Thoughts on ‘contemporary jewellery’

20 07 2012

‘What is contemporary jewellery?’. It’s a question that’s been bothering me for years and years. Many writers have considered the same topic, though I’m more interested in why I would use the term ‘contemporary jewellery’ and how I would consider defining it for my own use.

Using my recent visit to ‘Unexpected Pleasures‘ at the NGV, I’ve been giving it more thought.

Unfortunately I don’t have a cogent theory to offer, just a few thoughts. I have done no reading on the topic – as I find that in reading other people’s thoughts my own thoughts can easily get lost. I wanted to find my own expression and ideas before engaging with the thoughts of others on this topic.

So, I’ve been thinking that makers may use the term ‘contemporary jewellery‘ to:

  • differentiate from ‘high street’ jewellery – the mass-produced kind; and of course to differentiate from jewellery made in previous eras (vintage or antique etc), as the root of the word ‘contemporary‘ means of ‘the present time’
  • indicate a degree of critical engagement in the ideation and making process;
  • (often) suggest that there is a complex conceptual context for the work that may be sensed but not always fully understood upon superficial view;
  • identify as an individual maker, not a ‘brand’; perhaps even to identify as more of an ‘artist’ than jewellers are usually perceived as
  • permit a kind of freedom in, or perhaps justify, the use of all manner of materials;
  • separate from the … erm, how to delicately put this … jewellery made with minimal skill-sets;
  • separate from traditional, perhaps ‘conservative’, goldsmithing; though of course the majority of makers acknowledge their place in the historic lineage (and mine that tradition for resources and ideas).

Many makers of ‘contemporary’ jewellery like to challenge established conventions in jewellery – in terms of wearability (consider Lisa Walker), materials (I especially remember a ‘ring’ made of bread and jam) and ugliness (consider Karl Fritsch).

This is where I think my view of what I do differs from the hard-line (if I may use that term?) contemporary world. While I don’t devalue the place of this kind of making, I find I rarely connect or understand those kinds of pieces. Such differences are utterly essential in a vital making community. And I think I’d like to be part of a different stream of contemporary jewellery.

I’ve noticed those in the ‘challenging’ stream sometimes demean makers who choose to work more ‘conservatively’ … I’ve seen many a sneer at some of the less outrageous jewellers’ work. This is a shame – there is more than enough room for all of our approaches!

I feel like I’m at makers anonymous (MakeAnon???) … Hi, my name is Karen. I like to make jewellery. I like to make objects. I like to get crafty with traditional ‘women’s work’ (embroidery, knitting, crochet). While I appreciate crazy pieces, I make contemporary jewellery which is of a more restrained quiet nature. I prefer classic influences. I am not a fan of realistic figurative representation. …. I could go on….

What would you add to the list of ‘contemporary jewellery’ above?

Thoughts for ‘Final Frontier’

22 08 2011

Recently I wrote about an opportunity to be part of an upcoming exhibition ‘Final Frontier‘. So many ideas played around in my mind about what I could make for such a show … there were so many science fiction movies to be inspired by…

The first idea, which was immediate upon reading the brief, was to make a piece inspired by movie ‘Code 46‘. This is more a speculative kind of science fiction, not so much with the crazy graphics and special effects etc.

In this future world, most people have no knowledge of their biological parents. To avoid genetically-related individuals creating unhealthy babies together, couples wanting to marry or engage in reproductive sex need to be tested. The text at the start of the film explains it as follows:

code 46
article 1

any human being who shares the same nuclear gene set as another human being is deemed to be genetically identical.
the relationship of one are the relations of all.

due to IVF, DI embryo splitting and cloning techniques it is necessary to prevent any accidental or deliberate genetically incestuous reproduction.


i. all prospective parents should be genetically screened before conception. if they have 100%, 50% or 25% genetic identity, they are not permitted to conceive

ii. if the pregnancy is unplanned, the foetus must be screened, any pregnancy resulting from 100%, 50%, or 25% genetically related parents must be terminated immediately

iii. if the parents were ignorant of their genetic relationship then medical intervention is authorised to prevent any further breach of code 46

I thought of making a portable kind of self-identifier containing the specific DNA information that could be compared to another’s to test the degree of genetic relation. The obvious shape is that of the double-helix for the DNA … the below image is taken from the film:

from film 'Code 46'; at 59m50s

Naturally I had ideas of including a thin panel of my woven paper and fine silver … somewhere, somehow … and that it would be ideal as a long pendant.

I had lots of ideas … but they just didn’t want to chrystallise. I think was got in the way was that I really wanted to understand the DNA structure accurately, and in trying to research it online I found the text wasn’t really ‘for dummies’; so I felt I had components of understanding, but found it hard to put it all together into a cohesive picture. Therefore, couldn’t feel I had the design ‘right’.

Other films that also came to mind were: Gattaca, Aeon Flux, Metropolis, the original Tron … and even some of the old-school Star Trek; my friend suggested Blade Runner (which I’m sure I’ve seen but cannot remember, so it’s now on the ‘to-watch’ list).

What is your favourite science fiction film and what would you make to reference it?? It’s cool thought-play for a lazy few hours…

Show me the dates Melbourne Museum!

11 04 2011

In putting together the next calendar post (for May 2011) I went looking for the dates of the Tutankhamun exhibition, the ‘blockbuster’ at the Melbourne Museum.

Well, here is a lesson in how NOT to provide the public with information about your exhibition – don’t bother putting the exhibition dates clearly anywhere on your websites/pages.

The opening month of April is relatively clear (some pages even clarify it was the 8th April 2011), but the closing dates were elusive.

I had to do an internet search to find the dates, and ended up getting the information from the National Geographic site. Update (25th April): ie. 6th November 2011.

Why on earth make it so damn hard!?

I can be generous and agree with my friend’s suggestion that it may be due to organisers keeping the end date reasonably flexible in case more demand requires the exhibition to be open for longer (or make it financially feasible to offer more time).

Though the sceptic in me would perhaps suggest it is to create an uncertainty about the end date, so people feel they need to buy tickets now (ie. more money).

It reminds me of a good article I read in a newspaper a few weeks ago about the ‘blockbuster’: “Big Bucks and the Boy King” – makes for interesting reading and critical thinking and wondering what may be settled for an ‘art exhibition’ in the near future.

Update (19th April, 9pm AEST): I’ve checked all the pages linked to in my story, and there is still no end dates; and unfortunately the comments left on the exhibition page indicate that a proportion of visitors are walking away quite disappointed

Update (25th April, 10pm AEST): the only reference I could see to an end date on the exhibition page were the following replies by museum staff to general public queries:

  • Tickets are being sold in two separate lots. The first one is for tickets from 8 April to July 17. The second one will be for tickets from July 18 to November.
  • it is anticipated that the exhibition will be at Melbourne Museum until November 2011

I’ve even checked out their Facebook page and the end-date on the exhibition ‘event’ there is actually 10th July 2011 – not right at all!

The more I think of this, the less I’m convinced the non-disclosure of an end-date is nothing but deliberate to accelerate ticket sales. There is no way an exhibition of this nature and size would, for the sheer matter of logistics and insurance, NOT have an end date already determined. Then why not publicise it?

Update (29th September): now I’m not sure when this happened, but while I was tinkering around I have since found that the exhibition is now open until 4th December 2011. Also, I’ve since found that the National Geographic site I refer to above no longer exists – weird?


Lucky Charm: Contemporary Jewellery Fundraiser for Red Cross

18 03 2011

Yesterday I received a number of emails from a number of friends of mine in the jewellery community, and thought the information was important to pass on.

Call for artists

Published with permission, and originally written by, Natalia Milosz-Piekarska.

I am reaching out to the contemporary jewellery community far and wide to take part and help raise much needed funds for the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Rescue services.

I’m hoping to generate quite a bit of interest from the public and press and ultimately raise some much needed funds with this event, but the most important ingredient is YOU!

… I only have a short time frame in which to launch and realise this project, so if you think you’re able and willing to get on board, please get back to me as soon as you can.

Also, please pass this on to any one that you think would be happy and willing to participate … as a community network, this can spread quickly and effectively.

I have extracted and combined details from Natalia’s letters below. Should you wish any further detailed information (and I encourage you to do so) please contact Natalia by email.

I am writing to you as I am initiating a Disaster Relief fundraiser in response to the devastating number of natural disasters that have taken place over the last couple of months …..

I have decided to organise a Contemporary Jewellery Online Auction to raise much needed funds for the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.

The online auction will go under the title: Lucky Charm. Make Good Fortune Happen …..

I’m reaching out to you, the artists, to band together, as a community and become a force of good nature …..

I am calling out to all makers who are willing and able, to donate 1 piece of their work for the auction. The works can be of any format, material, shape or size. It does not have to be a new piece, though feel free to make something specific for this project if you feel inspired to do so.

If you are willing and ready to take part, this is what I need you to do to make good fortune happen:

  • Donate 1 piece of your work (but please hold onto it until the auction is finished, your donation also includes your very generous willingness to post the piece to the winning bidder).
  • Photograph your piece and email me the image in a JPG format.
  • Write a brief description of the work including title (if there is one), materials, size, and anything else you’d like to add (especially a few lines about yourself and website links). Email this to me together with your image.


  • 28th March 2011: all donated works must be photographed and emailed to me – yes, sorry, I know, tight deadline, but I know you can do it!!
  • auction finish date yet to be finalised, but looking at dates between 18th – 22nd April 2011

Email: luckycharmfundraiser[at]

Get on board – make a difference.
And I love Natalia’s use of the phrase ‘become a force good nature’!

Update (22nd March): Flightless Boyds blog has linked to this post, along with some other craft-driven responses to the Japan disaster – thank you!! I hope this initiative really picks up some fabulous initiative…