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.
Ramon Puig Cuyàs is an artist from Barcelona, Spain, known for his simultaneously chaotic yet balanced compositions in jewelry. Inspired by the human spirit, Puig Cuyàs layers lines and geometric shapes with pops of color. His work has been exhibited and collected internationally, and he has taught as the head of the jewelry department at the Escola Massana since 1977.
Olivia Shih: How did this collaboration with Galerie Noel Guyomarc’h come into existence? Is this the first time you’ve curated a show for this gallery?
Ramon Puig Cuyàs: Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h has represented my work in Canada for many years and, besides my personal exhibitions, I think we had already previously collaborated on an exhibition of artists from Barcelona. It has always been a great pleasure working with Noel.
This time he asked me to propose a theme and make the selection of artists according to my criteria.
There are countless types of silences—lighthearted silences, awkward silences, furious silences, and more. In the exhibition’s introductory text, you bring up the idea of “an expressive silence, a potent silence.” Could you talk more about this type of silence?
Ramon Puig Cuyàs: Yes, it’s true: There are many forms of silence. I am referring to the silence that listens. Sometimes you have to learn to be silent, in order to listen best. When I talk about an expressive silence, I mean the silence between two words, between two sentences, between two persons conversing, and that leaves a space for reflection. A penetrating look can be more expressive than a long speech. In Spanish, it is said many times, “An image is worth more than a thousand words.” But this image must be powerful, memorable, unique, personal. If not, it will only be one more element in our contaminated visual environment.
But as I wrote in my text for the exhibition, I refer particularly to the silence necessary for the act of creation, when the artist is completely alone and facing himself and his work. At those moments, it is very important to create an inner silence that allows us to listen to ourselves, allowing us to listen to a voice that is interior and very deep. Sometimes this voice is hardly heard, sometimes it’s almost like an intuition, but we must listen. Silence is also listening to nature, to what is outside and that speaks without words.
As you stated, we now live amid extreme noise pollution, ranging from physical noise to digital informational noise. Was there a single event that inspired you to curate “silence” to counter the noise?
Ramon Puig Cuyàs: Someone said that art begins where words end. But I often have the feeling that the words and conceptual discourses are more important to the artist’s own work of art. People in the art world, sometimes they talk and talk, flooding us with information, but they forget the most important—the unique experience of listening to the artwork in silence! Silence please!!
When we cannot find the words to express, to communicate, we turn to art. Humanity has created the arts to treat what is indefinable; dance, music, poetry, movement, color, materials ... in short, humanity has created the myth, the metaphor, and the symbolic world, without rational words. For me, art is a form of communication, and in the case of jewelry, it becomes a very intimate medium. You need a complicity between the two actors, the artist and the jewelry wearer. The expressive object, the transmitter object of our ideas, our doubts, our questions, or our claims, is always the jewelry object. Conceptual discourse can never replace silent symbolic speech.
Many of the artists who are participating in this exhibition are known for their understated and contemplative works, such as Judy McCaig’s carefully considered compositions of nature and Julia Turner’s distinct blend of textile and wood. How did you decide on inviting these artists?
Ramon Puig Cuyàs: In a very spontaneous way; most of them I know personally, and some produce work that I have followed for a long time. Other younger ones, I’ve known as a professor, just as they launched their artistic careers. I wanted a selection of artists who worked coherently within the concept of the exhibition, but also in different forms. I was interested in creating a body of work that will generate dialogue. I looked for artists who have a personal and strong language, working with their hands to build an intimate world, revealing the secrets of matter and form, slowly, without haste. Artists whose work we need to approach with respect, to listen to.
Naturally there are many other jewelry artists that could be in this exhibit, but it was a problem of space.
As an artist, one often needs silence in order to converse with oneself. Do you think silence is also required for a conversation between viewer and art jewelry?
Ramon Puig Cuyàs: Of course, the viewer needs to also approach the work of art with a respectful silence, inner silence; art needs a long and silent look. The viewer can be an educated person, informed about the art world, or maybe not. It can be a person without much prior experience, but when standing before the work, like the artist, we are all alone. The only voice that we can listen to is our own voice in dialogue with the work. For me, listening to the silence means listening to others, putting it in its place, trying to understand it.
You’ve been making jewelry for nearly 50 years and have seen the slow rise of art jewelry into a sophisticated language of its own. What problems do you think art jewelry faces?
Ramon Puig Cuyàs: I discovered the world of jewelry art in the early 70s. I think in those days many of us had the idea that with our work as artists we could contribute to a social change. Transform not only the conventional concept of jewelry, but also in democratizing society, to make it more egalitarian. Change the material values for others, and generate more respect for nature and the environment. As you say, the world of jewelry has undergone a process of sophistication, and maybe these human values and philosophical ideas that were driving the history, maybe today they are blurred.
Where do you see art jewelry heading next?
Ramon Puig Cuyàs: I have no idea. I think that art is not going anywhere, and is simply here with us. It will be here when humans need to find answers to their transcendental questions. There are many pretentious art jewelry pieces, but these are background noise, banal, superficial, and vulgar. Jewelry can take new forms, new fashions, but above all, the most important is that, in the future, art jewelry can recover and strengthen its archaic and ancestral function, which was to connect with the symbolic and transcendent world. Recover the magical act when a person was given a jewel or an ornament.
I, at least, am trying it.