Handshake 4: Polarity

Exhibition  /  07 Sep 2018  -  21 Oct 2018
Published: 08.10.2018

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Twelve Handshake-4 artists explore the opposing and complementary powers of light and dark by employing considered lighting and display techniques. These jewellers exhibit work that questions the essential dualities within all of us. Two polarised rooms at the Corban Arts Estate presented these ideas. See below what has been thought about and expressed.

Artist list

Volker Altrop, Vivien Atkinson, Mandy Flood, Nik Hanton, Jennifer Laracy, Brendon Monson, Katie Pascoe, Sandra Schmid, Kylie Sinkovich, Nadine Smith, Caroline Thomas, Kim Whalen, Keri-Mei Zagroblena
The Way We Live Now

Hello Visitor!

This group of 12 jewellers asked me to contribute a short text for their show Polarity. I’m known for having an interest, and some familiarity, with the field of New Zealand contemporary jewellery so of course I said ‘yes’, although I wouldn’t be able to see any of the works before the exhibition opened. So in musing about what I might write I started thinking about what the jewellers had told me about their work and also the word ‘polarity’. This word suggests to me ‘contradiction’ and ‘opposition’, the notion of things being separate and irreconcilable.

What the jewellers talked about was something different. Caroline Thomas discussed “the constant ‘push-me pull-you’”of her ideas and said she was “constantly tussling with an inner dialogue”. Rather than their ideas being, or remaining polarities, she and others conveyed a strong sense of establishing dialogues by joining ideas up. Jennifer Laracy describes her enquiry about the past and the present as a ‘journey’, with her travelling between and connecting her interests. These artists demonstrate that their practices have established ‘conversations’ between disparate ideas and they certainly don’t seem to be confounded by the oppositional nature of polarities. Mandy Flood describes the ideas in such a dialogue as “independent but utterly dependent”. And it’s the tension of these different or independent ideas being held together that helps establish the voice of the individual maker. Kylie Sinkovich says “With that ‘voice’ (our work) we are able to communicate and articulate our feelings around our evolved idea with a heightened sense of understanding and conviction.”

These jewellers have a wide range of interests and are clearly going in many different directions. It is common for such exhibitions to be described as giving you, the visitor, a ‘snapshot’ of contemporary practice. I’m not sure if Polarity is really a snapshot of contemporary New Zealand jewellery practice. For that to be the case I think the exhibition would have to be more comprehensive in terms of the types of practices. But what I think the exhibition does is throw some very interesting light on the field of contemporary jewellery itself and our contemporary world. I’ll explain.

The term ‘contemporary jewellery’ came into currency in the 1950s and 60s (sometimes it has been called art jewellery or studio jewellery) when a new generation of makers began to experiment with materials other than the precious metals and precious stones of conventional jewellery. The development of this new field of contemporary jewellery was seen as being focused around a single and fundamental concept, ‘the critique of preciousness’. Noted Australian commentator Dr Kevin Murray said in a recent talk in Wellington, “ ‘this critique involves ‘the struggle to liberate jewellery from restrictive notions of value, so that it becomes available for artistic expression and experimentation, a deeper engagement with society, and a new awareness of the body and the wearer’. 1

50 years since its emergence the field is much larger than it has ever been. Noted Paris-based commentator Ben Lignel wrote after the 2016 Munich Jewellery Week (the annual Olympics of the contemporary jewellery world) that “Even though we all tend to meet up in the same railway station, I don’t believe jewellery is actually on a single train, going in a single direction. The commentator’s point, I think, is that differences in practices are too big to ignore, and this signals the road ahead: We must now attend more precisely to jewellery’s diversity, lest our “supportive family” syndrome start stifling the development of distinctive offshoots.“ 2 The differences evident in Polarity, I think, are emblematic of the current state of the field of contemporary jewellery itself.

If we think about what is before us it also seems to me that this assembly of works speak very loudly about our contemporary world. Googling ‘characteristics of the contemporary age’ I came across a list of four defining characteristics of our age. 1. Multiple meanings or multiple worlds. Check: As Ben Lignel noted above there are many things going on in contemporary jewellery and they’re not necessarily connected. Just look around the room. 2. Work in non-traditional forms. Check: Yes, our eyes confirm this. For instance, Nadine Smith writes of her “desire to give a sense of life to the discarded”. 3. Comments upon itself. Check: Mandy Flood has said her work is about “the exploration of materials and their end states”. Jen Laracy said she is “thinking about traditional settings, decoration and adornment”. 4. Features cultural diversity. Check: Amongst these 12 are people from Maori and Pakeha backgrounds and people born in a number of different countries who now live in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Anthony Trollope’s 1875 novel The Way We Live Now aimed to reveal the characteristics of the times. In presenting the works gathered it seems to me that Polarity not only presents contemporary practice but it embodies and makes visible some of the current attributes and dilemmas of contemporary jewellery as well as some of the defining features of our contemporary world.


Philip Clarke, July 2018.

1. Presented 12 April 2018 at The Dowse Art Museum.
2. 03/28/16

Click here for the full content of the catalogue.
Click here for more info about the exhibition.

Beatrice Brovia, Nicolas Cheng, Judy Darragh, Aaron Decker, Regan Gentry, Ben Lignel, Vincent Pontillo-Verrastro, Lisa Reihana, Francis Upritchard, Tanel Veenre.
Exhibition venue, pieces by Vivien Atkinson..
Exhibition venue, pieces by Vivien Atkinson.

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Exhibition venue, pieces by Nik Hanton..
Exhibition venue, pieces by Nik Hanton.

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Exhibition venue, pieces by Jennifer Laracy..
Exhibition venue, pieces by Jennifer Laracy.

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Exhibition venue, pieces by Caroline Thomas..
Exhibition venue, pieces by Caroline Thomas.

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Exhibition venue, pieces by Keri-Mei Zagroblena..
Exhibition venue, pieces by Keri-Mei Zagroblena.

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Exhibition venue..
Exhibition venue.

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Exhibition venue..
Exhibition venue.

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The light room overview..
The light room overview.

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The  light room  overview..
The light room overview.

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The dark room overview..
The dark room overview.

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Handshake 4 - Polarity
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