06/21/2009

What was the sound of the front door slamming? What kind of imprint would your living-room carpet leave on your naked knees? What was the smell of your mother like when she left Saturday night for a party? These are some of the assignments that Iris Eichenberg gives her students so that through childhood memories they might gain insight into their obsessions and develop them into an artistic language.

From Hand to Hand: Passing on Skill and Know How in European Contemporary Jewellery is an intriguing book that seeks to show the influence of teachers on their students. This exhibition catalog accompanied a show of the same name that was mounted at MUDAC (Musée de Design et d’Arts Appliqués Contemporains, Lausanne) last year. Fifty-eight artists representing ten European institutions were interviewed and the mostly short quotes showcase one of the most vibrant jewelry movements in the world today. Teachers talk about their approaches to creativity and students speak about what they learned. What is fascinating in this dialog is looking for stylistic threads that you might assume to be present from educator to student. They are mostly absent.

David Watkins and Michael Rowe at the Royal College of Art in London did not create a Royal College 'look.' Instead, the school produced, among many others, Christoph Zellweger and Mah Rana. And Otto Künzli at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Munich has famously mentored some of the most accomplished artist jewelers working today. The singular voices of Bettina Speckner, Bettina Dittlman, Doris Betz and Karl Fritsch are a testament to Künzli’s ability to foster independent approaches to contemporary jewelry.

Essays by Carole Guinard, Liesbeth den Besten and Monica Gaspar provide a background to how contemporary jewelry is taught in Europe and, since European integration students and instructors are able to move freely from country to country, the impact that this has had on the field. It will be interesting to follow the influence of Iris Eichenberg’s recent move from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam to The Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and whether American jewelry will adopt the less metal-centric approach of much European work.

From Hand to Hand features handsome color photographs of work by all the jewelers and the statements are in French and English. The beautiful production of the book on acid-free sustainably sourced paper could be a model for American publications. The first 36 pages of the book are full-page black and white photographs, without text, of seemingly candid shots of regular people wearing art jewelry. (The photos were actually shot by students of a local art college.) Although not the first publication to showcase jewelry on the human body, it still feels revolutionary. This is cutting-edge work out in the real world on real people. And it looks normal. For those of us who feel we are the only ones wearing work like this, it is a fantasy come true.