Jacqui Chan is a contemporary jeweler from New Zealand. Her initial studies in architecture have informed her approach to jewelry, both in terms of its material production and its relation to bodies and places. Both the making and wearing of jewelry are vital parts of her practice. Her work has been selected for exhibitions in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Germany and Norway. She is based in Melbourne where she is undertaking a practice-based PhD at RMIT University. Her research examines the relation between jewelry and the city, experimenting with ways of feeding off and feeding back into the urban context.
A late night last October doesn’t feel so long ago. In the studio, burning the midnight oil, polishing off my online submission for Talente. At the time it felt like one of those lotteries – ‘gotta be in to win!' I had only recently realized I was actually eligible. (You have to be 30 and under.) Little did I imagine that five months later I’d be walking the snowy streets of Munich.
As an emerging jeweler, being selected for Talente is a tremendous encouragement and endorsement. It suggests someone, somewhere thinks you might have an inkling of promise. So I was incredibly grateful for the funding from Creative New Zealand, the national arts council, which enabled me to attend the show in person and experience this jewelry pilgrimage. The week of events was one of exhilarating (and slightly dizzying) full jewelry immersion. Aside from Schmuck and Talente, there was a multitude of satellite exhibitions showcasing work from many countries. As a result, people had journeyed from all over Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and, including our six-strong contingent, New Zealand.
Talente was naturally our first stop in the week of events. To provide a bit of background, Talente is organised annually alongside Schmuck by the Handwerkskammer für München und Oberbayern. Both are part of Munich’s International Trade Fair. Located at the outskirts of Munich, the trade fair occupies a sprawling former airport and includes everything from plumbingware to specialty sausage. Needless to say, most of us never left Trade Hall A (the handcrafts hall).
Unlike Schmuck, Talente focuses on young and emerging talent from a range of craft and design fields. This includes jewelry (which always has a strong presence), ceramics, glass, furniture, lighting design, textiles, fashion, product design and technology. This year 99 entries were selected from the 400 submissions, representing 24 countries. The diversity of work in itself is impressive – from vessels, lamps and furniture, to a boat, a burial urn and almost everything in between. I would estimate close to half was jewelry.
Memorable examples included the hyper-realistic fake flower corsages of Jihye Lee (South Korea), the tack-a-rama fake nail and LED flower ensembles of Lisa Juen (Germany/China), the subtler stone and photograph assemblages of Berta Riera (Spain) and the lightweight, realistic boulder brooches of Barbara Schrobenhauser (Germany). In truth, there was so much to see in Talente alone (not to mention the neighboring Schmuck, Exemplar and gallery shows) that it was a little overwhelming. Despite visiting three times, I was relieved to have the color catalogue to go back to, at a later date.
With the week’s packed lineup, I was keen to see different approaches to exhibiting jewelry. In Talente and Schmuck, the challenge of displaying such variety understandably meant the exhibition design was fairly innocuous. The works were laid out in well-lit glass and steel cabinets, or hung from the steel partition system – tidy industrial design, but more in the spirit of the trade show they were part of.
Many of the satellite exhibitions, however, were sited in more unusual locations or featured inventive displays. One of the most experimental shows was Eternal Shine – It’s Not a Pony, by four current and former students of the Munich Academy. This was a kaleidoscopic treat, with mirror plexiglass display boxes hung on the grungy walls of a painting studio. These boxes were arranged at various heights that forced you on your tippy-toes or demanded you squat down for a good look. Their entertaining optical effects certainly held people’s attention but, surprisingly, without detriment to the jewelry. Melanie Isverding’s enameled structures and Nicole Beck’s stitched body-part assemblages were particularly memorable. The mirrors were quite pragmatic, offering 360-degree view of the pieces and, if anything, the ambient visual noise moved you in to focus on the pieces.
The overall jewelry highlight was Karl Fritsch’s revival of the Pinakothek der Moderne’s contemporary jewelry collection. The collection itself was awe-inspiring – certainly a contemporary jewelry hall of fame – and I admired the fact that Fritsch curated this volume of work without resorting to museum conventions of logical groupings and labels. Arranging works into meandering lines in a seemingly random order, Fritsch successfully put the works into dialogue with one another (reflecting, I like to think, the vibrant diversity of the contemporary jewelry field). Rather than focusing on individual works, their close proximity drew attention to the connections between them. The lack of labels de-emphasized who-made-what, though it was still fun to play a guessing game while wrestling with the oversized list of works.
Other memorable shows included the Dialogue 8 show (United Kingdom) in an old foundry, spatialPalace (Estonia) in a cemetery and the walls of shirts in Nicht Dass du Mir von der Bluse Fällst. Interestingly, the work I enjoyed most the often was part of more conventional displays.
Glancing back through my journal, I see I went to 22 exhibitions that week and many of them twice. This meant I was shifted from my usual role of maker/wearer to the fulltime role of jewelry viewer. On one level, seeing the jewelry in person (without the texts to dictate our response) permitted appreciation of craft for craft’s sake – enjoyment of the material and formal possibilities of jewelry. On another level, it made me aware of the particular kinds of interaction a viewer has with jewelry. Within the tight schedule, many works were consumed at a glance while others stood out because they demanded prolonged attention. Pieces that commanded a second look included Fabrizio Tridenti’s complex structures (in the Pinakothek der Moderne), Bettina Dittlmann’s intricate wire works (at Galerie Isabelle Hund and Danner-Rotunde) and Mirjam Hiller’s intriguing folded constructions (at Galerie Stähler). For me, these tended to be complex forms that resisted a quick glance. They somehow confused my eye, forcing me spend time, running over their surfaces and structures with a visual sense of touch. It made me wonder how jewelry (or an exhibition such as Eternal Shine) might intentionally prompt this haptic way of looking to slow a viewer down and hopefully compelling them to wear the jewelry.
Exhibitions were not the only places to see jewelry. Teeming as Munich was with jewelry devotees, the week was equally a spectacle of jewelry-wearing. Each morning in the hotel we would anticipate what the collectors and critics might be wearing while doing our own jewelry swaps for the day. Over the week, Fran Allison (New Zealand jeweler and Talente mentor) and I documented some of this jewelry-in-action which we posted on our blog Moveable Feasts. Being surrounded for a week by other jewelers, students, gallerists, critics and collectors made you really feel part of a larger international community.
So, how does one cope with seeing so much great jewelry in one week? For a start, it prompted a bit of soul-searching. Mike Crawford, a fellow New Zealand Talente participant and glass artist, raised this issue. At the Pinakothek der Moderne he poignantly asked, ‘How does it make you feel, seeing so much amazing work? Is it totally discouraging – does it make you want to give up?’ He had an important point. At the beginning of our careers, how do we position ourselves in relation to these pinnacles of the field? Do we aim to attract the attention of European institutions and collectors, striving to have work shown alongside the grand masters? Do we succumb to Munich’s magnetic pull and try for the Academy? What are the alternatives?
A heartening answer seemed to lie in the radical exhibition of students from Maastricht. Their portable ‘jewelry-in-a-bag’ format enabled the group to piggyback on the opening at the Pinakothek, usurping an audience in the process. This was echoed by Willy Van De Velde, a jeweler who drove his van over from Belgium and parked outside another show as a mobile gallery. These actions seemed an inspiring message for emerging jewelers: you don’t need to rely on institutions for public exposure. Do it your own way! It really drove home that our practices must extend beyond the production of jewelry to the production of wearer/audiences.
Otherwise, there comes a point when seeing so much jewelry simply makes you SICK OF SCHMUCK. The remedy, care of the students of the Munich Fine Arts Academy? A night of drunken jewelers dancing to German techno.
Surprisingly, after this marathon week, I wasn’t completely sick of schmuck. I still had stamina to visit the Amsterdam galleries and Galerie Marzee and was itching to get back to the bench.