Finland has been quietly influencing the conversation in contemporary jewelry for many years by hosting events that incorporate workshops, exhibitions, and symposiums to showcase international and Finnish artists. These events started in 1997 and have occurred every three years, aiming to “bring together contemporary jewelers, curators, collectors, students, professors, and people interest in contemporary jewelry.” (Mustonen 7) The last four events have been titled KORU, which is Finnish for jewelry. They are held in South Karelia, Finland, just a few miles from the Finnish-Russian border.
In the summer of 2011, I had an informal residency in Finland and met the individuals responsible for organizing the KORU events—Antonio Altarriba, Eija Mustonen, Nelli Tanner, and Tarja Tuupanen. This team is friendly, welcoming, dedicated to the field of contemporary jewelry, and all from very different vantage points. Antonio Altarriba is a transplant from Spain who has lived in Finland for 30 years. An artist in his own right, Altarriba was a member of the Arts Council of Finland for fourteen years. In this role, he worked directly with Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture to promote art and artists through grants and other forms of support.
Through his Arts Council position, Altarriba met Eija Mustonen, now the director of fine art and design at the Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in Imatra, Finland. Trained as both a traditional stone cutter and a silversmith, Mustonen began her education in Finland and continued it at the Reitveld Academy in the Netherlands and the Royal College of Art in Great Britain. Mustonen has been working in contemporary jewelry for more than 30 years and teaching for twenty. Her ever-evolving role at Saimaa University—first as instructor, then head of the department of traditional stone working and contemporary jewelry, now as head of fine art—has allowed her distinct style and appreciation of stone to influence a growing number of students.
The last two members of the team have equally impressive training. Nelli Tanner, the current head of the Saimaa University’s jewelry department, was trained in Finland, Scotland, and the Netherlands. Tarja Tuupanen teaches at Saimaa University, is president of the Finnish jewelry association Koraitaide, and was trained in Finland and Sweden. Both artists hold stone in high regard but approach the material in very different ways.
While a visiting artist at the sadly defunct Galerie Rantapaja, I felt honored to interact with these individuals and resolved to attend KORU4 from October 29-November 2, 2012. With generous support from the Finlandia Foundation, a private organization that exists for the “express purpose of celebrating, supporting, and strengthening Finnish heritage and Finnish-American culture and traditions,” (Finlandia Foundation National) I was able to spend a month in Finland to support the organization of the event. This experience gives me a unique platform to report on KORU4. Beyond being a passive participant, I was there to ensure the event was functioning as smoothly as possible, to act as a flexible organizer between the different elements that made up the whole event, and to create the supporting documents that were integral to the event.
The theme of KORU4 was Kindred Spirits, defined by the organizers as “someone who feels and thinks the way you do or a person [who holds] similar . . . thoughts.” (KORU4 International Jewellery Event) The theme influenced the structure of all the KORU4 events, including pairings artists for the exhibition, team teaching the workshops, and seeking seminar speakers whose connection to contemporary jewelry wasn’t always immediately apparent. The KORU4 workshops were team taught by two artists: Ruudt Peters and Evert Nijland; Mia Maljojoki and Pau Faus; and Nelli Tanner and Tarja Tuupanen. There were 28 workshop participants representing ten countries, with one student coming all the way from Chile. The exhibition that ended KORU4 included fifteen invited artists and the “kindred spirit” each selected. The work was shown in tandem when possible, but many of the “kindred spirits” were shown in digital format. You can see and read more in depth coverage about the workshop, the exhibition, and my experience on Crafthaus.
In this article I focus on the symposium, just one of the three components that made up KORU4. The symposium utilized the platform of Kindred Spirits to bring in the expected contemporary jewelry artists to talk about their work and to reach out to different communities, such as science and technology that could add to the contemporary jewelry conversation. While some of the connections were more obvious than others, the variation in content made for an enlivened conversation, especially during some of the question and answer segments.
The keynote speaker was Davira Taragin, an American curator with a background in studio craft and design. Her specific interest in and appreciation for contemporary jewelry is informed by her interest in blurring the lines between craft and conceptual art, something she feels contemporary jewelry is able and willing to do. In her opening talk, “Pushing the Boundaries: An Outsider’s Perspective on Kindred Spirits,” Taragin explored the history of cross discipline explorations in the American studio craft movement, specifically referencing Viola Frey and Peter Voulkos. Her excitement about the Kindred Spirits invitational exhibition, for which fifteen jewelry artists chose “work of an artist from any discipline, which has had a remarkable impact to the development of his/her artistic career,” (KORU4 International Jewellery Event) was infectious. All but four of the invited artists selected a kindred spirit outside the field of contemporary jewelry, which to Taragin highlighted the flexibility and importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration. While she was disappointed that only one American was in the exhibition (Seth Papac was chosen as the kindred spirit of Gemma Draper, a jewelry artist living in Barcelona, Spain) the variety of media presented in the exhibition, including photography, videos, dance, painting, sculpture, and historic portraiture, was more than enough to equalize the lack. While some participants thought Taragin’s talk focused too heavily on American history and art, the international audience was interested and curious about American styles of art making and the histories of more obscure American art movements.
Taragin’s presentation was followed by a quick succession of talks by three Finnish artists: Janna Syvänoja, Tiina Rajakallio, and Anna Rikkinen. These short presentations were a contrast in style between American and Finnish sensibilities. While Taragin’s presentation was emotive and expansive, jumping from art history lesson to the political power of art to exclamations about groundbreaking innovations, the Finnish artists were each solemn, restrained, and meditative, often letting the image of a work hang on the screen without comment. (While some of this was caused by shyness and nervousness, there was also a marked difference in national character. It was often jokingly brought up during the conference that the Finns are a culturally reticent and humble people.) The individual work shown by the Finnish artists was diverse in content and style. Syvänoja spoke about the natural world and the effect of human encroachment on the environment. Rajakallio questioned memory and the moments of forgetting. Rikkinen looked toward the historic use of costume, specifically the ruff, and reinterpreted them using recognizable domestic forms. Each artist spoke in a poetic style that was less descriptive of the work and more evocative of its emotive quality, allowing for the technicalities of process and materials to fade and the work to be seen as an experience.
Following a break for lunch, the symposium made a quick turn away from contemporary jewelry and into a collaborative project between neuroscience and film with the presentation of “Glitter on the Neural Screen” by Dr Pia Tikka. In an attempt to make a connection with the audience’s perceived jewelry focus, Tikka inserted random personal jewelry objects with accompanying anecdotes, which was amusing and received quite a few chuckles from the audience. However, the more serious and relevant content of her lecture was much more engaging. Her history as an acclaimed filmmaker, with feature length projects including Daughters of Yemanjá (1996) and Sand Bride (1998), led Tikka to become the head of a research team studying the effects of film on brain function. Her current research project NeuroCine is based at the Aalto School of Arts, Design, and Architecture. It “combines filmmaking practice with the methods of neuroimaging in order to study neural basis of cinematic imagination.” (KORU4 Symposium Programme) The medium of film is a fertile field for studying human reaction and societal conditioning, allowing for the study of reaction to stimulation on the screen that wouldn’t be acceptable in a real life scenario. For example, how do you study what happens in the brain when you witness a violent crime without staging a violent crime? Film allows for the experience of witnessing a violent crime to be mediated and for the brain responses to be measured using MRI machines. Tikka’s talk was thought provoking and opened up many questions from the audience. For example, what are the implications of artists creating work according to predetermined viewer reactions based on neuroscience research? It was eventually determined, however, that artists have been influencing the reaction of viewers based on an intuitive understanding of emotional response, and that neuroscience is only beginning to catch up.
From there, it was a logical next step to the presentation of Mia Maljojoki and Pau Faus because of their interest in video and performance. After a brief introduction to their individual work, they generously ceded the floor to the participants of their KORU4 workshop “Molding Passivity.” During the workshop, participants explored the passive body and how the body moves through a hyperactive and hyperaware world. After several days of bodywork, experimentation, and creation, the students narrowed their discoveries to single words that described their emotions connected to passivity (“conflict” and “overexposure” were two), and they created videos or objects based on their words. During the symposium, they performed simple actions that were embodiments of the word or short performances with the objects. As an example, Klara Brynge selected the word “conflict.” She inserted herself in the personal space of another person, close but not touching, in such a way that her body and her gaze were on the verge of affronting. She was so close that her breath stirred the hair on the other person’s head. The time spent standing in that position and the exposed nature of the performance allowed the audience to feel the sense of discomfort and anxiety embodied in the performance. The other actions were varied in their content and success, but the insertion of activity in an otherwise passive symposium was a welcome distraction. The actions happened in unorthodox locations around the lecture hall, so the audience had to shift in their seats to follow them. This slight change in the flow of lectures, both visually and physically, was interesting in how glaring it exposed the passivity of the lecture format.
The last segment of the symposium included a presentation by Heidi Piili, a research scientist in laser technology at the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) in Finland. Her talk “Possibilities of Laser Processing in Manufacturing of Jewelry” was dry in content, but it was delivered with such enthusiasm and genuine interest in her field that the audience was mesmerized. Because Piili’s lecture was the only one based on material and technique, it generated many questions about the practicalities of lasers for jewelry. One such question, asked by the intrepid Ruudt Peters, probed the possibility of laser etching on the compound curves of a glass surface. Piili had many examples of different laser processes, such as etching, cutting, welding, and modeling. She also had specific examples of jewelry made using laser techniques, including Sakurako Shimizu’s work, which was included in Unexpected Pleasures (reviewed on the AJF website). She also allowed the audience to interact with prototypes made from laser 3D modeling—an additive process utilizing metal powder and laser welding. Piili was very direct in recognizing the need for creative minds to help laser scientists and technicians explore the possibilities of the technology. A future collaboration with the Saimaa University’s jewelry department is an exciting prospect for the merging of kindred spirits.
The final presentation of the day was an exchange between Ruudt Peters and Evert Nijland. After the more conventional lecture styles that preceeded them, with the speaker standing behind a podium, Peters’s and Nijland’s relaxed banter as they verbally sparred with each other in front of the audience was a entertaining way to end the day. They asked each other pointed questions about their individual processes, inspirations, and future desires while a double slideshow projected carefully selected images on the wall behind them. Peters and Nijland have a shared sensibility of making that comes from distinct personal experiences influenced by similar interests and inspirations. Their presentation worked as a finale of sorts, an energetic performance that highlighted the Kindred Spirits theme of the symposium.
This was an important aspect of the KORU4 symposium. It wasn’t trying to solve a problem or present a question or push an agenda. The event was organized around the idea of celebrating similarities in creative communities, both within the field of contemporary jewelry and beyond it. It was a pleasurable experience full of interesting conversations and the opportunity to make connections with people that already shared a common base. On a whole, the KORU4 exhibition, workshops, and symposium allowed for the recognition that inspiration and possibilities often come from outside the borders of a creative community, and that those perceived borders are usually porous. If there was a lesson learned, it was to remember that even in a group of common spirits, the reason for the commonality is varied and even more interesting than what we have in common.