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Maker - Wearer - Viewer

An exhibition of contemporary jewellery, bringing together the work of over 70 jewellers from 20 European countries, is an impressive and alluring enough prospect as it stands.  Yet charge this with a powerful narrative current and an ever-more intriguing exhibition emerges.  This triple whammy mix of Contemporary Narrative European jewellery forms the basis of the exhibition ‘Maker - Wearer - Viewer’, which can currently be seen at the Glasgow School of Art. 

Curated by Jack Cunningham, a lecturer in the Department of Jewellery and Silversmithing at the GSA and one of the show’s exhibitors, ‘Maker – Wearer - Viewer’ aims to highlight the triangular relationship between the maker; the re-interpretive role of the wearer; and finally the viewer, who ultimately engages with the work.  The exhibition also carries with it the distinction of being the first of its kind in the UK to bring together so many key European jewellers – many from young, fledgling EU member states - who are all working within the narrative realm. 

                          In the Garden; by Jack Cunningham

If the idea of a narrative strand suggests a linear, cosily traditional and a ‘once upon a time’ and happily ever after’ scenario, then ‘Maker-Wearer-Viewer’ successfully throws down the gauntlet to this narrow view.  Far from limiting expression in any way, the narrative genre, as explored within the context of the exhibition is a hugely expansive and panoramic backdrop, against which a whole plethora of stories, snapshots and even sagas are played out.  These range from the global political themes of Kepa Karmona’s neckpiece collages featuring contraceptive pills, blood sugar and toothpaste, to Alan Ardiff’s ‘Domestic Goddess’ a small, intimate personal 'tribute to all the domestic appliances that, in time, have come to reflect and consolidate my love.'  The visual language throughout, is as strikingly varied as the narrative themes themselves. 

The biggest narrative theme of all - life itself - is never too far away.  Dutch maker Ruud Peters ‘Pneuma 5’ gold and resin amorphous translucent cavities appear like the dividing cells at the beginning of life.  A beautifully articulate reflection based around the determination of gender and the role of the X chromosome has also been achieved by French artist Christophe Burger in his silver and plastic ‘Pendant X’.  Contrastingly, Danish maker Katrine Borup’s delicate layer upon layer of silver culminates in a ‘Memento Mori’ death head. 

Elsewhere, French jeweller Faust Cardinali’s frankly disturbing ‘Ora Professional’ gold, silver and plastic comb is possibly to narrative jewellery what the Chapman brothers unforgiving sculptures are to the art world.  Indeed, in terms of presenting an uncompromising vision there is no shortage of exemplars.  Key amongst these is German Master Goldsmith Karl Fritsch, who has chosen to eschew the delicacy normally associated with jewels in his big, bold, and bulky gold and ruby concoction ‘Rubyring no. 418. 

The exhibits have been arranged according to the maker’s country of practice.  And although there is little in the way of a recognisable narrative to emerge from each European country, if anything, this only goes to show how intensely unique the voices are.  Saying this, however, Spain emerges as something of a revelation, boasting a fine collection of inventive, sensual and even witty pieces. 

Atlas; by Ramon Puig Cuyas

These range from the primal seductiveness of Milena Trujillo’s ‘Golden Dreams’ silver pendant, to the re-imagining of the cosmos in Ramon Puig Cuyás’s ‘Atlas Brooch’.  There is also humour in Xavier Ines Monclus’ ‘Contemporary Jewellery’ which ponders the issue of ‘jewellery to play with or toys to wear’ .

The exhibition is also an invaluable and rewarding opportunity to see UK makers seen within a European context.  Jack Cunningham’s memory encapsulations are memorable as is Mah Rana’s ‘Meanings and Attachments’ which directly addresses the maker-wearer-viewer relationship via a written and photographic record of people’s personal connections to the jewellery that they wear.

Ultimately, ‘Maker - Wearer  - Viewer’ is ambitious in its aim to bring so many disparate makers, nationalities, voices, languages and stories together.  But it’s all the better for it, as it eloquently demonstrates how vital narrative jewellery can be as a means of creative expression. 

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