Deck the Halls
By Mark Amery
Over the last week Wellington galleries have been bedecked with jewellery. No less than 14 galleries have been exhibiting work in conjunction with Jemposium, an international symposium held last weekend. A number of these continue over the next few days and weeks.
Year round of late I’ve been struck by the increasing energy of emerging jewelers to stage independent exhibitions in the capital - in the absence of established exhibition support. While the Wellington dealer galleries focus is on a few established names, some of the leading lights of this emerging local group are well represented in excellent group exhibition Handshake at Toi Poneke, on until Sunday.
Jemposium’s mandate was jewellery as an art-form, and there’s plenty around town currently to illustrate that the small, personal object is dynamic contemporary ground for considering the relationship between ideas, images and stories, and their consequent value.
On first glance Pauline Bern at Avid (also in a group survey show at the Dowse) provides merely pretty, delicate ornaments. Yet look closer and they start to poetically unravel, like quiet little domestic garden vignettes, full of planting complications. Rose thorns poke through a bonnet of tiny flowers, common shells are adorned with petals but collect seeds in their backs. The works are hybrids of the indigenous and exotic, and materials of traditionally high and low value. Flowers wiggle on small metal springs from a sprig of Pohutukawa, elsewhere Nikau nut meets rosewood. The exhibition title Colonial Goose reflects the fact that Bern has gathered her ideas from her own garden – a colonial goose has come to mean making do with what you’ve got.
In contrast Karl Fritsch’s work speaks of the emotional weight of the violence of the metallurgical process of making with metal. The work is crushingly beautiful, expressive somehow of the heat of life, sex and death. A playfulness met by a fearlessness in branding a mark on things, Fritsch’s recognizesg the awesomeness of the alchemical. His collaboration at Hamish McKay Gallery with photographer Gavin Hipkins is no less than extraordinary. It is a match made in heaven, or more suitably somewhere between there and hell, given the way their work expresses the shadowy realm of the soul’s journey in between.
Hipkins has provided Fritsch with a series of meditative icon like black and white images with rich surfaces. As if inspired by jewellery making it is as if they have come scorched off a photographic plate. The power of the physical process of both disciplines mingles and is captured, held by Fritsch’s defiling and adorning of the photographs surfaces. Nails are driven in, saws pierce surfaces or they are scoured back to ravaged metal and wood, and inlaid with gems. This is as powerful a conversation between second and third dimensions, and the power of both image and object surface as I can recall seeing.
Entering Handshake you’re greeted by Jhana Miller’ Valid Thru, an imprint of her credit card in 24 carat gold, and a simple, direct but beautiful statement on what contemporary society values. As Jemposium was structured the artists here (all being mentored by established national and international names) can all be considered as within either one of two camps, those for whom materials lead to adornment forms, and tothers whose forms are led by ideas, and look to make statements. On the one hand there are the gorgeous mirrored pendant works of Sam Kelly, backed by shards of bone, on the other Sarah Read’s well thought out social project where the purchase of a ribbon stating ‘this too will pass’ is intended to provide the citizens of Christchurch with some comfort. Handshake is full of strong interesting pushes in both directions.