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Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: Gold Rush

Maurer Zilioli Contemporary Arts, Munich, Germany | In English / 日本語版

By Taiwan

Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017
Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017, pendant and exhibition view, gold from e-waste, aluminum, mixed media, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

Gold Rush, an exhibition that recently opened at Maurer Zilioli Contemporary Arts, delves into the controversial material culture of gold through the lens of consumer electronics. This exhibition is the brainchild of Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng, the two halves of the collaborative research practice known as Conversation Piece. In this interview, we talk about how gold, a conflict mineral and object of desire, has infiltrated our daily lives in unexpected ways.

Olivia Shih: Beatrice, you have a bachelor’s in industrial design, and, Nicolas, you have a BA in interior design and environment architecture. But both of you migrated toward craft and jewelry for your master’s degrees. Why the transition?

Beatrice Brovia: Craft, especially jewelry, was never in the picture growing up, nor when I was a student in interior architecture at Politecnico in Milan. Nonetheless, even back then, I was always interested in the relationship between objects, the built environment, materiality and the body, and in forms of design that were challenging and raised questions about the ways we live with things and with one another.

In Italy, I was influenced by the traditions of radical and postmodern design—it’s a luxury to have studied with some of the great designers-thinkers who initiated these movements. I think this background is not irrelevant to why, later on, I decided to focus on craft and jewelry: These disciplines eventually offered me all I needed to further investigate subjects and interests that I had carried with me all along.

The transition to the field of jewelry for me happened at the time I was a first-year master’s student in the industrial design department at Konstfack. At a crucial moment in my personal development, I became aware of a very much alive, critical, and challenging discourse on the crafts after an elective course that I took with Prof. Karen Pontoppidan at Ädellab, the Jewellery + Corpus department. It was an epiphany: I consequently made the choice to change the course of my studies and eventually graduated from the Jewellery + Corpus department in 2009. Today, I’m still working in and around this beautiful field that never ceases to both upset and push me forward.

Nicolas Cheng: Having a background in interior architecture and industrial design, I moved in 2008 to Stockholm to pursue my master’s studies at Ädellab, Konstfack, a program I was naturally drawn to because of its experimental nature when it comes to processes, material investigation, the inherent focus on subverting hierarchies of value, and challenging societal norms through craft (specifically through the mediums of jewelry, corpus, and everyday objects) in order to understand what material culture is in our society.

The reason I chose Sweden is because, geographically, it seemed to me more unfamiliar and refreshing. Despite not being at the center of Europe, it’s very active from an artistic and creative viewpoint. After several years living in London, the Netherlands, and Italy—at the time considered the epicenters of design—moving north was for me an opportunity to reflect on and expand my artistic practice in a new context.

Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017
Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017, brooch, gold, silver, and aluminum from e-waste, mixed media, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

In 2011, the two of you founded Conversation Piece, a collaborative research practice invested in material culture and craft discourse. How did the two of you meet and begin this collaboration?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: We met as master’s students at Ädellab, Konstfack. The fact that we shared a similar background—both having studied interior architecture and design prior to jewelry and craft—meant that we therefore had similar questions and were motivated to test the boundaries of the field in relation to other disciplines as well. These similarities eventually led us to work together.

That said, despite the similarity in our path of studies, we’re very different artists, with different ways of questioning things, different rhythms, different experiences and opinions: We often joke that our “Conversation Piece” is more of a “Clash Piece,” as we constantly challenge and question each other in the process, through dialogue, disagreement, and making.

There’s always an element of friction in our collaboration, which is, we believe, essential—the main reason, perhaps, why we work together. In this way, we refine our thoughts, the process, and the eventual outcome, both working against and with one another.

Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017
Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017, pendant and exhibition view, various materials from e-waste, mixed media, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

How would you define “material culture” and “craft discourse”? Why should the average person care about these topics?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: These are fields of knowledge that we study and refer to as makers and researchers. We see our practices as constant dialogue with the world around us and with theory as well—particularly in material culture (which we think of, very simply put, as that interdisciplinary branch of anthropology studying the relationships among materiality, things, and people in complex social, economic, and political networks).

But at the end of the day, while it’s important for us to be and stay informed, to refine our thinking and, thereby, our making, we don’t think that the audience needs to know all of that when approaching or experiencing our work. It’s not necessary to the personal understanding of a piece.

Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017
Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017, pendant, silver, crystal, reflective thread, electrical soldering, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

You presented a new body of work, Gold Rush, with Ellen Maurer Zilioli during Munich Jewelry Week. How did this exhibition come into being?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: In November 2014, Ellen visited an exhibition we made, at the invitation of Robert Smit, at the gallery De Zaal in Delft. The exhibition, dé · cor dé · cor, gathered for the first time all chapters from our Conversation Piece collaboration, alongside works from our individual practices. At the same time, Robert presented his solo show, From the Light of Delft to the Sparkle of the Dolomites, at De Zaal.

Ellen visited both exhibitions, and we have been in contact with her since. A little over a year ago, we started discussing collaboration possibilities in more detail, and we suggested Gold Rush for the exhibition in her project space in Munich. Gold Rush is the latest development in our collaboration; the first piece was originally commissioned by Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch, for the exhibition CULT, curated by Current Obsession.

Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017
Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2017, pendant, gold, aluminum, e-waste, reflective thread, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

Gold, as you’ve noted, is a controversial material and plays many roles. But in Gold Rush, you highlight the role of gold in consumer electronics and telecommunications. Why choose this specific persona of gold?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: Gold Rush thematically developed from an earlier project, Kino, which we presented in March 2014 in Munich. One of the pieces in the project, a brooch, reflected on how screens, especially those of smartphones, represent our main interface of exchange and communication with the world, as well as a source of entertainment and information.

Furthermore, the brooch backing—made of gold and tantalum—referred to conflict minerals and to how they are closer to us than we may think: We carry these minerals in our pockets, as they form the foundation for functioning electronic devices, our mobile phones above all. The brooch, at once reflective and transparent, subtly points to this aspect: We can see through it, but it also shows our reflections, implicating us in a material system based on demand, extraction, supply, and consumption, and whose exploitative mechanisms are very hard to control, let alone escape.

For Gold Rush, we focused on gold, starting with its function and use in today’s industrial production of consumer electronics, as well as for space exploration. Without letting go of its ambiguous connotations and loaded history as a material, we were fascinated by its “domesticity”—by how much we rely on this material, at once controversial and desirable, in our daily life, without always being aware of it.

For this chapter, we looked at domestic and industrial electronic waste as a source from which we “mined” gold, as well as other materials. Our desire for and consumption of always newer, more updated electronic goods, combined with the producers’ own interests in pumping out consumer goods and electronics with an embedded expiry date, results in huge amounts of waste. Gold, along with other minerals, is at the base of the functionality of these goods; gold is hidden into the secret workings and mechanisms of our appliances and woven into our daily interactions with them. By “mining” electronic waste for gold and other precious metals and rendering these visible on the body through jewelry pieces meant to adorn, the aim is to discuss the gold of our time and its cultural meaning and power.

Exhibition view, Kino, Conversation Piece, 2017
Exhibition view, Kino, Conversation Piece, 2017, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

Commercial gold mining typically involves the use of heavy machinery and toxic chemicals, but you “domestically mined” for gold in e-waste. Could you describe the process and your experience of extracting gold from everyday electronic objects?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: In this project, we have been using both “domestic” and “industrial” mining methods to extract minerals and other materials from e-waste.

Some of the e-waste materials were collected from acquaintances and local companies, and we further processed them partly in our studio and partly with the support of specialized laboratories here in Sweden and abroad.

For larger amounts of refined e-waste metals, we have collaborated with a specialized e-waste recycling company in Asia. It’s one of the first companies to begin dealing with e-waste in the 90s, with a focus on environmental and sustainable alternative methods to develop e-waste materials. This type of e-waste comes directly from big electronics manufacturing companies and producers—it’s production e-waste.

Working with these materials, we were surprised by the many similarities we discovered between jewelry and electronics, both in their materiality and aesthetics and in the way they function when activated by the body.

Commonly, gold is extracted from the depths of the earth—a process that, as we know, is obscenely exploitative of people, resources, and the environment; but we also realized how extracting this metal from mountains of potentially hazardous e-waste doesn’t render it, the stories that it carries with it, or our relationship to it, any less controversial.

Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2016
Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2016, brooch, gold from e-waste, Mylar, Kapton, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

Some of your work in Gold Rush takes gold from e-waste and reinterprets the material in forms that read like sticks and irregular pearls. Why distill the intricacies of consumer electronics into simple, almost primitive forms?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: In this body of work, we set out to look closely at the relationship between jewelry and electronics, and explore the boundary between adornment and portable technology. What are the similarities? What do these typologies of objects reveal about our bodies and identities, about our desire for interconnectedness and communication? How are we controlled by such things?

To reduce the forms, to refer to jewelry archetypes and familiar shapes (the bead, the button, the pendant on a string, etc.) seemed the only way to go, especially given the complex, not at all carefree narratives imbued in the pieces, and the amount of research—material, technological, and theoretical—we had made to develop the work. In this sense, it also became important that the pieces be clearly wearable, easy to understand and to recognize as jewelry. Just as portable electronics “disappear” in our daily use of them and thus quietly exert their power over us, we thought that the jewelry would become all the more powerful and speak the loudest when its formal language is pared down.

Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2016
Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2016, necklace, gold, e-waste metal, crystal, silk, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

How does our fascination with jewelry overlap with the cult for technology? Like jewelry, the iPhone can signify socioeconomic class and wealth, and the user is often physically and emotionally attached to this object. Can an iPhone be the ultimate adornment in modern society?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: It could be. Both jewelry and wearable technologies or electronic devices such as the iPhone, Apple watch, etc., function similarly: They mark our bodies and our identities and exert control over us, too. How control is activated over our bodies by these objects is an aspect we have started to explore in Gold Rush.

Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2016
Conversation Piece, Gold Rush, 2016, pendant, gold, silver, crystal, reflective thread, electrical soldering, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

Both of you are based in Stockholm, which is viewed as a cultural center steeped in art and design. What is the draw of this city, and how does your environment inform your work?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng: Sweden, and particularly the cities of Stockholm and Göteborg, is where we have encountered a very much vibrant discourse on Konsthantverk [literally art handwork, or crafts.—Ed.], which has radically influenced our way of thinking through craft and motivated us to challenge craft’s very values, boundaries, techniques, methods, and context.

The two main institutions in Sweden, HDK—The Academy of Design and Crafts, in Göteborg, and Konstfack, in Stockholm, represent valuable platforms for the development and circulation of craft knowledge. To have institutions of this standard committed to craft, and with an emphasis on norm-criticality and craft’s active position in society, makes it so that, every year, new generations of makers enrich, question, and critique the field with their practices.

Nicolas Cheng and Beatrice Brovia
Nicolas Cheng and Beatrice Brovia, photo: Nicolas Cheng – Beatrice Brovia (Conversation Piece)

Have you read or seen anything recently that changed the way you think? Could you share your insights with our readers?

Beatrice Brovia and Nicolas Cheng:  Most recently, a series of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin, especially the one in which she introduces the “carrier bag theory of fiction.” It raises many questions of how a habitable world can be imagined and how we can live—together with one another, while also staying with the conflict.

Thank you.

The pieces in this exhibition range in price from $1,030 to $3,900.


















おふたりは「物質文化」と「工芸論」をどのように定義されますか? 一般の人もこれらのテーマについて考えるべきだとしたら、それはなぜでしょうか?




ビアトリーチェ・ブロービア&ニコラス・チェン:2014年11月に、ロバート・シュミットの誘いで、デルフトのギャラリー・デ・ザールを会場に展覧会を行ったとき、エレンが来てくれたのです。この「デ・コール デ・コール」展は、カンバセーション・ピースとしてふたりでつくってきた作品だけでなく、それぞれが個人の創作活動でつくった作品も並べた、初の集大成的な展示でした。そのさい、「デルフトの光とドロミーティの輝き」と題したロバート・シュミットの個展も同時開催されました。

エレンはどちらの展示も見てくれて、それ以来連絡をとるようになったのです。一年ちょっと前にいっしょになにかやれないか、具体的な話し合いがはじまって、私たちから、彼女がミュンヘンにもっているスペースを使った「ゴールド・ラッシュ」展の提案をしました。「ゴールド・ラッシュ」は最新作ですが、スヘルトーヘンボス現代美術館からの委託でつくったのがその第一号作品で、CURRENT OBSESSION のキュレーションによる 「CULT」 展に出品されました。


ビアトリーチェ・ブロビア&ニコラス・チェン:「ゴールド・ラッシュ」は、2014年3月にミュンヘンで発表したKino というプロジェクトから発展させたテーマです。そのときに発表した作品のひとつがブローチで、娯楽と情報の摂取源というだけじゃなく、外界とのコミュニケーションという点でも、スクリーン、とくにスマホの画面が、いかに主要なインターフェースになっているかを考察した作品でした。













人がジュエリーに感じる魅力と、テクノロジーへの信仰はどう重なってくると思いますか? iPhoneもジュエリーと同じく、経済的な身分や富を表すものであり、物理的にも心理的にも身近に感じられることも多い存在です。iPhoneは現代社会における究極の装飾品たりうると思いますか?


おふたりはどちらも、アートとデザインに強い文化の中心地、ストックホルムを拠点に活動されていますが、この街の魅力はなんですか? また、この環境は制作にどう影響を及ぼしていますか?

ビアトリーチェ・ブロービア&ニコラス・チェン:私たちは、スウェーデン、特にストックホルムやヨーテボリの街で、Konsthantverk (訳者注:手工芸品や工芸)に関する白熱した議論のことをはじめて知りました。そしてそれが、私たちの考え方に大きな影響をあたえ、工芸の価値や限界、技術、方法論や文脈を問い直すきっかけとなりました。

スウェーデンの二大教育機関である、ヨーテボリの HDK(ヨーテボリ大学芸術学部デザイン工芸校)と、ストックホルムのコンストファックは、工芸関連の知識の発展と流布を促す貴重なプラットフォームとなっています。このように工芸に力を入れた機関のレベルが高く、また、質の高さと社会における工芸の活躍を重視するという方針も手伝って、これらの学校は毎年新たな世代の作り手を輩出しており、彼らがその制作活動を通じて、この分野を豊かなものにし、問いや批評を投げかける存在となっています。

最近、これを読んだり見たりして考え方が変わった、というものはありますか? 読者の皆さんにもそこで得た知見をわけてもらうことはできますか?



出品作品の価格帯:1030 – 3900米ドル


Translated from English by Makiko Akiyama.


  • Olivia Shih

    Olivia Shih is a contemporary jeweler, artist and writer based in Oakland, California. Born in the US and raised in Taiwan, she is interested in the cultural nuances that can be explored through wearable sculpture. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and a BFA in Jewelry and Metal Arts from the California College of the Arts.

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