Beauty of the Lost

Exhibition  /  30 Mar 2008  -  30 May 2008
Published: 11.04.2008
Lisa Juen. Ring: The Higher You Climb, The Deeper you Fall, 2007. Enamel on Steel, Silk Floss, Cubic Zirconium. Lisa Juen
Ring: The Higher You Climb, The Deeper you Fall, 2007
Enamel on Steel, Silk Floss, Cubic Zirconium
© By the author. Read Copyright.

(...) This exhibition sets up a framework to invite artists’ personal reflection, re-interpretation and imagination, not for fantasies up there in the future, but for those that we have lost. (...)
Today, with increasing ambitions, many of us are encouraged to ‘gain’, and cannot afford to ‘lose’. As if we look forward to embracing the coming sunshine, but not necessarily would turn back to appreciate the beauty of our shadow that is left behind. We drive economic and cultural development ever so dynamically and rapidly within the notion of globalisation, enhance our life with latest technologies, and most frequently, update our identities by obtaining novel cars, new season collections, or even innovative mobile handsets. Consequently and inevitably, we are able to lose and leave the ‘old’, which would have been considered no longer of value, and to appear as the ‘new’.

This exhibition sets up a framework to invite artists’ personal reflection, re-interpretation and imagination, not for fantasies up there in the future, but for those that we have lost. It intends to slow down our pace to review the time that we have experienced, and encourages creative visual responses with a variety of media, including photographic installation, video, and particularly contemporary jewellery. Unlike the conventional assumption in which jewellery has been merely body adornment, the exhibition reveals a different role of jewellery: a role that is not necessarily bound to materials, rules or traditions, but indeed, defines itself through artistic expression and personal conviction.

“Globalisation helps us to unite the world, but also threatens to homogenise difference and individuality,” as Lisa Juen discusses, “the outside world becomes more and more important, and in turn the internal world, developing one’s own uninfluenced ideas, seems to lose its value.” In order to sustain the fading individual characters and cultural differences, enabling an escape from the world of regularity and formality and finding access to the personal dreams, desires and wishes, the artist develops a self-created realm of fantasy. In her recent series, including works for example the Higher You Climb, the Deeper You Fall, Sometimes I Wish to Explode, and Become One, the artist three-dimensionalises the original flat pieces by distinguishing the details that physically dissociate from the entirety, with various shapes and colours, attitudes and spirits. Each component, depicted with contrasting colours of the enamel, suggests a transformation from the ‘reality’ to ‘fantasy’, from ‘conformity’ to ‘individual excitement’. The use of silk thread can be understood, on the one hand, as a ‘web’, as a medium of connection. On the other hand, it symbolises a ‘net’, trapping and binding the attempt to escape reality, and more importantly, intimates the danger of losing personal freedom of thoughts and imagination.

Similarly, to Kathryn Partington, mass production and globalisation can result a loss of cultural differences and aesthetic identity in a world full of technology. “Deconstructing and subsequently reconstructing an 1890 Victorian adaptation of a Japanese style tableware pattern, which is symbolic of the dialogue that exists then and now between Eastern and Western ideas of visual language”, the artist attempts to recapture the essence of passing beauty, which is diminishing from modern day life, with contemporary practice in an interdisciplinary context. Trained in the area of both tableware ceramics and printed textiles, she sees her work as an evolutionary process, during which the original, yet past aesthetics, cultural assimilation in visual representations have been referenced and reflected, through innovative material manipulation and experimentation.

Clothing imitates and alters the form of human body, and more significantly, imposes a cultural association. Fashion collections with new and sometimes extraordinary styles arrive frequently to refresh our ideas and shift our look, and at the same time, to encourage the dispose of old clothing, together with old identities. Jessica Worley believes that “empty garments and unworn appendages seem to represent a missing part of a culturally influenced identity or fashionable body shape.” Equipped with a variety of textiles techniques, the artist thoughtfully discusses the body, full or empty, real or false, and in particular, its relationship with clothing. Worley’s work physically connects to and extends the body as components, which have been separated, or, lost from a cultural memory. They are not jewellery in the conventional sense, instead, “they are sculptural objects that highlight the difference between the actual and the invented”, and the ambiguity between the lost and the re-imagined.

Toni Mayner uses the ‘lost’ objects she finds in the streets. Her found objects would not usually be treasured, but are considered valueless having been discarded in daily life. In the recent series, Lost and Found, the artist explores the idea “that beauty is present in many unexpected places and that the processes of ageing and decay can well result in beautiful visual outcomes.” Through the application of jewellery techniques and the development of compositions, the found objects with decayed textures are ‘framed’ with refinement, and culturally transformed. The concept becomes particularly subtle when it is conveyed and realised through the medium of jewellery, which is generally regarded as precious. The unwanted objects are returned back to everyday becoming wearable and staying even closer to people, where the lost, with the years of experiences they carry, can then be re-observed and appreciated.

If Mayner, in a sense, has been reassessing the ‘usefulness’ of discarded articles, then Louise Evans combines historical photographs and scraps of documents with found objects and vintage clothing, to compose the social stories. “Influenced by the theory of family photography, narratives of identity, and women’s work and domesticity”, her works not only suggest visual memories, but also recollect the traditional expectations for being a ‘good’, ‘beautiful’, or a ‘loving’ woman. In the recent pieces, Leave Jewellery Well Alone, At What Age Are Women Most Charming and Be A Good Girl, woman vintage shoes, together with vintage linen, beads and buttons, and abraded fabric, are manipulated as picture frames to represent old photographic images. More interestingly, the execution of practice in the maternal line involves sewing and embroidery skills, and objects, such as jewellery, which women pass on to women for many generations. The hidden images printed on the insoles—invisible when being worn—interpret the myth of women and their unveiled virtuousness.

The nostalgic mood can also be easily seen in the photographic works by Maleonn. The word ‘hometown’ sometimes can be spiritual, as described in the artist’s diary. It reads, “one might still be able to physically travel back to hometown, thousands of miles away, but it would never be the same ‘hometown’ again for the time being… the na?ve smile of youth, the lost and broken love, and the weakening passion and dreams, have all been struck into pieces and ground as dust by time, and then accumulated painfully and secretly in the heart…” The 2006 series Nostalgia was taken in the Inner Mongolia in Northern China. It seemingly tells a story of a group of young men who attempt to resume the life that had been lost, or restage their childhood happiness in a remote land. They all dress in the uniform in theatrical tones of aged film; they move as a team but somehow hysterically. They sing and sail, point and wait, for something appearing or disappearing. The colour red is almost ubiquitous in the series, evoking immediately China’s lost era of Mao. But for younger generation, it rather voices revolutionary fervour, rebellious spirit and Utopian freedom.

Video artist Ravi Deepres and director Michael Baig Clifford’s experimental work Pure Cinema sits in the area between pictorial art and narrative film. Through the utterly graceful presence and movement of the character, the piece reveals conventions common to both cinema and painting, retraced right back to the style of the Dutch Baroque artist Jan Vermeer, essentially with imitation of the original use of an optical device—camera obscura. It chooses “a classical painting as the point of stillness itself and a point in a narrative or a moment in time, and explores what happened before.” The work discusses the notion of the gaze by depicting the visual world of a blind or partially sighted woman and the audience’s view of her, in particular, a sight she cherishes from a time she was able to see. Appearing in the triptych screens, the architectural environment and precise choreographed movement is alternated to another space, childhood memory as a lost sight, or indeed, an illusion of her inner self or guardian angel. Narrative sequences in a contemplative language produce a kind of ‘live still film’, or in other words, a ‘moving painting’. At the moment of revealing her world, the woman turns to face audience, while both of them become held by each other’s gaze. It appears that she has regained her vision and confronts us with a new insight into her world.

Focusing on the vulnerability of imperfection, Jo Pond’s work reflects “the ambivalent perceptions of personal beauty and their consequential relationship to confidence, self-value and psychological health”. She discusses: most of us are concerned with how we look, while the ability to alter our bodies to avoid flaws in appearance, mostly on skin, is becoming increasingly common. Individuals would focus on one or more of their features, which appear normal to others, and perceive these features as unacceptable defects. The artist chooses to incorporate natural or discarded materials, with “the state of impermanence that allows nature and time to influence the practice process”, to develop a beautiful yet sorrowful narrative. The animal skin, for example, appropriated in her work usually has its flaws, as symbolic references of form and material reflecting our perception and attitude. Living in a natural world, where perfectibility can hardly be achieved or secured, Pond’s work re-establishes “ownership of the presence of intrinsic beauty within these flaws and imperfections”.

Based on reflections upon her personal experience and the idea that emotions can be invested in the making of artistic work, to Jivan Astfalck, ‘the lost’ sometimes can be enigmatic, yet suggestive of trauma. Her works have been developed “as sites of memory and fiction, history and thought, visible traces providing connections with the invisible and imagined in a complex web of relationships.” In the 2004 work ChickBones, the artist appropriated, or rather ‘decorated’ the vertebra bones of three chickens, which have been collected from her meals, with fine-gold and artificial pearls, tracing back to one of the oldest pre-occupations in body decoration. The ambivalence between the abandoned and the seductive, beauty and the loss of life, pleasure and melancholia are subtly represented in the necklace. In her 2003 work Desire in Language, Astfalck ‘edited’ the book that she had been reading by Julia Kristeva, a Bulgarian-French philosopher and feminist, by burning off the centre part of the text pages with a silver set carving of a dyed coral mermaid. The intervention, on the one hand, disrupts the flow of reading of the original text, on the other, creates the fragmented and now separated parts of the text, which lost from the original book became a wearable pendant on a gold-plated silver chain. The beauty of the work is not necessarily presented by those reshaped pages with fragmented text, but rather to be found in the painful dialogue between literature and the visual, emphasising the missing and missed meanings from the book and in turn from the fragile pieces on the chain when worn.

Contemporary jewellery has reached far beyond adornment, and should be understood as a special medium of art, a moving medium carried by viewers amongst themselves. This exhibition of contemporary art is fortunate to have these cutting-edge jewellery pieces, together with video work and photographic installation, which generate a variety of approaches for visual reflection. It extends our perception of ‘beauty’, and offers us a space to recollect ‘the lost’ differently.

Jiang Jiehong

Birmingham, England
March 2008

Citations in this text are adopted from artist statements, my private emails or recent online conversations with the artists. I would like to thank all the artists, for their enthusiasm, contribution and inspiration.

Toni Mayner. Brooch: Lost and Found, 2007. Coffee Filter, Oxidized Sterling Silver, Stainless Steel. Toni Mayner
Brooch: Lost and Found, 2007
Coffee Filter, Oxidized Sterling Silver, Stainless Steel
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Louise Evans. Piece: Be A Good Girl, 2007. Vintage Shoes, Vintage Linen, Abraded Fabric Transfers. Louise Evans
Piece: Be A Good Girl, 2007
Vintage Shoes, Vintage Linen, Abraded Fabric Transfers
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Jo Pond. Brooch: Cameo Brooch, 2007. Vellum, Silver. Jo Pond
Brooch: Cameo Brooch, 2007
Vellum, Silver
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Jivan Astfalck. Necklace: Desire in Language, 2003. Sterling Silver Set Carving of a Mermaid, Dyed Coral, Burned into Book, Sterling Silver Chain, Gold Plated, Paper from Book. Jivan Astfalck
Necklace: Desire in Language, 2003
Sterling Silver Set Carving of a Mermaid, Dyed Coral, Burned into Book, Sterling Silver Chain, Gold Plated, Paper from Book
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Katrhyn Partington. Neckpiece: Pure, 2007. Slip cast bone china with embossed Pattern Relief from hand engraving combined with white precious metal links. Katrhyn Partington
Neckpiece: Pure, 2007
Slip cast bone china with embossed Pattern Relief from hand engraving combined with white precious metal links
© By the author. Read Copyright.