Sparkle Plenty is the annual jewelry exhibition put on by Quirk Gallery in Richmond Virginia. And this year I was given the opportunity to curate it. As a jeweler I thought of the exhibitions that have inspired me in the past. I wanted to create a show that displayed my particular interests in jewelry and other new work that I find exciting. I also wanted to take this chance to exhibit the work of other young jewelers, most of whom are making these exceptional pieces within the first decade of their professional careers. These are the ones who inspire me and challenge me to keep working in the studio. These are some of the artists that I feel add interesting new ideas to the larger art jewelry dialog. I chose the theme of biologically influenced jewelry, the lifeblood of my own work and the narrative that attracts me to certain pieces. The official prospectus of the show went something like this: “The world is full of life and organisms that thrive in a multitude of ways. From the seemingly mundane to the flat-out bizarre, “things” have found a way to survive. People are both part of the living world, and manipulators of it. An ever-changing world and life’s ability to adapt is the theme for this exhibition. The work presented shows a reverence for these creatures, the inner spark that ignites life, and the ability to survive.” From this theme came Organ/ism, a collection of eight jewelers exploring the biological world around us. Jillian Moore was one of the first artists that came to mind. Jillian’s work has always appeared to me like animals that have evolved through an alternate reality. Their existence is imagined into being, and inspired by the creatures that you think couldn’t possibly exist. They are often presented like taxonomical displays or snapshots of them in mid-autopsy. This format doesn’t try to provide more answers; rather it adds another layer to the mythology of the creature. Hilary Pfeifer’s work offers a similar interpretation of the biological world, presented “somewhere between humor and curiosity”. Her diminutive and charismatic pieces swarm on gallery walls, displaying the multitude of living adaptations. Her installations of brooches or necklaces can be like looking through a microscope into a thriving Petri dish, one colonized by single cell cartoons. These masses of form offer a greater understanding of the individuals, and like Jillian’s work, add an additional layer to a complicated story.
Masumi Kataoka’s work comfortably walks a line between beautiful and disturbing. Her organ forms, made from actual organs (hog gut and leather), are like a miniature trip to the displays of medical curiosities at the Mutter Museum. They provoke a curiosity in me that always wants to see what is coming up next. She has said that her inspiration came from Japanese idioms that express where emotions reside. This is also expressed in English, when an emotion is felt in your gut or in your heart
Our shared interest in attraction versus repulsion is an underlying theme of this show. As you can imagine it would be when jewelers work with dismembered body parts. Märta Mattsson’s jewelry exemplifies this dichotomy. She presents wearable objects made from what some people fear the most, insects. Their electroformed and lacquered bodies are encrusted with cubic zirconias, presenting a glamorous version of what is essentially a dissected insect. This allows you to confront what it is you find attractive or disturbing about the creature. Masako Onodera also thrives on this theme. Jewelry emerges from the body like additional appendages from the chest or neck. Materials like leather, felt and skin-toned found objects make this connection all the more realistic. Masako’s jewelry addresses the human connection to the living world and our part in its story.
Organ/ism is addressed in a more personal matter with Satomi Kawai’s jewelry. Her interest lies in the biological rhythm of the female body, the way this connects to culture and more specifically, her own childhood. Materials like wool, cotton and silk relate to Satomi’s own family history, while cellular imagery and bodily forms relate to a larger family. One shaped by evolution. Emily Watson approaches this theme from yet another direction. Her work associates the anatomy and geography of the human race. The work shows how we are both part of the biological world and manipulators of the environment we live in.
I was nervous as a first time curator about the way everything would come together. Not just if everyone would agree to participate or if we would be able to meet all the deadlines. I was concerned with viewers making the same connections that I have made, or alternatively, have I simplified an idea so much that I am beating a dead horse? Although even that might work well with this theme.