06/20/2014
Platina, Stockholm, Sweden

Lena Olson has been an independent jewelry artist since graduating from HDK School of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1996, working with wood as her primary material. Her current show, Close To Me, at Platina in Stockholm, Sweden, is the result of a year-long research project where she examined the placement of jewelry on the body as a physical place and the personal relationship we have with the pieces of jewelry we choose to wear. Here she talks with Bonnie Levine about the show and her life as maker, teacher, and original collaborator behind the Hnoss Initiative in Sweden.

Bonnie Levine: Tell me about your background. How did you become interested in making jewelry?

Lena Olson: I always wanted to be an artist, and enjoy working in three dimensions and with tools. Hard materials and small things were also attractive, so jewelry just seemed natural. I was lucky to have an encouraging teacher who knew about HDK, the School of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg. Since about the age of 12 my goal was to be accepted there at the metal department. After some years in different preparatory art schools, I was actually more into sculpturing, so it was a rather crucial choice to make. I am happy I saw the possibilities of jewelry as sculptures connected to the body even then. 

You’ve always worked in wood. What drew you to that material, and how does it differ from working in metal?

Lena Olson: I have always had a thing for wood, just a close and good relationship since childhood. That, I believe, made it easy and very natural for me to add [it] in my art. Initially I used to combine wood with silver in my jewelry, and also other materials like textile and concrete. But as wood turned out to give me all the answers and challenges I could ask for, it was eventually the only thing I needed.
The difference in working with wood compared to metal is of course that wood is not plastic. You can treat metal as a piece of wood, but not the other way around. I especially appreciate working with solid piece of material and like the method of taking off to create and form. As wood is a material with its own life with grains and cracks, it adds something to the process; you are not in control of everything. Wood has also a temperature and tactile texture that attracts me. 

What and who has had a major influence on your work? How has your work evolved over time?

Lena Olson: It is hard to point out something specific. It is more of a constant collecting and observing of things and forms. I spend a lot of time outdoors, so it is often details in nature, movement of animals, or maybe things I touch that catch my attention. I see my jewelry as a personal and intimate experience, and lately I have been working very consciously with the issue of the actual sense of the piece. It is a difference from earlier work, when I started out from an inner picture or form more intuitively and then by looking at the result made my next decision in molding. When it comes to people, I keep some highlights from former teachers’ tutoring fresh in mind. That, I think, still influences me in a kind of implied manner. 

You were recently in a show called Contemporary Swedish Art Jewelry and in a book by the same name. Are there commonalities among Swedish artists that make Swedish jewelry unique?

Lena Olson: Not really, not anymore. We have, as a wealthy European country, for a long time been a part of an unlimited world with traveling, exchanging, and of course the Internet as a big open window. Maybe there are certain kinds of preferred materials we see in Swedish work, like wood and iron, which we traditionally have a close relation to. But how the artistic expressions then turn out I believe is individual and not a national thing. 

Can you tell us about your new show at Platina (Stockholm, Sweden) called Close to Me? What was your inspiration for the show and what work will you be presenting?

Lena Olson: The show will present my result from a year of researching within the frame of the craft department at Konstfack in Stockholm. In my project I have, in short, been investigating the relation I as a jewelry artist create between an object and the human body. In the process I have dealt with many aspects of this issue and the pieces/objects shown in the exhibition are the physical illustrations of these. They are all work in wood closely connected to the body, wearable in different ways. 

In addition to being a maker, you also teach at HDK in Gothenburg. What do you most try to teach young artists? Has teaching influenced your own work and if so, how?

Lena Olson: I want them to try a lot of things and ideas while they are still in school and hope to encourage them not to be afraid to make mistakes and “ugly” work. It is also important to help them to ask themselves the question “why?” As in: Why do I think this is ugly or bad? Why am I happy with this process? Why did I choose this material, size, or whatever? … And then in discussions to look at potential answers and see what they might lead to.

Teaching and being around students is a good and healthy reminder that there are many different ways of interpretation and experience. 

You were one of the people behind Hnoss, the acclaimed gallery for international contemporary jewelry in Gothenburg. Can you tell us about that initiative? What was the mission/vision for the gallery and how is it going today?

Lena Olson: The aim of the Hnoss Initiative is to show international jewelry and everything that belongs in that context to a wider audience in Sweden. We started the gallery in 1997 with the solo exhibition as the main assignment. Besides that, a number of lectures, seminars, and workshops also were arranged over the years. After the final show, The Ring—Jewel Forever in September, 2011, when almost all our exhibiting artists participated by showing a ring each, we have continued our work with curating and collaborations with other individuals trying to reach out in new ways. Today we are busy organizing a number of events under the name New Adventures In Jewelry, which will run from June to September, initiated from the big Nordic exhibition From the Coolest Corner at Röhsska Museum in Gothenburg that will go on during the same period. 

Which artist’s work have you been excited by recently

Lena Olson: I came across two very nice public sculptures by Henry Moore in Zurich some weeks ago, and the work of Dorothea Prühl always gives me new ideas. I will also mention the Swedish sculptor Berit Lindfeldt, who has an amazing exhibition in Stockholm right now. Her work has a lot to do with the body and she has an interesting way of dealing with materials that is very inspiring. 

What advice do you have for emerging jewelers who are getting started in their careers? 

Lena Olson: I would say that it is important to find out what really gives energy and passion in your own artistic work. In heavier periods the awareness of that can be an essential key to regain confidence and faith.

I will also add that it is a good idea to stay in contact with fellow artists. There is a lot to gain keeping up discussion with others. That applies to any artist, emerging as well as professional. 

Bonnie Levine

Bonnie Levine is co-owner of Hedone Gallery. She has loved and bought contemporary studio jewelry for many years, determined to become a gallerist when she left the corporate world. That has now happened!