How Soon Is Now

How long does it take emerging jewellers to navigate looming questions of studio practice, lifestyle and finances once out of their respective academies? How long does it take to feel like they are establishing themselves within the field of contemporary jewellery? How long until that elusive future materializes into the now?

Textby Mariah Tuttle and Kamal Nassif

Edgar Mosa. Photography by Aaron Boldt.
Edgar Mosa. Photography by Aaron Boldt.

Wait and see. That is often the perspective towards the futures of fresh graduates. Some people receive immediate, strong and positive feedback towards their aesthetic, technique or craftsmanship. Others may hibernate and blossom slowly. More than a few disappear. Mariah Tuttle and Kamal Nassif talk with artists Melanie Bilenker, Arthur Hash, Märta Mattsson, Edgar Mosa and Shari Pierce about their journeys, their current work and the lessons along the way.

Melanie Bilenker. Pinning, Gather, Brooch, 2013, hair, paper, gold, mineral crystal. 3 x 4.7 x .7 cm
Melanie Bilenker. Pinning, Gather, Brooch, 2013, hair, paper, gold, mineral crystal. 3 x 4.7 x .7 cm

Melanie Bilenker

 

Melanie Bilenker received her BFA a little over ten years ago and has established herself as a contemporary jeweller with a long resume of exhibitions and museum collections as well as being named one of the Forty Under Forty by the Smithsonian Institute of Craft. Her work is a mix of technical ingenuity tempered by a profoundly intimate conceptualisation of ordinary moments of life with ‘drawings’ made from resin, gold, silver and the artist’s own hair.

 

MB:

“Immediately following school, I applied to every ‘call for entry’ that suited me, which led to my first solo shows and subsequent representation with Sienna Gallery, in Massachusetts and Galerie Ra, in Amsterdam. During this entire time I have also been working for jeweller Gabriella Kiss, which gives me a variable but steady income. The look of my work has changed; it is more two-dimensional and image based now. While the techniques are entirely different, I still use materials with history (a former life) and fragmented narrative to convey a sense of a larger whole. I work in a time consuming and somewhat tedious way and sometimes consider this a detriment. But, I have realized that a focused, calculated evolution is part of my process and is evident in the completed work. Currently, I am in the research phase for a new series inspired by WWII era novelty cards in which a nude was revealed by slipping a sliver of paper between layers of a transparent drawing. I am working on pieces containing layered drawings with an intimate element to be revealed.”

Melanie Bilenker. Photography by the artist
Melanie Bilenker. Photography by the artist

Arthur Hash

 

Arthur Hash has a diverse identity as a maker, educator and blog writer who examines and discusses the small moments of object making through the industrial lens of contemporary craft jewellery. He is committed to the exploration of what jewellery is and can be, retaining the sense of elegance and beauty found in the long tradition of body adornment while incorporating industrial technologies such as waterjet cutting, 3D scanning, CNC routing and rapid prototyping to make one-off art jewellery pieces.

 

AH:

“Truthfully I dabbled with using the computer in my work in grad school but didn’t use it in earnest until after I finished my MFA (from Indiana University, Bloomington in 2005). Currently, I am working on a number of pieces that involve the reduction of 3D digital surfaces to simple, faceted planes. Similar to how a digital image can be pixelated, a 3D object can be reduced to a faceted version of itself. A ring or a bracelet is really just a torus, but when simplified can be a beautiful ‘crystal-like’ object. I remember struggling with getting into shows in grad school; I got a lot of rejection letters. I was lucky that I had good fri ends who introduced me to galleries right out of school and I instantly started to develop a healthy relationship with two in particular (Velvet da Vinci in San Francisco and Sienna Gallery in Massachusetts). The entire process of talking with them about my work and how interested they were in what I was doing motivated me. The more I made the more people would get to wear the work, which was the ultimate goal. I have led kind of a charmed life where my progression went from not being able to get into shows, to getting into shows, to getting solo shows, to ultimately curating shows and now … too busy to commit to shows. Working for a university, I see a range of students come through our program. While we do our best to help students take the next step (residencies, employment etc), sometimes it is hard to properly prepare them for what is on the horizon. When the loan money is gone and their peers have moved away, students often find themselves in a new world of taxes, insurance and no studio.”

Arthur Hash. Optibrooch, 2012, sterling silver, enamel copper and stainless steel
Arthur Hash. Optibrooch, 2012, sterling silver, enamel copper and stainless steel

Märta Mattsson

 

Märta Mattsson has not stopped working in the three years since graduating from the Royal College of Art. Her pace has made her work and aesthetic known through solo shows, classes and lectures around the world. Mattsson’s work is based on the tension that exists between attraction and repulsion. Utilizing materials from nature that often disgust or repulse, she translates her fantasies into ornament and invites people to mar vel over their oddities.

 

MM:

“Initially, I started to work with insects and skin from animals because I was uncomfortable with both looking at and handling those materials. A couple of months ago I started to explore and work on some new pieces where I used wings from butterflies, cicadas and moths. The ideas of mimicry, and transforming the wings to look like new species of animal appeals to me. By assembling and building new bodies, I can create mysterious creatures that use the aesthetic qualities of the wings without making them too pretty. In my work in general I use dead creatures to evoke wonder.

 

During my jewellery studies I attended schools in Sweden, England, USA and Japan and learned to be quite independent and adapt to new environments. Some might say it can be confusing to study under so many different professors, but for me it was great. I moved back to Stockholm two weeks after graduating from the Royal College of Art. I had upcoming exhibitions with short deadlines, so I worked very hard on getting a studio up and running as fast as I could. I think because of the fact that I had things to work for straight away, I have not felt a major change in the way I work. To be honest, I did not really have time to miss school. I had been dreaming for so many years about getting these kinds of opportunities, so when they came along I was working my ass off trying to stay on top of things and keep clients/ galleries/ organizers happy. However, I think I was a bit too ‘ nice’ and polite during my first year after college. I have learned that it is okay to demand certain things, and that it is okay to speak your mind, and to be clear about what you want. It’s both nice and a little bit confusing to be working on different themes simultaneously, but most of the time I am up for the challenge. For example, I am currently working on: a project in Chemnitz, Germany working with petrified wood; making big sculptures for a fine art gallery; a project titled Eating art with gallery Platina in Stockholm; a group exhibition with the theme ‘art nouveau’; making a commercial line for the design company Lifestylebazaar; creating new pieces for a solo exhibition at Putti gallery in Riga; as well as a project with jeweller Tanel Veenre.”

Märta Mattsson. Split, 2013, Necklace, copper electroformed beetle, driftwood, silver, cubic zirkonias, resin, lacquer, 35 x 20 x 6 cm
Märta Mattsson. Split, 2013, Necklace, copper electroformed beetle, driftwood, silver, cubic zirkonias, resin, lacquer, 35 x 20 x 6 cm

Edgar Mosa

 

Edgar Mosa earned his BA from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in the Netherlands and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in the United States culminating in work that both flirts with costume jewellery and its lexicon as well as engages with the quiet moments of object intuition. His work is grounded in method and material, while exploring temporal symbolism, his environment and fashion.

 

EM:“Right after graduation I got sucked into a two-year lethargy, with an almost nonexistent working practice, while trying to make a sense of living in New York City. For a number of months, I kept on repeating processes and techniques that I felt encouraged by and successful about during my studies. I needed that feeling of goodness, of continuing to do something worthy, something successful, something, hmmm … safe. I was like an artist copying another artist’s work, even if it was my own work I was copying! It wasn’t at all an empowering feeling, more like a very strange egocentric kind of pastiche. It is curious that, now, the busier I am, the more I produce. I am a production jeweller for a fine jewellery company based in Chelsea; I am a goldsmith for an antiques gallery in Soho; and I teach jewellery at two schools in the city. I have been a shape-shifter since I got here having assisted the most diverse makers like leather and lighting designers, mural painters, art gallerists, art fair organizers and so on. I keep a very effervescent outside(r) practice.”

 

M+K: You seem to be at a point where you need to invite all your different aesthetics and muses to the same table for a drunken conversation. What do you think that takes? (Besides a good tequila) Obsession Where does that push come from? How do you approach both cultivating your creativity while trying to refine it?

 

EM:”Hmm, well, let me grab a glass first! I don’t care much for jewellery. I care for jewels and what emotions they can convey, absorb, or shoot right at you. I don’t care for a studio practice, the solitude, the stillness, as much as I care for dialogues, relationships and the ability to establish a connection. My ‘muses’ are not aesthetic subjects, they are friends, loved and regarded as part of my life. They make part of, and live with, the work. ‘My work’ is not mine alone; it only exists due to the contribution, assistance, collaboration and motivation of many people. I have many to thank. I have gotten to a point where my work has become my hobby. I have no shame or judgments over this matter. In fact, it allows me an immense freedom. I can do whatever and take the work in whichever direction I see fit. There’s not enough self in my work, I think sometimes. You see, my points of contact and reference are not in my own control; they become who I am, by living, bumping into others, into the world. The range of the work that I do -production, academic work, teaching, collaborating, organizing- is a way to avoid having a self by moving from one ‘person’ to another. But I hope that, on the way, I link them and show my aesthetic and the nature of my mind. In the end, how easy it would have been to respond by saying that my work aspires to be that tequila bottle on the table. It is but a means of linkage and a creativity booster among all of us who toast with it.”

Edgar Mosa. Photography by Aaron Boldt.
Edgar Mosa. Photography by Aaron Boldt.
Edgar Mosa. Photography by Aaron Boldt.
Edgar Mosa. Photography by Aaron Boldt.
Edgar Mosa. Photography by Aaron Boldt.
Edgar Mosa. Photography by Aaron Boldt.

Shari Pierce

 

Shari Pierce is an American artist with a BA in Fine Arts from East Carolina University who moved to Germany over a decade ago and attended the Munich Academy. Shari works with jewellery as one of a variety of mediums to make pieces and exhibitions that address contemporary feminism while questioning societal standards for gender normatively.

 

SP:”I had a very long artistic education, four years (1994-1999) in the US and six years (2001-2007) at the Munich Academy in Germany. Thinking back to when I was finally finished, the first project that I did was SheLL Project which had nothing to do with contemporary jewellery. It was not a conscious change, but one thing led to another and it seemed like the right time to pursue my ideas in other mediums. There was definitely a new sense of freedom that I could continue to develop myself as an artist working in any medium that I felt appropriate without the approval or expectations of an institution, mentors or my peers. Since then, I have tried to not limit myself but work with whichever medium or material I feel is best suited for the expression of my concept and the development of my work. The Munich Academy is quite independent and you work on your own development, so I did not experience this emergence after I finished my education but during. For me there is really no in and out of school- I am constantly learning and sometimes not always gracefully. One must struggle to grow and develop regardless. For me this is very important, but that is only my perception and way of working. For each artist it is different and that is why it can be difficult. There is no secret formula. It really is a constant process.

 

M+K: As an artist who blurs boundaries, mediums and exhibition techniques, how do you think more emerging jewellers can break through some of the trends and associations to traditional jewellery (even if that tradition is to, in fact, be different’)?

 

SP: “In general I would say get off your ass and approach your work with intensity and passion. Think critically; use your imagination, BE CREATIVE. I have been invited to mentor students with their work and I always tell them that if you do not have enthusiasm and drive to say something different, challenge yourself/ your field, and take responsibility for yourself and your work, then you should get a job as a banker (for example) because your life will be much easier and you will have much more money. Being an artist is a hard job and no one will care if you wake up in the morning and make something or not: NO ONE. So you better put some fire under your ass and develop passion for what you want to communicate regardless of what that is. Everyday we have to conform- pay bills, earn money, follow rules. Why the hell would I want to do that as an artist when it is the one area where I define the rules? So, define your own rules. Look at what has been done in the past and how you can you expand your field and yourself through the work. Make trends do not follow them, and be prepared for a lot of criticism in the process. It is that easy.”

Shari Pierce. He Loves Me He Loves Me Not (Installation), 2013, Bed Sheet (object), Necklace-Mandarin Peels, Honey (Frame on Necklace), Fabric from bed sheet.

FAILURE and SUCCESS can be INTERESTING TEACHERS

 

MARTA:
One thing I have learned is to edit what I send away for exhibitions or post online. In my first year after graduating I was working on tight deadlines and sent away some pieces that I was not completely happy and certain about. Other people might not have even noticed that the piece was a ‘failure’, but I have learned that it is better to edit a collection down to fewer pieces sometimes. People might see me as a bug jeweller because that is the work that people have seen the most, but I see myself more as an explorer of my fascinations and feelings towards disgust. It can be hard sometimes to be known for a certain material or technique, you can feel a little bit restricted. I feel that during the last year I have received the most criticism, as well as the most praise, for my work ever in my life. I got a lot of really nice and interesting comments and remarks from collectors, makers and friend s, but I also received a lot of criticism about being overexposed as well as people telling me that they are waiting for my next collection. Some of the criticism has really helped me and pushed me forward, but many of the comments about ‘waiting for my next big thing’ have been quite hard to tackle. Since I don’t jump between different subjects, the changes in my work may appear quite subtle. In general criticism helps me become stronger as a maker and challenges my brain, but of course some criticism is constructive and helpful, and some just stings a little. My personal definition of success would be that I get invited to participate in very interesting projects and exhibitions, I never take anything for granted and I am really grateful and humble to the fact that I can keep doing what I do.

 

ARTHUR:
It is VERY hard to get a full time job doing what you love. I struggled and still struggle to find where I fit. On one hand I have a successful professional career and on the other a great job. I really never thought that I would have a li fe in academia. When you are in school you can’t wait to get out, but if you teach it is almost like you never leave. Few can be successful artists and successful educators. I am not saying working in academia is failing, but it always causes you to question your decisions. You almost have to be part politician, part psychologist, part accountant, part advisor, part educator and lastly part artist. That’s a lot of parts. Also where does your own personal life fit into all of this? When is there time for you to develop personal relationships or take vacations? It is not easy. For me there are two levels of success. Completing a piece can be incredibly bittersweet. Spending intimate time with a small piece of jewellery for weeks, living almost microscopically is kind of unhealthy. When the work leaves the studio and it is ultimately worn, only then I can say it is successful. The second type of success is when you realize that what you envisioned yourself being is what you are now. What I mean is that my goal fifteen years ago of becoming someone that could participate in the field is actually a reality. I am successful in the sense that I have a job working in my field, I am surrounded by makers, I have a great studio, a wonderful wife and the ability and drive to continue to make. In many ways I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have been very lucky but I have also worked very hard to get where I am.

 

EDGAR:
Success- is when someone contacts me regarding ‘the work’ or to meet my acquaintance. It means I have called and the call was answered. It means a connection has been established. The truth is that I still question the meaning of everything so very passionately, wanting to see things executed, even when I am over-layering the cake. And conversely I think I have not been honest and fail by over-editing, and hiding from the public all that I do. I seem to have been labeled as a wood jewellery maker and so that is what I have been catering to: a still wooden mask to hide all the anxiety that goes on behind stage. I hope I can start being more confident in the work that I do despite the fact that it never gets to see the light of day. Even though my work denies function and figuration , I have plastic cast cherubs and a clothing line hiding in my studio. I just don’t quite know what to make of it.

 

MELANIE:
Every truly ugly, awkward, unsuccessful piece I have made is in a drawer in my studio. Sometimes I’ll take them out to remember that it’s necessary to try something new. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it will stay hidden in that drawer. Success is making work that drives you forward towards that next piece. There must be derailments in the process and questions left at the end. If all is fully resolved there is no need to continue. Gaining recognition for a specific type of work or aspect of your work can make you feel superficially successful, but internally divided. If you are ready to move beyond other people’s definition of your work, or disagree with it, this feedback can be a valuable critique and the proper propellant for the next step.

 

SHARI:
I fail all the time. Every new work has the potential for failure. I don’t think that you can grow and change without risk, and with risk there is always the chance of failure. It is really all relative to what you want and expect from yourself, and in the end the expression and commitment to your work decides. I do not let other people define me. Personally I fight against this. I am very happy that I receive a lot of positive feedback from people about my work being very inspiring or that they understand what I am trying to communicate. I do need this – it is important. But sometimes people are disappointed with what I do, or they like this and not that. I have to choose my direction consciously. When I can no longer create a body of work with enthusiasm or feel that I have said all I can say then it is finished. The worst thing is to be a bad copy of yourself. Sometimes success is waking up in the morning and having the strength to push through when I feel like a total failure; the email I receive saying my work has touched a person at a very deep level; the students who tell me they studied jewellery because of me or remember advice I gave them 5 years ago and thank me later; winning a prize or getting an amazing exhibition space for a solo show. Again it’s all relative- every day it is changing.

 

M+K:

Graduate school is often described as a time of growth for makers in which we can selfishly (or indulgently) explore our practice within a bubble of constant support and contact with our peers and professors. One of the things people miss the most (or have the hardest time doing without) in their first few years out of school is that sense of community. On a larger scale, there is a growing awareness of the global jewellery community and discussion on how to broaden and strengthen the dialogue between jewellers. What are your thoughts on the current contemporary community and support within the jewellery field? How has this changed or evolved since your first year(s) out of school?

 

MELANIE:
I never attended graduate school and tend to be a bit insular as a worker, so it was all the more important for me to keep up with a community after school. There are so many more vehicles for connectivity now. Though to be honest (and perhaps due to coming out of school at a time when only a few of us had websites), there is still nothing to replace an experience like attending Schmuck and meeting longtime jewellery idols, peers and students.
SHARI:
In general it is much easier to connect internationally and there is a lot more support for those that want to engage in a dialogue with others. Maybe I take this for granted because I live in a place with so many contemporary jewellers and I am fortunate to travel often and meet new people all of the time personally or through my work.
EDGAR:
I will never forget what Manon Van Kouswijk said on my last year of school: even if you would spend your whole life reading and learning about jewellery, you would never be able to fully grasp it as a whole. Being in NY has been interesting because contemporary jewellery is fairly nonexistent, and even when it does exist it is masked by a different hand of labor. It is fascinating dealing with diamond setters, bridal designers, CAD and laser people, renderers, wire wrapping and beading laborers, artists, critics, what have you. There are so many ways of speaking this language, and I think it’s up to all of us to draw a line – of connection not dispersion – and make our own dialogue.

 

MARTA:
Many new jewellers are finding their own ways of creating opportunities for themselves and others by starting collaborateve projects- for example the Norwegian group KLINK and AS in Sweden. Personally I have had a lot of support from both new and old friends that I have met during the years I studied, as well as jewellers that I have met after graduating at workshops and conferences etc. I have also gotten a lot of support from former teachers of mine as well as the gallery owners that I work with. I feel that the field in general is quite supportive and warm.

 

ARTHUR:
Perspective is everything. I would like to be able to actually communicate more with jewellers outside of my immediate circle. I think that it could only help my work to understand how others feel about the field. Five years ago a lot of people found success just by being experts at marketing themselves with tools like Twitter and Facebook and now they are realising that keeping up with that sort of stuff is a full time gig and would rather be making in their studios. Younger artists are starting tO see how valuable gallerists can be. The older collector market is dwindling. Gallerists have a hard job of both educating new collectors and marketing younger artists that have yet to establish themselves. Often there is a strangle hold on organizations by older generation artists that are afraid of becoming left behind. They are alienating an entire generation. It is crucial to continue to educate not only the public but also the older generation on the perspective and process of what this new generation is. There is a HUGE contingency of unbelievable younger artists out there just waiting to be discovered.

Mariah Tuttle (MFA 2011) and Kamal Nassif (BFA 2014) are Rhode Island School of Design alum and student team and the founders of risdjm.com.

They are both nerds about music, vintage dresses, hot sauce, jewel(le)ry (obviously) and their new projects under the umbrella {x}collaborations. xcollaborations.com
This article was first published in the #2 The Youth Issue of Current Obsession Magazine, AW2013.

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