Lin Cheung, Tomfoolery: Objects & Jewellery. London: Tomfoolery Publishing UK, 2014.
For those not well versed in the artful linguistic gymnastics of London’s East End, tomfoolery is Cockney rhyming slang for jewellery. It is also defined in the dictionary as foolish behavior, utter nonsense, rubbish, and it is in the space between these two seemingly unrelated meanings that British jewelry artist Lin Cheung situates her objects and jewelry. Tomfoolery, for her, is “serious play” and is the driving spirit that lies at the heart of her work.
This self-published retrospective looks back at her work over the last 10 years, presenting personal and public and collaborative projects. As an artist, Cheung is motivated not by materiality but first and foremost by ideas. With a curious and questioning approach, she explores the potential for her jewelry and objects to act as conduits through which to consider and express the human condition. Her work is rooted in the need to interpret, through the understanding of materials, memory, identity, and personal histories, the symbolic and social functions of adornment and the mutability of value.
Cheung’s contribution to Finding—a Central Saint Martins BA Jewellery Design project (she is a Senior Lecture on the course) at The Foundling Museum in London—is a poignant example. The museum was London’s first home for abandoned children, and a significant part of its collection is centered on foundling tokens, pinned by mothers to their baby’s clothing as a mark of identification. Struck by the ability of these small tokens to convey so much about a relationship, Cheung focused her attention on the pin itself. In response to this everyday object loaded with such emotional significance, she had a small pin tattooed on her body.
Tomfoolery is an alluringly subtle and restrained book. The photography presents not just finished objects but Cheung’s art in action. The text documents her projects not with leading or directed commentary but with the letters, emails, and other jottings—both her own and those from other people—that map each conception, development, and realization of the work. There is a refreshing candor to the insights afforded by these often-neglected communications, perhaps best illustrated in Process Works, a 2007 exhibition curated by Helen Carnac and Ruth Rushby at UH Galleries (University of Hertfordshire) that explored the creative inspiration and developmental works of five contemporary jewelers. Cheung’s frank and honest email conversations with fellow British artist and jeweler Caroline Broadhead are an inspiring and fascinating window on artistic practice.
It is interesting, if not a little curious, that Cheung has chosen to present her work in alphabetical rather than chronological order. As such, the traditional arc of development is obscured, but perhaps this is the point. Seen as a whole, each project forms part of her ongoing visual and philosophical inquiry. Like her recontextualizing of traditional jewelry forms, as observed by Caroline Broadhead, each of these projects simply adds “another phrase to the sentence.” Tomfoolery is a thoughtful and beautifully presented book: it provides an insightful framework through which to traverse the internal creative world of an incredibly multifaceted and cerebral artist.
Lin Cheung will be signing copies of her book at Chrome Yellow Books (IHM) on Saturday, March 14, 2015.