Ria Lins, a Belgian artist, is amazed by interpersonal relationships and by people’s ability to adapt rather easily to the rapid changes and diversity of our society. Her jewelry is inspired by these notions, as well as by themes like “contact,” “connection,” “comfort,” and “mending,” which convey her feelings and ideas to others. But it’s when one feels and wears her pieces that their true expressiveness becomes apparent—they are soft and tactile; they drape and move like fabric, fitting snugly and almost hugging the wearer. Here Ria talks about her work, inspirations, and her current show, Anyway, with husband and painter Beniti Cornelis, at Galerie Pont & Plas.
Bonnie Levine: Ria, tell us about your background. How did you become interested in making jewelry?
Ria Lins: I was educated and worked as a graphic designer. As a young girl I met Beniti Cornelis, a painter and, later, my husband. We were both interested in art in all its facets. Together we visited a countless number of exhibitions. The many conversations and travels were inspiring, interactive, and mutually stimulating. I am very happy with the show Anyway, which is our first exhibition together.
For years I accumulated images, impressions, sounds, smells, and feelings. The language of jewelry gave me the opportunity to share my ideas and feelings. By making them wearable, they become visible to others. I don’t have to yell; I like to be present and just report.
Your jewelry is very tactile and soft, draping on the body like fabric. I’m curious how you create pieces that are so alive with motion and seem so sensuous. Do you have a plan when you start or does the piece evolve as you work with the metal?
Ria Lins: When I created my first pieces, I was searching and exploring materials and how they move. It became a game trying to incorporate little differences and watching the transformations they bring. Today I know—more or less—what will happen if I deviate from my pattern. But surprises are still possible and fascinating, even for myself. Finding new possibilities is a source of pleasure and an opportunity to express new ideas.
Designs such as Meander or Rock Me Baby are made more than once. I start all over again for each piece. No piece has to be identical; each piece is unique.
I’ve read that your jewelry revolves around themes like “contact” and “connection,” and most of all “relationships,” and each piece conveys your feelings to the wearer. How are these concepts and feelings expressed in your jewelry?
Ria Lins: Sometimes a hiatus is the start of a piece. For example, an individual can disappear out of my life. I translate the memories they evoke into design, feeling, and movement.
I am aware of the universality of these feelings. People can feel the stories or shared experiences behind my work, even though they may not be aware of them. Somewhere there is a story they know – this is why my pieces are desirable. Once the piece is made, the memory has found its place, and there is no need to explain it or its details. At the moment the piece is worn and shown, it will get its freedom of existence and enrichment.
I love the names of your pieces: Cuddle; Hope in One Hand and Freedom All around Us; Rock Me Baby; Together. How do you come up with them? Does the name inspire the piece, or does the piece inspire the name?
Ria Lins: Both are possible and both happen. Cuddle is really meant as a memorial piece. I was inspired by a story about a woman who kept pieces of fabric sewn in the hem of her dress as a way to remember someone who was deceased. In Cuddle, you can also put a small object in it to remember someone.
For the piece Rock Me Baby, the movement of the piece inspired the name. It cradles and comforts. People wearing this piece can’t stop touching, stroking, and indulging.
I always try to unite what was lost. The key ideas for Together are connection, contact, link, relationship, and coherence. When relationships are broken, I would like to heal them. I repair, patch, embroider, and restore the components of my work to bring everything together again.
A few years ago you won the prestigious Wim Ibens Prize for silversmithing and jewelry design. (This bi-annual award commemorates this important Flemish arts educator and founder of the department of jewelry design at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Art.) What was the award? Did it change or influence your work in any way?
Ria Lins: I received this award because the jury was impressed by the combination of innovation, classic design, and contemporary jewelry design.
The influence of this award on my work was first of all the honor. But above that, it reinforced the idea to continue and stay on my road. I did not have to follow the international “style.” The classical design and the wearability are often rejected in international jewelry design these days. But they are so strongly linked with our aesthetic history that I have to keep on exploring and questioning.
The Wim Ibens award was for me a support and a confirmation.
Last year you were one of 90 artists from around the world who participated in La Frontera, an exhibition that explored the undercurrents of the US-Mexico border environment through jewelry. How were you selected for this show, and what attracted you to participate? Did you have a particular perspective on this topic? Tell us about the jewelry you created.
Ria Lins: I applied to an open call from the Museo Franz Mayer and Velvet da Vinci, the gallery in San Francisco. I enjoy participating in competitions. This one attracted me because of the story of the border. Even in Europe this border is well known. Border problems are very current and a large human problem. Hope in One Hand and Freedom All around Us tells about immigration and the pain of leaving and the hope to be happy some day.
Your current show at Galerie Pont & Plas is called Anyway. What’s your concept behind the show? What work are you presenting?
Ria Lins: Conscious and unconscious feeling, memories, desires … I am aware of the special influence subconscious has on our daily life. It drives us more than we even realize. We have to deal with what we know and feel … Anyway.
For the show, I made a series of brooches called Eau Bénité, or Holy Water. Water is a need we can’t live without; it is the source of all life. Water is used for religious rituals, as a power source, a purifier, and as a sign of wealth and power. It supports, nourishes, shelters, purifies, divides, and binds.
What’s next for you?
• Galerie Pont & Plas, until September 26, Ghent, Belgium
• Cominelli Foundation, August 29–October 4, Cisano di San Felice, Italy
• Design Museum, until August 15, Ghent, Belgium
• Diana Porter Contemporary Jewellery, August 1–October 31, Bristol, UK
• European prize for applied arts, October 25–January 10, 2016, WCC-BF, Site des Anciens Abattoirs, Mons, Belgium
• Sieraad Art Fair, November 5–8, Amsterdam, Netherlands
What have you seen or read lately that you’re excited about?
Ria Lins: There is a lot of wonderful art that touches me. Recently I visited exhibitions of Louise Bourgeois, Anish Kapoor, and Berlinde De Bruyckere. As I live near Antwerp, I had the opportunity to visit the exhibition Rubens in Private. To be able to get this close to these famous painting touched me a lot. The jewels—real and painted—are inspirational even today. Another splendid exhibition is Dries Van Noten, a couturier and designer born and raised in Antwerp. The big part of the exhibit is dedicated to his sources of inspiration and is amazing and most inspiring. When I see great art I always feel the need to go straight home and start working.
I often read two or more books at the same time. At the moment I’m reading Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence, by Thalma Lobel, and Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, two books about our senses.
It is a pity one can’t read books and create jewelry at the same time …
Thank you very much.