Lizzie Atkins is a London-based jeweler, writer, and researcher. After earning a degree in English literature, she went on to study jewelry at Middlesex University under Caroline Broadhead. She is also currently involved in a number of projects with Galerie Marzee.
Marzee Graduate Show 2014
August 17-October 19, 2014
Galerie Marzee, Nijmegen, Netherlands
At 4 p.m. on August 17, Galerie Marzee once again opened its doors to an expectant crowd that had traveled from near and far to visit the annual Marzee Graduate Show. Now in its 27th year, and incorporating international schools and academies since 1995, the show remains one of the most significant events in the gallery’s calendar, as well as a seminal event for the graduates and all those with an interest in upcoming talent in contemporary jewelry. Galerie Marzee remains unique in its support for emerging young jewelry artists, providing the best new graduates it has selected with the opportunity to exhibit their work in a world-renowned gallery. This increases their exposure to collectors, museums, and the wider public through not only the exhibition itself, but related press coverage and fairs like PAN in Amsterdam and Frame, part of Schmuck, in Munich, where Marzee often shows a small collection of pieces from the graduate show.
Every year, alongside the show, space is also given over to a small exhibition of work produced by the previous year’s prizewinners. The prize, a weeklong residency at Atelier Ravary in Belgium, gives the winners the chance to experiment and develop their practice in the estate’s tranquil surroundings and then show this work during the next year’s graduate exhibition. The prize is awarded to the most promising students, and this year’s prizewinners,* from Australia, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and the US, testify to the international spirit of the Marzee Graduate Show. Then there is the symposium, which takes place in the gallery the day after the opening, during which participating graduates have the opportunity to engage with their contemporaries and present and talk about their work, their inspirations, their aspirations, and the challenges that face them as they embark on a life outside of the supportive environment of a school.
Woven through the gallery space, displayed on black-lined tables or hung against the backdrop of eggshell blue or black-painted boards, the work speaks of many different things, but look closely and you can see common threads knitting many of the pieces together. Year on year, the ideas that motivate these emerging artists might change, but it is undeniable that they are moved by common themes, themes that do not recognize international borders. Should it come as any surprise that artists working in Israel and Australia, for example, are equally driven to investigate our fractured relationship with the natural world? Geographical and cultural context may alter their appearance but fundamentally most of us share common desires, ask the same questions. The Internet, social media, and freedom of movement just bring our collective connections more sharply into focus. Some homogenization is perceptible both globally and locally and, in some cases, this points as much, if not more so, to the influence of tutors’ styles and interests and school ethos as to national trends.
There is a decidedly introverted temperament to the preoccupations manifested in this year’s show. It is less extravagant than last year, more restrained both in dimension and intention. The work tells tales of time passing and our desire to capture fragments of memory. It strives to capture moments of transformation and delves deep into the artists’ interior worlds, seeking tangible forms through which to explore and express identity. Tin cans, toys, porcelain, and paper sit cheek by jowl with brass, silver, and steel as these emerging artists seek a material vocabulary though which to articulate their thoughts. Although these graduates have all but abandoned precious metals and stones, their material choices are more “traditional” than we have seen over the last few years and there is still little to be seen in the way of 3D printing. Certainly there is a lot more metal on show and the predilection for appropriating everyday objects has noticeably diminished. Driven by a desire to find the materials that can most adequately give form to ideas, artists pair goat droppings with imitation gold leaf, archival vellum with graphite, and cyanotype on plywood, but the tendency toward “natural” media like wood and leather, paper and textiles also remains strong.
Just as last year, the desire to negotiate the connections between mankind and the world around us is much in evidence. Where this previously manifested itself as reverence for nature, we now see an appreciation of the often unacknowledged beauty and magnificence of the built environment, a refocusing of the eye on the aesthetics of the urban landscape. For Ashly Kark of Australia National University in Canberra, this finds form in a steely gray collection that pays homage to the architectural composition of a local shopping center. By directly translating its exposed structural steel form into jewelry and repositioning it on the body, she hopes to encourage a more attentive rereading of its artistic possibilities, realigning it from functional to decorative. Sophie Baumgärtner, a graduate from Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle, uses traditional iron-forging techniques to create finely wrought, beetle-like forms. Her Scaphidema Metallicum fibulae speak of nature and the environment, human and architectural constructions, in a reserved and formal language.
The transformational possibilities of the detritus of city life hold intrigue for several of this year’s graduates. Eva Burton of Escola Massana gathers abandoned toys and furniture—familiar objects shipwrecked on the streets of Barcelona—and makes playful, instinctive assemblages. Her Nap of Primary Colours is reminiscent of Oskar Schlemmer’s transfiguring costumes for his Triadic Ballet. Meanwhile, San Diego State University’s Jessica Anderson explores what she sees as the evocative beauty in discarded remnants, the everyday trash that dominates the urban environment. Held in a simple brass frame, the top of a tin can becomes a brooch with a simple, straightforward beauty. She does not seek to change or disguise its origins; she simply draws attention to its aesthetic potential. Turn it over and the pin mechanism is a thing of pure minimalist beauty.
It is not, however, the external world that most occupies this year’s graduates. With an inward glance, the exploration and expression of identity is what is most palpable throughout the exhibition. The passage between youth and adulthood raises many questions for Katrin Suschka of FH Düsseldorf. “Who am I? How do I want to be?” she asks in her artist’s statement. Roughly fashioned sections of teak, ebony, and mahogany hang from stainless steel chains, a series of necklaces of varying length that, when worn together, hang low to the floor, as if rooting the wearer to the spot just like the paralysis of inaction that can come from a confusion of choice. The fragile tension of the moment of emergent adolescence is poignantly recollected in the Pureness series of necklaces and brooches by Ayano Takahashi of Tokyo’s Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry. Created not, as it seems, in porcelain, but in chemical wood, and hung or pinned with gold, the soft, matte and gently convex white forms, pregnant with suggestion, absorb colors reflected around them and tease with the promise of touch. Misato Unno (Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam) considers connections (and disconnections) between our internal and external selves. Unno fills stockings with seeds and spices, creating neckpieces that can be held up to the face, a metaphorical mirror, the weight like a head in your hands. For Lilian Mattuschka of Alchimia in Florence, it is the weight of thoughts, dreams, and fears that are expressed in her sculptural jewelry. Pieces in her Demon series—large pieces of wood, some with naively carved anthropomorphic forms—hang awkwardly around the neck or sit heavily on a shoulder. One nestles like a baby but is counterbalanced by a ball and chain of iron. A metaphor for a troubled mind, they alter one’s posture and serve as both familiar, if unwelcome, company and an inhibiting, almost paralyzing burden.
Other work pays tribute to the poetry of the passage of time and the very human need to memorialize moments from the past. For some, memory is in their materials—the recycled leather clothing of Agne Visniauskaite’s (Edinburgh College of Art) brooches and necklaces, for example—while for others it is the creation of the memory that drives the creative process. Exploring the deterioration and remains of memory, Kate Wischusen, of RMIT in Melbourne, marks the surface of her brooches with enamel and then partially wears it away, leaving behind a lingering trace of the moment before erasure. It brings to mind fragments of pathways and walls, their surfaces worn down by the pounding of feet or the pawing of countless hands. Lynne Philippé of FH Düsseldorf seeks to conjure and re-create the mood of a passing moment, using found objects as the starting point in her attempt to annotate and elicit the vague and intangible nature of an atmosphere. Her necklaces are restrained—the sea-worn top of a bottle neck, simply strung, becomes a conduit through which to recollect the brutal cold of the wind and the might of the ocean on the Danish coast. In another graduate’s work, anonymous faces stare back at us from old photographs, names lost in the past; Nicole Beck (Akademie der Bildenden Künste München) acknowledges them. These shadowy, ethereal relatives, reminiscent of 18th-century shadow portraits, are rendered simply in copper, enameled or worked to evoke a patina of age, as if the pieces themselves had just been unearthed from a dusty attic.
While these recurring motifs create a series of narrative threads running through the exhibition, there are plenty of graduates who explore other themes. Vera Aldejohann (FH Düsseldorf), who describes her working practice as that of a “parasite,” appropriates local graffiti art, fixing ready-made steel shapes to walls where the graffiti artists work, her pieces the result of an unwitting collaboration. Her practice is concept driven but she takes a pragmatic approach and these angular, graffitied forms in vibrant, primary colors create a series of necklaces with a distinctly street aesthetic. Esther Suarez Ruiz (Burg Giebichenstein) sets cotton yarns in resin to create oversized beads, boxed like treasure, a simulacrum of Venetian glass beads. Katie Collins (RMIT), fascinated by tools and machinery, creates delightfully articulated pieces which can be manipulated like a piece of wearable Meccano, and EunJi Choi (Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills) makes jewelry with a profound, simple elegance that is a tribute to her mastery of traditional metal practices, working with brass as delicately as if it were finest gold.
With its thoughtful juxtapositions and unfussy presentation, the exhibition is beautifully curated by Marie-José van den Hout, but overall the work in this year’s show left me feeling a little deflated. This international panorama, with 74 graduates from 33 different schools, doubtless contains some strong work, a first glimpse of the potential of these young artists, but as a whole it just did not satisfy my thirst for something more challenging, something to elicit a shiver of excitement. The passion and freedom of self-expression that should flourish at the culmination of a prolonged period of study seemed diminished. Surely this should be a time to experiment and engage, not withdraw into a more prosaic landscape. It felt as if much of the work is so caught up in concept that the aesthetics got lost—the expression of an idea was the objective, to the detriment of skillful handling of the intimate, sensory qualities of a piece of jewelry.
This detachment from the wearer and the experiential imperative of jewelry is also evident in the number of objects that were submitted to this year’s show, which is smaller than 2013’s. “Marzee is a jewellery gallery and that is what I want to show and it is a shame that this tendency to make objects increases every year,” says van den Hout. Graduates who submitted only objects did not make it through the selection process, but during the symposium, participants were asked who had made objects as part of their graduate show, and almost everyone raised their hands. Some of the graduates’ comments betrayed their doubts about the legitimacy of jewelry within the visual arts—an object, as an abstracted form, carries more artistic and intellectual currency than an object of adornment. Schools encourage their students to push at the boundaries of jewelry, to challenge the conventions of material, form, and purpose. This ongoing re-evaluation and recalibration of the accepted norms is vital, but it seems that, as an unintended consequence, it leaves some students skeptical about the possibilities of jewelry as a sufficient medium through which to express their ideas. For some of this year’s participants, the question of wearability is a moot point. For them, making an object wearable in the conventional sense adds nothing to their ideas, and even overcomplicates their intentions. Arguably it is easier to express a thought or feeling in an object that does not have to negotiate the complex terrain of the human body.
For me, this is an issue: Fundamentally, jewelry is an art form that should operate in the public and private space of a person, and if you take that relationship away, then what are you left with? The privileging of concept, thinking more about what you want to say rather than how you want to say it, can produce objects that bear no functional relevance in the context of the body. A rigorous and open-minded exploration of ideas and forms of self-expression is, of course, essential, and these investigations will not always result in jewelry. But I hope this trend will not be to the detriment of what makes jewelry such a unique art form—its intimate connectedness to our bodies.
INDEX IMAGE: Marzee Graduate Show Symposium 2014, Esther Suarez Ruiz, Untitled, 2014, pendant, epoxy resin, cotton yarn, 60 x 50 x 40 mm, courtesy of Galerie Marzee, photo: Michiel Heffels
*This year’s prizewinners are:
Vera Aldejohann – FH Düsseldorf, Germany
Sophie Baumgärtner – Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle, Germany
EunJi Choi – Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, USA
Katie Collins – RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), Australia
Li Liang – HDK (Högskolan för Design och Kunsthantverk), Gothenburg, Sweden
Ayano Takahashi – Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry, Tokyo, Japan