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Claudia Lepik

Interview with 92Y's 2019 Artist in Residence

Shortly after graduating from the prominent Estonian Academy of Arts, the Estonian jeweler Claudia Lepik became the third annual resident at the 92Y Jewelry Center in New York City. Her upcoming New York City Jewelry Week exhibition, About Face, will feature a collection of mesmerizing facial jewelry made during her schooling and residency. There is something magical about her roughly processed silver jewelry pieces when they are seen gleaming in large-scale black-and-white photographs, simultaneously disguising and representing their wearers. Amid a revival in its popularity, Claudia talked us through the story of how, why, and when she became involved with facial jewelry.

Veronika Muráriková

When did you first realize that becoming a jewelry artist was a possibility for you?

Claudia Lepik

A little bit before starting my studies at the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA), to be honest. I knew nothing about the field before I saw that there was a possibility to study it in Tallinn. Okay, I was making wire flowers before entering jewelry studies, but I never took myself seriously with it. Before jewelry, I was sure for a long time that I was going to become a fashion designer. Fashion design is how I discovered that I liked detail, because I worked on one sweater for over 80 hours.

Can you talk me through the inspiration for your graduation collection and for the ways you attached your pieces to the wearers’ faces?

For my graduation collection, I started digging into the history of nose and face jewelry and I made copies of some ancient nose pieces, which hurt like hell and left my nose scratched. After that, I started to work on my own interpretations of these. I developed two approaches in the collection; the first was to make my own modern versions of historical nose pieces and the second was to make structures which could be attached to the face without any extra support. As part of my residency, I’m still developing the nose and facial jewelry, as well as the glasses, but at the moment I’m more fascinated by masks. I’ve already made one but it’s super time-consuming. It takes a lot of preparation and preciseness.

Is there anything that links all the various jewelry pieces you are working on?

I would say my work is partly inspired by the Estonian Seto culture, a small community in the south of Estonia which has a strong jewelry tradition. For example: large necklaces and brooches are worn for various occasions important for people of the Seto culture. For instance, wearing a big brooch – which can be up to 12cm in height, almost reaching to under the jaw – is a symbol of a woman being of a fertile age. Women get the brooch as a gift when they get married. I worked with this topic last year, when I was part of an exhibition about Estonian fashion called IV Artishok Biennial.

Images by Dimitris Siokis

The only material you work with at the moment is silver, oftentimes with a matt black finish or a rough, unclean surface. Why is that? Does it give you enough freedom to experiment?

I don’t feel like my minimalistic choices of material and surface finishing keep me from experimenting. I’m much more about sound and kinetic elements. Those have to shine through all the visual elements. Alongside the black pieces, I work on rough cast silver pieces too. I experiment with casting silver directly into water – what might come out of it depends a lot on the temperature. After practicing it for a while now, I can already somehow predict what I’ll get and what I want. I’m very much open to finding a new material to work with, but so far there isn’t one interesting enough to spark the temptation in me.

You always try to contextualize your work, and as a result you’re always collaborating with interesting artists and photographers, which I think is great. Could you please tell me more about your recent collaborations?

One of my most memorable collaborations must have been with Lily Gatins. I’ve been following her on Instagram for a long time and admiring her passion for introducing unknown and emerging avant-garde designers to the public. I had the chance to meet her and see her wearing my pieces when she visited Athens for couple of days while I was doing my internship there. One of my most recent collaborations was with the photographer Dimitris Siokis. His visual language captivated me from the beginning, and I was curious to see my jewelry through his lens.

Images by Dimitris Siokis
Images by Dimitris Siokis

How has your New York experience been? Is it also challenging you as a person?

The environment is quite different from that of Tallinn and Estonia, of course. I mean, it was amazing to see that all the places and the scenery I knew only from movies look exactly the same in reality. Not to mention the fact that people here are very open. That’s what I like a lot. They will easily just start chatting with you on the street. I’m pushing myself hard here and I’m more open to experimenting and less frightened of it now.

Veronika Muráriková graduated from Eva Eisler’s studio (Concept-Object-Meaning) at Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. After gaining experience as a goldsmith in Nastassia Aleinikava Jewellery Studio, she moved to Amsterdam where she interned for Current Obsession Magazine.

This article is published in the 2019 New York City Jewelry Week Paper, the result of a collaboration between Current Obsession and NYCJW.

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