hopefully soon they will increasingly migrate from the realm of planning into practical life.
While my interest in architecture was probably never larger or smaller than that of most who are interested in art and design, I believe that one of the most important aspects for me is what it feels like to be inside of it.
I had a fascinating architectural experience once in a taxi en route to the Hong Kong airport, when I glanced up at the hilly slope we were passing. I had the fleeting view of a building that moved, as if it had slightly popped open before trees hid it! Wow, what on earth was that?! Later, in the plane, I found myself staring at a full-page newspaper ad for the inauguration of the building I’d seen on the hill: Frank Gehry’s OPUS. That just made me smile, happy I’d had that awesome visual experience before being influenced by the knowledge that it was the newest creation of a star architect.
Frequent travels during the years started having their influence. I have always loved traveling and getting new impressions, meeting other people, breaking up my routine, and reflecting on cultural and personal values and principles.
I want to eat your jewelry. There is sugary delicious surface to all of it. What is it?
Andrea Wagner: It does look quite appetizing, doesn’t it?! Tiny glass grains on the surfaces cause that seductive glitter. Some pieces also have natural sparkly stone druses or shimmery quartz crystals, all imbedded in or lined with the glass grains to mislead the eye.
The finely sanded and unglazed surface of some porcelain colors also comes close to suggesting the palatal delights of fondant or custard.
Andrea Wagner: It reminds me of the dewy freshness of a garden at the dawn of a new day, or cleansed wet foliage in the sunlight after rain. And don’t we occasionally have such fresh, sparkly thought-moments in that personal interior garden of ours?
Who do you think is doing the most challenging work in jewelry today?
Andrea Wagner: Good question … not so easy to answer.
For that, we’d have to look at what “challenging” could stand for. Shocking, violent, distasteful, extremely sexual, unnaturally twisted, religious, or blasphemous?
Art has dealt with all these aspects, and while similar expressions aren’t exactly widespread in jewelry, it doesn’t necessarily make the work challenging. If such a piece were worn, though, I’d be more prone to questioning the wearer’s motivation for that choice than pondering over the piece itself.
“Challenging” wearability, nonwearability, only carried around, swallowed and maybe excreted, or that it is not even an object? These aspects have been covered in the last four and a half decades of contemporary jewelry and are not challenging anymore.
Extreme implants, though not commonplace, are not fully unusual anymore, either, albeit in the piercing scene and less with contemporary jewelry aficionados.
With technology for microchip implants already in place, in the looming future they will surely be mandatory to store all personal, financial, and health data (and why not GPS location, media browsing data, as well as social interactions and activities?). In light of this, even jewelry implant ideas aren’t challenging anymore.
“Challenging” apropos material? ... The dung-covered Madonna was unveiled a while back. Even the cow dung pieces I made in Ruudt Peters’s COW NOW workshop 2003 have long since aired out their odor and lost their material challenge.
Andrea Wagner: Now that I have been working professionally for a good 17 years, it has become increasingly difficult to put my finger on one or more persons who inspire me after all of my exposure to art, design, and jewelry. It used to be so much easier! There are a large number of colleagues with beautiful, strong work, with their own distinct styles, certain pieces or bodies of work, or certain aspects that I very much appreciate in their entirety.
The more you develop and hone your work with regular analysis and continual distilling of the essence of what is strong, the more you also acquire the tendency to develop an extremely critical and possibly less impressionable eye. That being said, it’s vital to remain open and curious.
I am often more inspired by something that in that moment has the power to fire up my inner motor and desire to get working. That might be an exhibition, when I’m in a bit of a slump, or work showing a certain nonchalance to prod me out of my head and inspire me to play around more and experiment. Or a documentary, any other discipline, or anything, really, as long as it comes at the right time and hits the right nerve. Even if it only reminds me why I am an artist, revs the passion. Or when I see something in passing, creating a fascinating and inspiring picture in my mind even if I’ve only misread what I’d seen!
Two exhibitions with a profound effect on me were the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective and the Alexander McQueen retrospective, both in NYC but 16 years apart. In both cases, the effect was so exciting and inspiring I fairly floated out of the museum like being in another dimension for a while. I suppose I picked up on a consistency in their oeuvre that confirmed how important it is to stay connected to your passion despite everything else, and do what you feel you can’t not do, and then do it!
Andrea Wagner: I have never really given serious thought to this, and am not sure I can answer it. While I don’t feel that my work consciously relates to the culture, I do live in it. Generally, my work is rooted in psychological levels instead of given situations themselves., thus not a literal referencing and taking it out of an immediate timeline.
In the past, you’ve curated traveling shows like Golden Clogs, Dutch Mountains. I wonder if you have plans to do more?
Andrea Wagner: Golden Clogs, Dutch Mountains was the fortunate offspring of more affluent times in recent Dutch history, before the arts grant system was razed by our government.
When embarking upon this exhibition project, I was still on a substantial artist development grant I’d received somewhat earlier. That allowed me to be free to invest so many hundreds of personal hours into organizing the project to seven venues without receiving any external honorarium. The project itself was also granted financial support, not for my own efforts, but with a budget for my travel expenses, shipment of the work to the US, and half of the catalog production.
Such generous financial support allows you to be generous for a good cause without having to fret over how to cover your living costs for a while. I would love to be involved like that again, although I would now only be able to take on another project if my involvement was reimbursed. Taking into consideration how most art institutions and galleries seem financially stretched, this might take a while. But stranger things have happened, so I’ll never say never!
Andrea Wagner: Thank you!