Märta Mattsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1982. She has studied jewelry art at HDK-School of Design and Crafts, Gothenburg, Sweden; Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry, Tokyo, Japan; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island; and at the Royal College of Art, London, England. Since 2007, Mattsson’s work has been exhibited in many international group shows and several solo shows in The Netherlands, United States, China, England, France, Germany, and Japan.
This is the first in a new series called “in Sight series.” We have asked a maker, a curator, and an historian to discuss From the Coolest Corner, an ambitious event that was just launched in Oslo, Norway. Märta Mattsson reported on the event as a visitor and exhibitor; Love Jönsson, who juried the main exhibition, took our written questions; and Liesbeth den Besten, who curated one of the shows, responded to a Skype interview after returning from Oslo. Mattsson, Jönsson, and den Besten went to Norway with a different job to do and together their reports produce a varied and complex snapshot of the event. We hope their overlapping voices, as well as those to come in this series, stir vigorous debate.
The touring exhibition From the Coolest Corner not only took the temperature of where Nordic artists stand on the global scene, it also debated where we stand as a field during the two-day symposium in Oslo, Norway, hosted by the Oslo National Academy of the Arts (January17–18, 2013). This team endeavor was developed under the stewardship of professor Ingjerd Hanevold with Martina Kaufman as project coordinator. The invited speakers included art historians and both international and Nordic contemporary jewelers. The speakers at the symposium raised many questions. Is there a typical Nordic style? What do we mean by identity? Is contemporary jewelry a dying field?
Etienne Glaser, a Swedish writer, actor, and director was the first speaker. He confidently entered the stage and spoke about the human need for an identity. He talked about his own experience of playing roles in his daily life and entering identities. How can we discuss the identity of Nordic jewelers if we don’t first address the issue of what identity is and the psychology behind how we grow into an identity? As children we have great spontaneity. We have not yet learned the human rules of how to conform to a given identity. When growing up, we try hard to control or get rid of this spontaneity. The feeling of belonging to or being a part of something is one of the strongest human needs. Glaser believes that as an artist your aim is to regain this spontaneity. Artists try to find something to relate to, and art gives us many borrowed identities. “Humans can have several identities, and if you have a true self then you also have many false selves,” Glaser stated.
The topic of characteristic styles in Nordic jewelry was debated in lectures by Liesbeth den Besten and Jorunn Veiteberg. Does Nordic jewelry have a special style or tendency in the use of form and materials? den Besten spoke about the difficulties of observing the Nordic countries as a whole. She took us on a journey through some of the history of Nordic contemporary jewelry and talked about the fact that Scandinavia’s jewelry scene was quite isolated from the rest of the world until the 1980s. Someone in the audience suggested that Nordic jewelry is 20 years behind the international scene. Many disagreed. Veiteberg spoke about how North American influences are evident in early Scandinavian contemporary jewelry and how Nordic art is commonly perceived as romantic and closely connected to nature. Besten and Veiteberg seemed to share the idea that it is hard to determine a specific style in Nordic jewelry, especially in the work that is being made today. Veiteberg suggested that possibly the Nordic identity has lost some of its unique qualities because of the process of internationalization within the field.
Sometimes, I feel it is the teacher and the teaching style at a school that influences students more then the country itself. Ruudt Peters changed the metal department at Konstfack into Ädellab, placing young Swedish jewelry artists at the forefront of the field. Proof of Konstfack’s strong positioning was obvious in the From the Coolest Corner exhibition—11 out of 61 participating artists are recent Konstfack graduates. The current professor at Konstfack, Karen Pontopidans, shared quotes in her lecture from students and teachers of the school. “We value the lack of skill.” I think this quote from a student epitomizes not only Konstfack’s current position but also how parts of the jewelry field stand today.
Marjan Unger’s lecture began with a quite different approach, stating that contemporary jewelry is a dying field. She suggested that like the mythical character Cassandra, she is one who foresees disaster and whose warnings go unheeded. She raised the question, “why would you like to join a movement at the worst possible time?” By mixing her strong critique with a lot of humor and people laughing along the way, she insinuated that the contemporary jewelry field is an incestuous, inbred circuit where there is very little space on the artistic top. Her talk was not negative but inspiring. I think her aim was to challenge jewelers to find new ways to work and to push the field forward. She wanted to give the new generation a push in the right direction, to make them see new possibilities and find new platforms for their work.
Similarly, Swedish gallery owner and artist Sofia Björkman’s lecture Middle Is Not Cool exhorted jewelers to open up contemporary jewelry beyond the inner circle to the outer circle and the world. ‘Talk, explore, and spread the word,” she demanded. “The middle is not cool. Movements are cool.” Unexpectedly, she quoted lyrics from a Marilyn Manson song during her lecture. The first quote, “I am trying to fit in, trying to fake it” related back to what Etienne Glaser said about borrowed identities and artists trying to make work that fits the mold of what is popular within the field. The second quote, “... and then I found how to be what you want when I was out looking for something new, digging too deep, and now it’s too late. We just keep on breaking the same old ground.” I think both Ungers’s and Björkman’s lectures were thought provoking, inspiring, and needed for a field that should aim to keep moving forward. The important thing for the new generation of jewelers to realize is that we are living in a time of change and tough economics, so we should open our eyes and our minds for new ways of making what we do matter!
The organizers did a great job choosing lecturers with different approaches and relation to the field. The audience not only got to listen to the history of Nordic jewelry and debate it, but also got to enjoy personal stories from artists including Tanel Veenre, Jantje Fleischhut, Yuka Oyama, and Stefan Heuser. I was particularly interested to hear Oyama speak about her unique approach to jewelry. She is most famous for her Schmuck Quickies series, for which she creates flamboyant custom jewelry for volunteers on the spot. In her lecture, Oyama spoke about one of her projects, Metamorphic Spirit, which attempts to show the inner hidden world and desires of humans. During the course of this project, she conducted interviews with a group of people, asking them what animal they feel they related to and why. One woman the artist interviewed said, “A jaguar has always been inside of me. I am a very shy person. The jaguar tells me to be strong.” Oyama then created an animal mask for each of the 31 participants, age 6 to 84. Each participant was photographed with their mask and asked to re-enact essential movements that characterized their inner animal. The question of becoming something, entering another identity, fascinated the audience. It is exciting to see how the term “jewelry” can be pulled and stretched and what it can become. People often see the jewelry pieces they wear as extensions of themselves and as an expression of their personalities. Oyama takes this experience of showing your true self to another level.
In some ways, I don’t think we have to worry too much about where the contemporary jewelry field is going. The movements have already started. The new generations of jewelers are finding ways to show their work outside the gallery and museum circuit. New collectives and collaborations are forming. Two strong examples of this were on display in Oslo. One was the exhibition KL!NK & friends present The Black of the Night. KL!NK is a group of artists living and working in Norway. They all have master degrees in visual arts, specialized in the field of metalworking. For the exhibition The Black of the Night, six members of KL!NK invited nine other young artists from Nordic countries to exhibit together with them. Only two of the artists, Anna Talbot and Anne Legner, had work in the exhibition From the Coolest Corner. Assuming that a number of emerging artists would not be selected for From The Coolest Corner, KL!NK invited young artists they felt made strong work and deserved some time in the spotlight to exhibit in The Black of the Night. KL!NK created their own opportunity to exhibit and put up an impressive show with exciting new Nordic talents. It is thrilling to see jewelers putting in a lot of time and effort to curate their own shows. The Black of the Night theme was presumably chosen based on the long dark Nordic winter nights. It was interesting to see artists who usually work with strong colors, such as Anna Talbot, Hedda Bjerkeli, and Lisa Björke, embrace a much darker side in their work.
Nanna Melland’s exhibition Swarm at the Deichmanske Library was the second example of the new generation creating its own opportunities. The exhibition featured 5500 aluminum airplane brooches distributed over a 5 x 5 meter (16.4 x 16.4 foot) wall. Melland says about the work, “The conquest of aerial space and the challenges provoked by this new traffic have consequences for our lives and humanity at large. We realize that we are unable to always be in control. We live in the midst of evermore intensifying global connections, one swarm among many others, each trying to survive.’’ There is something about swarms that creates the feeling of unease. The artist uses these feeling of anxiety and danger to shed light on the today’s society. What changes await the world and the environment, when humans can move like swarms across the sky? I thought the project was very strong. Not only was it a deft move for Melland to show Swarm in a public space, opening up our field to the public, but it also showed how contemporary jewelry can engage with larger social issues, how it really can be something other than just adornment. By changing the concept of a swarm from a natural act (bees, birds, fish) to a swarm of manmade flying machines, Melland is also raising environmental issues and hinting at the idea of an artificial future world. During the exhibition period, Melland and the Deichmanske Library invited the public to a series of lectures and film presentations that offered different perspectives on the theme of “mass and individual.”
The opening ceremony of the main exhibition, From the Coolest Corner, at the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design was a luxurious event accompanied by live opera and speeches. Upon entry, I felt like I was stepping into a cabinet of curiosities. Designed by Sigurd Bronger, the exhibition display was beautifully arranged with fantastic lighting. I felt stunned and amazed by all the curiosities on display, and I enjoyed watching other people satisfying their curiosity by investigating the pieces closely. You would have had to try very hard to find a characteristic style or material in this exhibition of 61 Nordic makers. There were traditional Nordic materials such as wood and stone on display, but the diversity of approaches and materials made it hard to detect similarities between makers. The subject and meaning of the pieces were just as diverse. Julia Maria Künnap’s and Tore Svensson’s minimal pieces were shown alongside adorably kitschy and flamboyant work by Anna Talbot and Elise Hatlo. Kim Buck brought humor and irony to the show with his ring/object Bonsai. The primary purpose of a bonsai tree is contemplation. Buck has created a garden of rings from tree trunks playing on the idea of rings with a new agenda and purpose: you don’t have to wear a ring to be able to enjoy it. Bearing witness to the diversity of materials used by contemporary makers were pieces made from recycled and environmentally conscious materials. For example Aino Faven made the necklace Garland from plastic bags. In Ding, a series of bell necklaces, Josephine Winther explores the effect of sound in the body and mind. There were small pieces as well as massive pieces on display. The youngest artist, Estonian Anna Maria Saar, was born in 1988, and the oldest artist was born in 1941.
During From the Coolest Corner, there were 14 exhibitions on view featuring Nordic artists as well as some of the most famous international makers. These shows included Below Sea Level: Jewellery from the Netherlands and Aftermath of Art Jewellery. The exhibition Visual Presentation in Public Space showed large-scale photos of jewelry in the center of Oslo, making contemporary jewelry accessible to the public. I don’t believe that we can determine a Nordic style through the exhibition, publication, or symposium, but what From the Coolest Corner has succeeded in doing is gauging where Nordic jewelry artists currently stand on the international scene. Maybe there is no strong Nordic identity anymore. Maybe there are very few characteristics in Nordic jewelry that make our work stand out from other makers. Today we can access every jeweler’s work through a few clicks on the computer. The Internet and the increase in traveling and global opportunities have brought us all closer. The world is getting bigger and smaller at the same time. Artists do not seem to need to convey a strong Nordic identity anymore. The Nordic jewelers are already a part of an international scene. The From the Coolest Corner exhibition highlights Nordic talents, has built bridges between the Nordic countries and with the international field, and it will continue to do so throughout the tour.