30 December 2011

Don't judge a brooch by it's backing

I've been researching the judges, Bob Ebendorf and Amy Tavern, for the "Hot Under The Collar" competition, and look what I've found.  Aren't they wonderful?  I have been pondering the use of existing pins and attachments for my jewellery for some time, and chose to use safety pins for my Chatelaine brooches, as a means of attaching the fabric brooch.  On reflection, although the concept was valid, the safety pins looked too clumsy and unresolved, so I didn't take the idea any further.  Amy's Tiny and Bent Brooch and Brooch No 2 are, I think, completely successful, and so I won't be giving up on this means of pin quite yet.  

Tiny and Bent Brooch
oxidized sterling silver, cotton cord, safety pin
1” x 1.125” x .125”
fabricated 2010 Amy Tavern

Brooch No. 2
From Installation “Collected Memories: 1974-Present”
2010 Amy Tavern

27 December 2011

Hot Under The Collar

I've subscribed to metalsmith, a contemporary jewellery journal published by the Society of North American Goldsmiths.  I'm not North American, nor a goldsmith, but from what I can see on their website my practice might find a place to call home here.  

And there's a current competition to enter!

"Hot Under the Collar: A Survey of contemporary Necklaces"
Choker, collar, lariat, torque, pendant, the necklace is one of the most diverse formats available to metalsmiths today. Whether cascading down the front, or draped down the back, the possibilities are nearly endless. The human torso provides us with one of our largest canvases, while still keeping body as site.  From comments on the classic strand of pearls to contemporary takes on armor, this juried exhibition seeks to showcase how metalsmiths today interpret this incredibly versatile object.

The deadline is 15th January, but as submission is via email, being 'across the pond' shouldn't cause a problem.  I have decided to enter two pieces I made in response to the 7 days project set at the start of the MA.

Untitled, Found object, linen, thread 2011 © Vanda Campbell

Untitled, Found object, steel, thread 2011 © Vanda Campbell

I have a relatively high skill level in traditional textile techniques (crochet and stitch in particular), and feel comfortable when working with these media.  On the other hand, my traditional metalworking jewellery skills are woefully lacking.  Despite growing up in a family of goldsmiths, as the 'girl' I was sent into the book-keeping office in school holidays, whereas my younger brother was shown the secrets of the workshop with the apprentices. How I wish for some of that hidden knowledge now!  I wonder if this explains my preferred use of textiles and thread, rather than metal for the neckchains in the 7 days, 7 finds, 7 chains collection.   I have thought about this long and hard, and believe that soft crochet chains are far more visually appealing than hard metal ones, and have a more sympathetic relationship to the body, so in this instance, my use of thread is appropriate.  

I am Vanda Campbell, and I am a jeweller. But in order to be one, I need to make jewellery that can be worn on the body, rather than hung on a gallery wall. I am comfortable putting bits of stuff together, stitching and adding thread as necessary, but am frozen in panic at the thought of making a brooch back out of silver, or a ring mount to set my pieces of stuff in. I'm not sure at the moment if this is a problem. It will be fairly simple to acquire the metal skills to fill the gaps in my knowledge, but I wonder if this is necessary. I admire work that exhibits a high skill level, and has an element of "how did they do that?". Pushing my existing skills and shouting about them (in a whisper!) would perhaps be more fitting than starting back at square one to learn new ones to fit in with some other expectation.

20 December 2011


Well that didn't quite go as planned.  Full of enthusiasm, admirable optimism, and an unrealistic expectation of the amount of time I could find to work at home in the holidays, I had hoped to achieve something exciting and relevant, and enter it in the "inside Quartz" competition.  It hasn't happened, and I am temporarily deflated.

My drawings are a disaster (though to be fair, this is often true of the initial drawings for a new project); photographing clear crystals by the light of a Christmas tree is far from ideal; and I can't find time to work through enough ideas before refining the most exciting ones to move them forward.  While working on the quartz drawings, I realised that the sense of aesthetic in my work is vital.  My drawings and ideas were far too complicated, and the beauty of the found objects I was using, had become lost.  I want the audience to pause, and find the space to breathe in deeply as they look at, or wear my work.

At times like these I envy musicians.  When learning to play an instrument, a piece, or part of a piece, will be played many, many times.  Each mistake exists for a split second only, and is replaced by the correct note.  There is no evidence of failure, no reminders of what was wrong, and nothing to deter you from trying again.  Instead I am sat here, surrounded by shameful drawings, poorly exposed photographs, and half-cocked ideas that taunt me with potential, but alas no time to do anything with them.

I need to find opportunties as they are published, rather than a week before the deadline.  My practice falls in a relatively small genre (contemporary jewellery);  I live in the wrong part of Europe (Germany, Holland and Switzerland all have much stronger art jewellery traditions than the UK), and I am studying in a non-specialist university (rather than on a jewellery specific MA).  I must work hard to avoid isolation.  Thankfully the internet goes some way to bridging the gap, and researching and hopping between websites is something I can do quite successfully!

I have found another opportunity that has a more realistic timescale ...

Space2 Gallery, Watford ... thanks to a nudge from a colleague (thanks Davina x), I have submitted a proposal, along with Davina Thomas and Tanya St Leger for an exhibition entitled "Re:" (recycle, reuse, renew).  We are three makers who all work with or on discarded, recycled and unwanted objects.  The potential for collaborative work alongside our individual pieces is exciting, so fingers crossed.

18 December 2011

Stating the obvious

It is interesting to note how different audiences respond to my practice as a jeweller.  Those working in, or familiar with, the world of contemporary jewellery, do not question the validity of using everyday materials, or working in unusual forms.  Those less familiar, may assume that precious jewellery needs to be made of precious metals and gemstones, and expect a familiar form (necklace, pendant, ring) that is conservative in size and style.

This is a similar to the response to my earlier fine art practice.  Twenty plus years ago I was often to be found dragging found objects (window frames, doors with layers and layers of paint, old bed frames) to the studio to be nailed to the walls in the name of art.  The use of readymades in art is part of a well established tradition, and thankfully it is now unnecessary to explain their use by citing historical examples as evidence of their validity.  I hope that soon it will be unnecessary to justify the field of contemporary jewellery.

But what drives me to repeatedly use found objects in the first place?  To answer this, I have been looking beyond the boundaries of the fine and applied arts worlds, and found some interesting research into the appeal of found objects in the fields of psychology. 

In his paper From Trashed to Treasured (Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 2010, Vol 4, No 2, 81-92), the psychologist Paul M Camic identifies five different categories to explain found object use, of which three seem to particularly echo my own experience ...

Discovery and Engagement (the adventure of the hunt; finding the unexpected).  This is definitely true for me.  I love the thrill of finding something unexpected, and the minute I spot something of interest, I can't help but imagine how and where I could use it.  Invariably objects and materials I use are not used in isolation, so finding one object, and imagining its use, means that previous 'finds', filed away in the studio are brought to mind.  

History and Time Past (trigger of personal memories; narratives of both object and previous owners).  Although personal memories are obviously triggered with some finds, I am more interested in considering the unseen narratives of the objects I use.  How did they arrive at their lost destination? What was their original form and/or function? Who owned them?  Who lost them?  Are they missed?

Symbolic and Functional Object (aesthetic properties; thrill of a free find; creative action/use for the object).  The aesthetic properties of my finds are very important to my practice.  I haven't yet completely identified a set of aesthetic rules that I follow, but looking at my recent finds, I can identify some common denominators ... small (fit in the palm of my hand); broken; man-made; simple (single) colour (no decoration or pattern).  If they were to speak, they would whisper, but everyone would listen.  The thrill of a free find is also relevant, though I'm not sure if this is an ideal or a necessity.  For so long I have been restricted by financial constraints, and if I were to find myself in a position to buy any material I needed for my practice, I'm not sure I would.  The final definition Camic made in this section was the 'creative use for the object', which leads back to the first category of discovery and engagement. Creative use and engagement is essential.  Duchamp led the way, and the fight to get found objects or readymades considered as art is not relevant in the same way now as it once was.  I recall tutorials on my degree course, where lecturers would encourage me to 'do' something with my finds ... something more than hanging nailing them to a wall (as I was inclined to do!).  I get it now.  

16 December 2011

Precious Imperfection

When I embarked on the MA course, one of many intentions was to use the time and support to further my practice, not only practically and academically, but also professionally. There are loads of competitions and exhibition opportunities open to artists, and I have been spending a disproportionate amount of time grappling with my thoughts as to how I can adapt my work to fit in a fine art environment. 

The opportunities open specifically to applied artists are significantly less, but I have come across an international bi-annual jewellery competition.  The downside is there are only two weeks until the deadline.  It is easy to let another opportunity slip by while working on achieving perfection, and it is far too easy to find a thousand reasons to justify not doing something, and not taking a risk.  To enter, or not to enter?  "Enter". There, I've said it, I'm now committed.

Hosted by mineralART, the competition is titled 'inside quartz - precious imperfection'.  I don't work with traditional jewellery gemstones, and know very little about quartz, but the notion of precious imperfection is something I have been exploring in my use of broken, fragmented treasures, so I will find my own way of interpreting the brief ...

The competition focuses on the production of an innovative piece of jewellery or object made of or in connection with quartz that inspires the designer through inclusions of other crystals or structural qualities.  It is all about the actual design of the object.  There are no restrictions as to the origin or variety of the quartz used.  (excerpt from mineralART)

Google images have revealed some wonderful diagrams and photographs of various quartz, and I need to explore these further.  Two small purchases of quartz pieces from a witchy new age shop (thank you Dr Dave x) have provided some actual source material, so I'm off to work.  Drawing, printing, photographing, looking, researching, scanning ... images to follow.

13 December 2011

Thinking Jewellery

I've been researching the connections between jewellery and identity, and have found some useful insights in a selection of published lectures from the annual Thinking Jewellery symposium, held at the Trier University of Applied Sciences in Idar-Oberstein, Germany.
One contributor, Professor Tilmann Habermas represented (as in re-presented) "the special importance of cherished objects for the formation of personality, and showed the enormous contribution they make to the subjective and societal construct of the self". For cherished, I read treasured, and for subjective and society construct of the self, I read identity.  I need to consider how my found object treasures not only represent identity, but become part of the identity.  This connects to a collection of care labels I made last year, in response to the Threads of Feeling exhibition at the Foundling Museum.  I have been fascinated by labels in clothing for some time, and find myself frequently returning to the format of trapping drawings or objects on one side by stitch.  Labels, and particularly found labels, definitely need exploring further.  

Linen, stitch, found object, 2010 © Vanda Campbell
Linen, stitch, found object, 2010 © Vanda Campbell
Linen, stitch, found object, 2010 © Vanda Campbell
From the Care Label Collection, 2010

11 December 2011

Where's the Power in Making?

I spent an interesting, albeit at times, frustrating, day at The Power of Making Symposium at the V&A on Friday. There's little point giving a journalistic account of the day, but suffice it to say the connection to the Power of Making was not initially obvious.  Only one of the twelve or so speakers was a maker.  How disappointing.  Had the day been sold as a symposium into the Power of Design or the Power of Manufacturing, then I am sure my expectations would have been better met.

I was lucky enough to attend another event at the V&A recently, also connected to the Power of Making exhibition. This was a discussion between Sir Christopher Frayling, Glenn Adamson and Grayson Perry, and the contrast couldn't be greater.  Not only was Grayson wearing a fetching hand-knitted cardigan as his 'homage to craft', but all the speakers demonstrated a passion and an appreciation for the making of craft.  There was very little passion at the symposium, and as the day progressed, I felt increasingly cross and frustrated.

However, reflection and hindsight are powerful tools. Although nothing can provide recompense for what I felt was absent from the symposium, I now realise that the day has helped me to identify what it is about making that is important to me.

I love the materiality of stuff.  Feeling the texture and smell of leather, noticing the transparency or opacity of glass, complementing the shiny or rusty surface of metal.  This is what I like.  I like to hold materials, manipulate them between my fingers, draw round them, draw on them, join them, take them apart.  I like finding the beauty in the stuff we use to make our world, and in particular, I like to highlight the beauty in the stuff that we lose along the way.

9 December 2011

Identifying Identity

In order for any work to have weight, substance, authority and relevance, it needs to communicate something other than the aesthetics of the materials.  If correctly identified, this message, I believe, can provide the foundation from which all other decisions may be made.  My recent explorations into materials and responses have been missing this, which means that in their current form, they can never be anything other than 'playing'.  It's time for the next stage in the process of making.

Identity has been hounding me for some time.  The world is full of labels - what do you do? what do you make?  who are you?  art gallery, craft gallery etc.  These labels, as I see it, seem to burden rather than provide enlightenment.  My own family history of jewellery is just one of many labels I need to understand in order to further my practice.  It would seem that identity, and particularly, personal identity, would be a good starting point.

8 December 2011

Fragments of memory

A short article in the latest edition of Crafts magazine caught my eye ... Maria Militsi at the Marsden Woo Project Space, London.  A contemporary jeweller, who uses found objects, and shows her work in a gallery setting.  What could be better?!

I have visited the Marsden Woo Gallery a few times lately, and am growing more comfortable with the atmosphere of the gallery, which is slightly aloof and almost reverential. There is often an edginess to the work that they show, and the artists they represent seem to occupy a land that is both craft and art.  I particularly admire the fact the makers they represent seem to revel in this unique position, and their practices challenge the labels and expectations of the sometimes uncomfortable bedfellows of the fine and applied arts.

In Fragments of Memory, Maria Militsi uses found objects, and makes casts and imprints in silver, as a means of exploring emotional responses to the original objects.  I was particularly interested in how the works were displayed. Her installation Self Portraits has two components.  A collection of found crucifixes in different sizes, styles and materials are hung in the shape of a cross.  This is echoed by an adjacent display of their impressions, cast in silver metal, and hung from small nails directly in the gallery wall, as a single work.  Each individual imprint was for sale, and was supplied with a linen thread and photograph of the original found crucifix.  What a great way to present work - a wearable piece of jewellery, but sold in a package that includes the accompanying narrative.

Maria Militsi, Imprints of Crucifixes, detail (2011), image © Philip Sayer

There were many aspects of Militsi's work that resonated with my practice.  The found objects she chooses, are both ordinary and familiar, yet away from their natural habitat seem strange and new.  The objects I use are broken and fragmented, and seem strange and new initially, but closer investigation reveals their original form or function, and they regain their familiarity.  Caroline Broadhead described Militsi's work as "a collision of opposites: complete and incomplete, faithful and mutinous, melancholic and humorous" (www.marsdenwoo.com).  These conflicts appear logical when made real in Militsi's works, and a delicate silver pendant looks perfectly at home lying across an old, tatty chair, with a 30' long chain cascading to the floor.  

I am excited by contrasts of old and new, expected and unexpected, and suspect that this may be part of the solution to my desire to avoid 'twee' and keep an edginess, and 'dirtiness' (see earlier blog entry, Keeping it dirty) to my practice.

4 December 2011

Phenomenon ... da, da, da, da, da

Last year it was all embroidery, crochet, and felt, now its all objectivity, empiricism and phenomenology.  Isn't post graduate study great!   

Empiricism has been cropping up a lot in my jewellery research.  Simply, empiricsm can be thought of as knowledge derived from experience.  This is particularly relevant to jewellery, in that the act of wearing jewellery (feeling it, seeing it, hearing it) in some ways impacts on the wearer's notion of self.  The physical interaction with the jewellery is key, and if an item of jewellery is worn that can be neither felt, nor seen, nor heard (by the wearer) then the implication is that wearing it has no impact on the wearer's notion of self, and it ceases to be relevant.  Instead, the jewellery becomes jewellery for the viewer only.

Further reading of philosophical concepts has led to another strand of thought, phenomonology.  I'm still trying to get my head around this one, but a strand of thinking which I suspect may have relevance to my practice, are the notions of thesis, antethesis and synthesis.  Not strictly phenomenology, but an offshoot of the philosophy, and found in the associated reading.  In simple terms, you take one idea (thesis), find an opposing idea (antethesis) and bring them together to come up with a third idea (synthesis).

This three staged process resonates with my approach to recent work, in which I have taken a found object (thesis), dipped it in plastic to abstract the form (antethesis) and then made a response to each piece (synthesis).  Further reading into the subject will hopefully provide a greater understanding of this triad, and may offer some different ways of making responses, and developing my practice.

Thesis, Found object, 2011 © Vanda Campbell

Antithesis, Found object, plastic, 2011 © Vanda Campbell

Synthesis, Acrylic, glass, 2011 © Vanda Campbell

2 December 2011

A Case of Forsaken Identity

I have been loathed to adopt the term 'jeweller' to describe my practice. Coming from a family of goldsmiths and fine jewellers, the term is loaded for me. On my foundation course, many years ago, both of my tutors (the wonderful Terry Shave and Kay Maclaurin) encouraged me to pursue jewellery at art college, yet I resisted and scuttled off to Hull to study Fine Art. Here I am, years later, still wearing the same label, but only now can I read it for myself. 

I am Vanda Campbell, and I make jewellery.

Cutting Edge,Found Object, Steel, Thread 2010 © Vanda Campbell
Cut Glass Found Object, Glass, Thread 2010 © Vanda Campbell
From the Chatelaines Collection, 2010

1 December 2011

Keeping it dirty

The materiality of stuff continues to intrigue me.  The juxtaposition of leather with glass, plastic and china, linen and metal etc., creates an aesthetic, which has the potential to be more exciting to me than the individual elements.

I have been working on responses to my plastic dipped found objects, and trying to identify my methodology in the early stages of a new body of work.  The responses, also from found objects, have the potential for an awkwardness which is harder to achieve if I have complete control over the form of the objects I use.    This need for awkwardness, clumsiness, even ugliness, is an effective counterbalance to the undesirable response of 'twee' which seems to curse jewellery so easily.  Could this awkwardness be the 'dirty' that Marty St James (Professor of Fine Art at University of Hertfordshire) keeps alluding to?!

The potential for awkwardness is even greater when two responses are joined to create a third response.