Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of AJF and California College of the Arts.
Galerie Pont & Plas, located in Gent, Belgium, is housed in a beautiful old eighteenth century house. Nicole Thienpont founded the gallery in 2002 and shows a variety of artwork, including jewelry. She says she was inspired by the words of Dr Adriaan Claerhout, ‘Is there a purer, more honest meeting point imaginable between cultures and people than art?’ Her show with jeweler Gesine Hackenberg opened on a drizzly night in early March 2012 and will continue through April. I was curious about Hackenberg’s work and her decision to use contemporary glassware imagery.
Susan Cummins: Can you describe your background as a jeweler?
Gesine Hackenberg: I was born in 1972 in Germany but now I live and work in Amsterdam. I was trained as a goldsmith at the Fachhochschule für Gestaltung in Pforzheim, Germany and in 2001 I received my degree from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. I am currently a Visiting Professor at the MAD-faculty in Hasselt, Belgium and at the VakschoolEdelsmeden in Amsterdam.
Was there a particular teacher or artist that influenced you?
Gesine Hackenberg: I guess Iris Eichenberg, who was one of my teachers at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, has influenced me most in my way of working and looking at materials. Though I believe that also my background as a goldsmith in Germany has always stayed with me.
How would you describe your work in general?
Gesine Hackenberg: A basic theme in my work is placing ordinary objects of use in the perspective of jewelry. I reflect their emotional value and possible position on the body. The pieces are based on craft techniques and various materials that tell their own stories about preciousness and adornment, like ceramic tableware, (precious) metal, Japanese Urushi lacquer and glassware. They refer to the validity of traditional themes and their heritage. In the same time, they merge concepts like jewelry, ornaments and objects of use.
With your latest series, Still Life, you have been referencing Dutch still life painting. Why did you choose this as a topic for study as jewelry?
Gesine Hackenberg: The paintings from the Dutch Golden Age in the seventeenth and eighteenth century were my starting point for the Still Life collection.
At that time, almost all of the Netherlands was engaged on some level either with trade. They were involved with the production of traded goods like cheese, butter and fish or they imported goods as bread, wine, nuts, porcelain and so on. I discovered that these paintings should not only be read as vanitas symbols, as I always believed, but also as historical indicators of the economy of the time.
So these paintings very often simply portrayed the commodities that had an emotional and economic value to people of that time. Studying these became, for me, the reason to have a look in my own life and compose still life out of contemporary tableware for the body.
I guess I choose this topic because of my interest in Dutch culture and history that I – as a German citizen living in the Netherlands for fourteen years – am still studying. But also because I was struck by a new insight, a new aspect of jewelry: why still life paintings were so popular.
Are you also looking at painters like Morandi? I can see a similar spatial relationships and subtle tonalities.
Gesine Hackenberg: Yes, of course. I’m very aware that my work is referring in atmosphere more Giorgio Morandi’s paintings or even younger artists than those of the Dutch Golden Age that were my first source of inspiration. My own formal language is much more reduced and I consider myself a product of our times.
How do you define contemporary art jewelry?
Gesine Hackenberg: Diverse. Contemporary art jewelry is a medium in the field of fine arts as well as design with its own visual possibilities: it is able to express ideas and concepts that usually on some level are linked to the body, adornment, value and emotion. But it also requires functionality. Through history, it has developed its own imagery. But in our days it can be made from very different materials and by means of diverse techniques.
Contemporary art jewelry is the kind of jewelry that matters and is able to move people deep in their heart.