Saturday, October 24, 2015

East Meets West - West Meets Further West

First of all, I have to make it clear that the Justified Sinner is still alive and kicking. My website has gone offline whilst I change hosting companies due to a ludicrous hike in pricing at Small Business Host who previously hosted the sites.

Another busy and exciting week at the School of Jewellery. I knew it would be interesting but had never imagined that so much would be going on all the time! This week it was the phenomenal "East Meets West" exhibition of work by ten graduates of the school who had come here from China and who then returned to China to set up their own practices. Yip Chang then got the group involved with a master jade-carver, Jinwen Liao and brought together an exhibition of their most recent work plus their responses to traditional jade carvings which were then realised by Jinwen Liao.

East Meets West Exhibition - 2

The set-up began on Monday morning and was complete by the evening for yet another reception.

East Meets West Exhibition - 29

It was an absolute delight to meet again with Li-Chu Wu. Some of you will recall that I blogged about her work years ago (I think it may have been on the old blog) and it was lovely to see her back with some work which is immediately recognisable:

East Meets West Exhibition - 9 - Li-Chu Wu

As well as some new work which is very different but which still makes use of paper, albeit in a more disguised manner:

East Meets West Exhibition - 8 - Li-Chu Wu

It is great to see that lots of our graduates go on to become classic "fine jewellers" and that in addition to the design skills that are so demanded of jewellery students in other establishments, they also get to learn to make. The market for contemporary jewellery in China would most kindly be described as "emerging": some of the graduates were less generous, and perhaps this is what makes them focus more on the fine-making skills once they have returned there. Yip Chang's own work is very much fine jewellery and while it is also very much within the framework of the cultural norms of his homeland, it is immediately appealing.

East Meets West Exhibition - 11 - Yip Chan

The same can be said of Ching-Chui Tseng:

East Meets West Exhibition - 14 - Ching-Chui Tseng

There were lots of facets to the show and one of the main aspects was a cabinet of work in which Jinwen Liao had interpreted way less traditional designs by the group and had then given them back jade objects which they transformed into jewellery.

East Meets West Exhibition - 19 - Jinwen Liao

East Meets West Exhibition - 21 - Jinwen Liao

East Meets West Exhibition - 22 - Jinwen Liao

These last three images are all based on the jade "doughnut" form which has enormous resonance within Chinese culture.

My own favourite work was by Jichan Chai with whom I struck up an immediate affinity, strengthened later in the week when he referenced Kevin Coates in a talk he gave about his work. I really wanted to buy his "Conqueror" brooch, but it was not for sale:

East Meets West Exhibition - 4 - Work by Jichang Chai

This is from his latest collection, which also included this crazy neckpiece:

East Meets West Exhibition - 3 - Work by Jichang Chai

He also displayed some of his early work from his time in the School of Jewellery:

East Meets West Exhibition - 5 - Work by Jichang Chai

We will be keeping in touch, so expect more from the man I came to know as Frank!
The exhibition ran for a week, during which time there were demonstrations of jade-carving for every group in the school:

East Meets West Exhibition - 24 - Jinwen Liao

As well as the chance to handle some of the amazing objects and to learn about the curious material that is jade:

East Meets West Exhibition - 23 - Jinwen Liao

There were talks from gemmologist Miranda wells and from the exhibitors:

East Meets West Exhibition - 30

The whole event was brilliant and I'm so pleased that the students got the chance to see some of the opportunities which are available to them as well as to seeing another aspect of the jewellery world which is rather hidden to us generally in the west.

East Meets West Exhibition - 25

I also finally got to meet with Steven Medhurst this week. I've been talking to him on-and-off online for about a year now and although we work in very different styles, I like his work a lot:

He had to come up to Birmingham to meet some trade contacts and we went for lunch, then I showed him round the exhibition and the school which decided him that he should change his centre of supplies and services from Hatton Garden to the Jewellery Quarter. Eminently sensible, I think!

I do enjoy the odd things that appear in the studios. This week it was a box of daisies:

Flowers and Sketch

And a misanthropic drawing:


This week also saw the announcement of the SNAG fund-raiser, the Halstead Challenge, in which $25 buys a kit of 'stuff' from which a kinetic brooch has to be made to some rather stringent conditions.

The stringent conditions are:
  • Create one kinetic brooch from the Halstead Design kit utilizing as many components as possible (minimum 50% of items should be used in final work).
  • Add one clearly visible found item component.
  • Size restrictions: Maximum: 4 x 4 x 1 inches
  • Retail price max. $400
Since meeting with John Grayson, I've been thinking a lot about kinetic jewellery and the idea of automata in particular. I've been interested in automata for as long as I can remember but have only in the last five or so years been seriously thinking about making them. John's "Chaterama" fired me up:

#Chaterama - 3

And the weekend after I saw this, went out and bought a wooden automata kit (which also neatly ties in with the current ACJ exhibition, "Sleight of Hand"!):

The Magician

Oddly enough, the week before I met John, I had bought the book, "How to Build Simple Automata" by John's friend and associate, Robert Race:

It seems that everything is conspiring to one end: my next big piece will be an automaton!
This resurrected an idea I've had for a while for a piece based on the writings of John Cage and using a small musical-box movement which I found at a junk shop years ago. However, poking through a very preliminary research, I was reminded of something quite other which has piqued my interest more...

I was quite fascinated when talking to John to find out about the way in which "toy" only relatively recently came to be applied to playthings for children and that prior to that, it would have been used where we now use the term "bibelot".

Also this week, I bought a pendant from one of my favourite jewellers, Nicolas Estrada.

Nicolas Estrada by monserrat lacomba on Flickr

I spotted it in a photograph by Monserrat Lacomba whom I have also been in contact with on-and-off over the years (she interviewed me for her fantastic blog in 2010!) and who posted photographs of her visit to Joya Barcelona. I hadn't seen this piece of Nicolas' before and was immediately in touch with him. "Suffering" arrived this week:


And finally, one of the events being organised at the School of Jewellery is my own!

Every year, the British Art Medal Society organise a student competition and normally Birmingham do rather well in it. My own students from Glasgow have also done well in it and I was keen to continue with the project. Last year, for reasons of staffing and due to re-structuring of courses, no students from the School of Jewellery took part, which caused consternation amongst the organisers, so when I suggested a different approach, it was accepted enthusiastically. Thus I am organising the one-day symposium, "Art Medals: History, Philosophy and Practice" and have some amazing speakers and support from Thomas Fattorini, Toye Kenning & Spencer, The British Museum, British Art Medal Society and some of the best medallists in the country.

Additionally, to get round problems with catering, we've engaged The Real Junk Food Project Brum to supply lunch.

Come along!
You can book free tickets here - select the "public" tickets if you are not a student or staff at Birmingham City University:

Art Medals: History, Philosophy and Practice, 4th November 2015, School of Jewellery, Vittoria Street, Birmingham, B1 3PA; starting at 10.30am.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Frontiers Of All Sorts

So we kick off this week with an correction and an apology. In my last blog, I credited the elegant champagne-flute holders which were used at the Fei Liu reception as having been "designed and made" by Paul Evans, when, in fact, they were designed by Andy Howard and then made by Paul Evans.

Fei Liu Exhibition - School of Jewellery - 1

This week started off very musically with four concerts of electroacoustic music at the Birmingham Conservatoire. I set off somewhat early on Monday and with some time to spare, decided to visit the new Central Library in the city centre. I'm somewhat predisposed to dislike the new library as it was built to allow the demolition of John Madin's magnificent brutalist icon, commonly known as "The Ziggurat".

Ziggurat Library - 1

A building which I have photographed many times and which I think has some very unique and wonderful features. It is being torn down to be replaced with the blandest of the bland international-cut-and-paste crap.

I do actually loathe the external appearance of the new library: it looks cheap and gimmicky, it looks badly made, the massing is wrong, the gilding is tacky...

Giant Puppet - 6

BUT it is quite amazing inside. In fact, so amazing inside that I found it impossible to photograph; it somehow or other magically combines the look of an ultra-traditional library - think rows of dusty books and dim lighting, stairs and ladders - with ultra-modern interior design and there are delightful surprises hidden all the way up the structure, from the terrace cafe to the incredible reconstruction of the Birmingham Shakespeare Society library which is an almost visceral shock to walk into, to the roof garden with panoramic views of the city.

Shakespeare Memorial Library - 2

Roof Garden, Birmingham Central Library

Birmingham Panorama - 1

Anyway, back to the music... It is so long since I've been to a concert of challenging contemporary music and it was good to see that the "Frontiers: Legacies in Technology XIV.I, II, III, IV" series was well-attended. The programme consisted of a mixture of music by students and staff at the Conservatoire as well as from further afield.

Frontiers: Legacies in Technology XIV.1, .II, .III and .IV - 1

It was all quite exceptional but I was especially taken with Horacio Vaggione's "Points Critiques" and Adrian Moore's computer-and-violin piece, "Fields of Darkness and Light", being rehearsed (and later performed) here by Sarah Farmer:

Frontiers: Legacies in Technology XIV.1, .II, .III and .IV - 4

Michael Wolters also deserves credit for his delightfully, hilariously stupid, "Sad Toilet Door". I will leave you to imagine...

Next month, work by Swedish composer, Karin Rehnqvist.

The BA Jewellery and Silversmithing students have only been in the School of Jewellery three weeks and already they have an exhibition together, "Cocoon", which is a show of small vessels. Rather as my own students on the HND are progressing at a rate which I cannot believe, it is amazing to me that these students have pulled together such accomplished work in such a short period of time:

Container Project - 6

Unfortunately, I can't credit any of these pieces as they were unlabelled.

Container Project - 2

Container Project - 4

Container Project - 5

I've also been back in the workshop myself, making another commission for a customer, this time from a spoon which was found in a nightclub in London, burnt and encrusted with drug residues. I am really glad that person for whom this is being made picked it up as it gave me a chance to make a really distilled little piece on the theme of "(The Path Of Least) Resistance", which I've been thinking about as a title for some time now:

(The Path Of Least) Resistance - 2

In case you are wondering, the title - which also has a meaning for the person who commissioned it - came from a song by one of my old favourites, The Human League:

I also took the time to have a rake through the metal that I found in the abandoned factory on the day that I had the interview for the job at the School of Jewellery (see here) and realised that there are some pieces which just make themselves:

The Jewellery Which Makes Itself - 1

Dare I leave this as minimal as "The Ancient Mariner"?

The Ancient Mariner - 15

I think so!

I woke up on Friday morning to find that I was all over social media. Not just me, but also Jan Donaldson, my partner in The Contemporary Jewellery Exchange, 2015, which several of my colleagues at the School of Jewellery are also taking part in. TJCE 2015 is almost a completed project, and organiser, Olga Raben, had published some of the collaborations:

The photograph of me is by Simon Murphy and not being able to call upon his amazing skills is a definite minus for living in Birmingham!

Marcia Lanyon was in town this week with a collection of stones. I had to buy some very ordinary stones - marquise, round brilliants in garnet and peridot and the like - but she also had these wonderful included quartz squares:

Included Quartz Squares

I'm already thinking about how to use these. It is a while since I've made a cocktail ring...

Nothing else to report for this week. I've spent a very quiet weekend writing my talk for The Society of Jewellery Historians and making cakes.

A caramelised lime Madeira cake, made to use up the embarrassing glut of limes which came about after I asked for "four limes" at the Digbeth fruit and vegetable market, not realising that £1 bought the whole container of fruit, and the trader cheerfully tipped 25 limes into my rucksack. This used up 6 of them.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

From Junk To Discarded Vegetables

Another busy week, starting early on with the first stirrings of the performance-making-piece "JUNK: Rubbish To Gold" by Jivan Astfalck in which 650kg of junk jewellery will be reconfigured and auctioned off for charity. Jivan, Laura Bradshaw-Heap and Rachel Darbourne had a photoshoot this week and we got to see some of the junk materials:

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold

I will be taking part in this in November, so there will be more postings on that.

I also finished the commisson piece, "Old Jack's Charms" (the title comes from a Marc Almond song about a tattooed sailor) using found iron from the beach at Dungeness, silver, gemstones and the customer's own locket - which contains a photograph of her grandmother - and a broken gold, silver and ruby brooch:

Old Jack's Charms -  7

While I can't even pretend that the beautiful Edwardian brooch is "junk", it is nice to think of this as a preparation for the performance in November! (In fact, this is almost a reverse in that I added junk to a piece of fine jewellery...)

On Wednesday, we had a visit from Stephen Bottomley, head of jewellery at Edinburgh College of Art with some of his BA and MFA students and with my colleague, Zoe Robertson, went out for dinner after visiting The Dual Works, home to Zoe and the fascinating Sellotape Cinema, with whom she has worked and collaborated. I love Zoe's work as it bursts with humour and a real joie-de-vivre which is so refreshing and it was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to see some of her drawings laid out for her next work:

In The Studio With Zoe Robertson - 1

We also got to play with one of the "drawing machines" which are used by Sellotape Cinema:

In The Studio With Zoe Robertson - 3

A couple of videos: first from Sellotape Cinema and second; from Zoe Robertson -

So that was all very exciting!
Unfortunately, after a very rich dinner of barbecued jackfruit, I had to cycle home.

(I have, however, spent a good part of this weekend trying to find jackfruit as it is a rather remarkable stuff, actually having a texture not unlike that of meat.)

Fei Liu Exhibition - School of Jewellery - 7

Friday brought us to the evening event of a show of work by one of the School of Jewellery's most well-known graduates, Fei Liu. Fei is a remarkable character: ebullient, garrulous, charming and outspoken and it was an absolute pleasure to meet him and listen to his advice on how I should handle my HND class for the best results: as he employs many graduates of the School of Jewellery, I suppose he actually does know better than I do at the moment!

Fei Liu Exhibition - School of Jewellery - 5

Fei was the first student from China to attend the School of Jewellery and he graduated 10 years ago. He stayed in the UK and set up his business in Birmingham, now exporting all over the world.

Fei Liu Exhibition - School of Jewellery - 11

Part of the event included an auction of some of his jewellery and this was conducted by our oratorically-inclined Dean of Faculty, David Roberts, aided by Gaynor Andrews, our head of school:

Fei Liu Exhibition - School of Jewellery - 13

Here, he's being told off - as only jewellers would do - for calling a 'mallet' a 'hammer'!

This is one of the pieces being auctioned to raise money for the Birmingham Children's Hospital:

Fei Liu Exhibition - School of Jewellery - 8
For me, the highlight of the show was the incredible tanzanites in this collar:

Fei Liu Exhibition - School of Jewellery - 10

The unspoken highlight of the show was the specially-designed holders for the champagne flutes, designed and made by our basement genius, Paul Evans:

Fei Liu Exhibition - School of Jewellery - 1

It might surprise you to know that I also did some teaching, which is the real reason I'm in Birmingham.

Here the students are working on a "design thinking" exercise which I'm pleased to report came up with a viable commercial proposition.

Fairly relaxing weekend. I picked up my box of foods from The Real Junk Food Project this weekend and set to roasting half of them:

These would have been dumped if it hadn't been for the project collecting and re-distributing them. More from TRJFPBrum very soon...