Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Is Contemporary Jewellery Alive or Dead?

Last night we had our fourth SA Jewellers meeting held at Gray Street Workshop.
Those who attended...
Lisa Furno
Rebecca Bird
Michelle Kelly
Jane Bowring
Eliza Gregerson
Melissa Puust
Meghan O'Rourke
Leanne Marshall
Hannah Carlyle
Christine Pyman
Vanessa Williams
Katrina Freene

In Melbourne at the same time last night a lecture was being held at RMIT as a fundraiser for the RMIT Gold & Silversmithing 2011 graduate exhibition. Four internationally acclaimed luminaries of the jewellery world, goldsmith Robert Baines, artist and curator Susan Cohn, jeweller Benjamin Lignel, and art historian and curator Damian Skinner spoke on the topic, ‘The contemporary jewellery movement is more alive than dead’.
We thought it would be interesting to have a satellite discussion on the same topic because over the past ten years I have gnashed and grinded this topic to a pulp with my best friend and jeweller Jane Bowring. I really wanted other makers perspectives on how they view themselves and what Contemporary Jewellery means to them. Here are some of the thoughts that came up...

Intially, it was suggested that the label 'Contemporary' Jewellery was of no concern to them and did not occupy their minds at all.  'I just get on with it and make what I want to make' seemed to be the agreed stance.  I was a little unsatisfied with this answer for I feel the point was missed somewhat and smacked a little of false bravado.  On further teasing out it was suggested that inadequate marketing is a big factor in the lack of awareness contemporary jewellers have to the wider public.  Furthermore jewellers generally just want to make jewellery and avoid the necessary marketing to actually sell it.  Employing a jewellery agent was a suggestion except no-one seemed able to afford the service or where one would find an agent whom caters to the nebulous making whims of contemporary jewellers.
The conversation went to the popularity of Design Markets and how they have been great for the promotion of a whole variety of creative people, although it is a double edged sword because the general punter believes markets are where you go to get cheap products direct from the artist which has forced artists to under sell themselves in order to remain competitive.
The topic took a swing when the accepted norm of consignment to galleries was brought up to the obvious disdain of almost everyone.  Threats of revolt and group boycotting were bandied about but fizzled quickly with the unsaid realization of biting ones nose off to spite ones face.
The meeting took a slightly negative bend for a few minutes, the general Mabo being that as makers we have little control over our selling situation and something needs to be done about it dag namit!  Why are there no alliances with the fashion world?  Fashion designers make Haute Coutre clothing for the body, we make Haute Coutre jewellery for the body.  What's going on?  Someone cleverly stated 'We have to make it happen'.  Well said. 
This is where is got really good and juicy...
Contemporary Jewellery has over niche-a-fied itself.  By aligning itself with art and placing the 'piece' on the white plinth behind glass it has become collectable not wearable or even touchable.  Not that there is anything wrong with that!  For some that is a viable art practice but for most it is a constant struggle with second jobs, kids and mortgages and is just not viable.  We have to sell our jewellery to continue making.  Crazy concept but stick with me...
The running idea is to have a selling exhibition. A one night event at an exclusive location.  Good wine, good food.  Everyone invites their own customers and takes the money and orders from their own sales on the night. There is no curator to take half your earnings, you work to sell what you have on display.  We get friends to wear our work and be there on the night mingling and telling people about the work to drum up more sales.  It's taking the best of an exhibition opening and the best of a design market and rolling it together.

Idea 2: have a silent auction
Idea 3:  have regular jewellery studio tours. (They do this in Vienna once a month)
Idea 4: A fringe event. Make a film of people working in their studios and project it on a wall to demystify what it is we do as makers.
Idea 5:   your turn to come up with something;)

The meeting was capped off by the suggestion that the label "Contemporary" jewellery has not been helpful in defining to others what we do. Discarding the word "Contemporary" is a pertinent step in reclaiming control over the direction we head to in the future as makers of Jewellery.  We are Jewellers. Anything more just confuses people.

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