Collective Action at JOYA 2019

Published: 30.09.2019
Lieta Marziali Lieta Marziali
Lieta Marziali
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Brooch by Gigi Mariani. Represented by Gallery Gioielli in Fermento (GIF)..
Brooch by Gigi Mariani. Represented by Gallery Gioielli in Fermento (GIF).

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Lieta Marziali investigates the impact of the participation of Galleries, Arts & Crafts Collectives, Institutions and Schools at JOYA Barcelona Art Jewellery Fair 2019 within the context of this year's theme “Diplomacy and Jewellery” focusing on the political and activist power of art.
When tasked with writing about collectives and galleries taking part in this year's Joya, I embraced the challenge with much eagerness. Fairs have, after all, always been a source of personal unrest because of their liminal positioning between fostering artistic practice and meeting commercial needs. I also do not make it a secret that I question Joya's (and others') requirements for individuals to apply with work produced in a series or collection and with minimal accompanying description. This is on the grounds that it proves inclusive only for those practitioners whose work is created – or can be sufficiently and convincingly “bent” to be presented – in that format, thereby offering the visitor only a partial and possibly more design-biased view into the field of jewellery as art. And it is because of this that I fully support the inclusion of galleries and collectives, as well as last year's addition of objects to jewellery, which may go some way to offer the visitor more of a 360° glimpse into the diversity of contemporary practices that populate the field. More importantly, by bringing new practices into its commercial fold instead of requiring them to adapt to it, the fair fulfils its aim to broaden the tastes of new and old buyers while also validating the diversity of their purchases.

One of the organisations exhibiting under the umbrella of “galleries” will be the Italian competition project Gioielli in Fermento, curated by Eliana Negroni, and with a long-standing mutual collaboration with Joya. Gioielli is supported by the Associazione Gioiello Contemporaneo in Italy and, while a look at any of the catalogues will testify to a network of financial sponsors and institutional affiliations, it does not reveal the vast amount of dedication and networking that makes this possible in a country where there is still little knowledge of the field of artistic jewellery, let alone (as the website explains) of the “infinite individual expressions of artists, contemporary goldsmiths and designers” that populate it.

Fresh from its VIII Edition, which opened in May in Castel San Giovanni in the countryside near Piacenza, Gioielli will divide its offering between presenting pieces developed by this year's winner Yasuko Kanno as part of her prize, and its own Gallery project. For the latter, selected past participants and invited artists are also asked to create a further 2-3 pieces exploring the scope of their already-exhibited works.

Brooch: Shape of the Moment by Yasuko Kanno. Material: steel, silver. Represented by Gallery Gioielli in Fermento (GIF).

I have to confess that with Gioielli I feel in home territory. Having taken part in and attended the event for the last two years, I have had a chance to get to know its format and scope, as well as to meet many of its participating artists and of course to see some of the works exhibited at Joya. This has certainly not stopped my curiosity from being piqued by the anticipation of how Yasuko will expand, without diluting it, the horizon of her winning brooch “Shape of the Moment”. Having had the pleasure of meeting Yasuko, her standalone piece acted as a sort of mirror of what I, a hybrid of the natural unrestrained ebullience of my native Italy and the osmosed polite formalism of my acquired British home, felt that I perceived in her as a person: irrefutably understated in its humble sculptural form, and projecting a palpable strength through its deceptively fragile and fragmented façade.

Turning my eyes to the Gallery project, as the world of my own jewellery is filled with the dismissed, the dismantled and the discarded, the fact that I should be drawn so much to a few jewellers here whose work bears such a connection with the high craftsmanship of precious metal and goldsmithing techniques is still a source of many, and often unanswered, questions. And so, if I can place my passion and reverence for the work of Lluís Comín in its decades-long evolution from that best tradition of studio and narrative jewellery of which I am so deeply fond, I am still intrigued by the mystery that drives my fascination with Gigi Mariani's pieces. There is an alchemy at work there in his manipulation of silver, gold and niello, hidden as it is in plain sight in forms that are as simple to observe as they are challenging to decipher. Loving the known and the unknown precisely because of their intrinsic qualities of the comfort of filling one void and the thrill of opening up another are then perhaps both embedded for me in the work of Corrado de Meo. Here, what feels familiar and what feels novel can be but a trick of the mind, or indeed of the materials and forms he decides to use or to mimic.

Brooch The Terroir by Corrado de Meo. Material: papier maché, acrylic paint, oxides, wood, silver. Represented by Gallery Gioielli in Fermento (GIF),

The other gallery is Lalabeyou, and one that was known to me only by name. Lalabeyou, based in Madrid, is the brainchild of Laura González Sanz, who described to me how it was born out of a desire for her to extend her studio into a place where jewellery classes could be made more accessible and, further down the line, where contemporary artistic jewellery could have a greater presence in the Spanish capital.

Creating gallery space around a studio/teaching one seems to be a very common development model, and one that allows for organic growth at that. Encouraging new students to enter the field creates new communities of practitioners from amateur to professional who will not only need new spaces for exhibiting their work but, and most importantly, will create new audiences among a public that might not have been exposed to artistic jewellery before. With Lalabeyou this horizontal growth has meant expanding from their original 40sqm space into a 100sqm new combined studio gallery. And it has also manifested in their democratic approach to the selection process for Joya. Applications were invited from all sectors of those affiliated to the school and gallery from current or past students, to tutors and exhibiting artists, who all then voted anonymously (but not for themselves), resulting in a collective effort to curate the best pieces that would represent the school and gallery as well as the artists themselves.

Necklace by Sandra Val. Materials: porcelain, plaster, brass. Represented by Gallery Lalabeyou.

Lalabeyou worked around a theme of “BLANCO” (or white) in order to provide both a neutral and wide enough territory to explore while giving its applicants full control over their interpretation. Most works adopted the colour as a central component but, without artists' statements during my preview of images, it was difficult to place this in its individual conceptual framework. This, however, forced me to look at the pieces from a purely visual and material point of view, inviting me to feel them and find my own meanings.

Once again, it is that transitory and subtle boundary between the familiar and unfamiliar that ended up guiding me. A hint of narrative was bound to draw me to the work of Sandra Val, especially with its use of ceramic fragments which, following recent conversations, are increasingly occupying my own artist's mind. And yet, old familiar white materials like porcelain, plaster and paper engaged me more than less obvious new materials employed by some in the group because I couldn't always fully read their use beyond their (absence of) colour. I am therefore looking forward to further investigating the Moon-inspired pieces of Esther Ortiz-Villajos and the significance of relationships in the work of Iraia Aizcorbe Marcos. On the other hand, I find myself intrigued by the assemblage of materials used by Cova Ríos: not unexpected due to the multidisciplinary nature of her practice spanning architecture, product design and installation, but whose monochromatic manipulation I suspect holds more secrets than the series title is happy to reveal.

Necklace from MoNoCRoMoS series by Cova Ríos. Materials: wood, marble, acrylic paint, resin, silver, pumice, oil. Represented by Gallery Lalabeyou.

In terms of collectives, there will be three represented at Joya. The first is Tresors, founded and curated by Sílvia Serra Albaladejo and based in Barcelona itself. Now in its fourth edition, Tresors was born as an exhibition project in 2016 out of a fruitful encounter with Paola Pérez of Galería de Arte Portable in Bogotá and the wish to create an opportunity for exchange between Catalan and Colombian contemporary jewellery. During our interview, Sílvia and I spent quite a bit of time discussing how the project has been evolving since then, introducing Catalan artistic jewellery to other Spanish cities. One of the most important exhibitions and one I saw in person last year was in Valencia during the international art jewellery gathering and symposium Melting Point. This brought not only increased visibility for the artists but also important networking opportunities, and it is this that Sílvia is seeking for the collective in its first participation in Joya, with its captive international audience of gallerists and academics as well as buyers descending eagerly on her very own doorstep.

Object by Mònica Fugarolas. Represented by Tresors.

The line up of artists has remained fluid and all have so far been chosen by invitation, rather than through application or competition, but Sílvia is conscious of the necessity for the model also to remain open to the possibility of experimentation. All work will have been made since the last edition, and there will be objects as well as jewellery, from the likes of Jordi Aparicio, Jaime Díaz and Jèssica Bellí. As in the Valencia exhibition, a wealth of narratives are intertwined with as many materials in a body of work that calls to be appreciated as that of an organically-curated collective as well as the sum of its individual participants. Still, I shall enjoy taking another good look – and this time discuss their significance – at the slightly surreal mini sculptures of Mònica Fugarolas, and explore the legacy of the Comín jewellery dynasty in the work of Lluís's daughter Elena Comín, which I am yet to see in person.

Brooch by Elena Comín. Represented by Tresors.

The second collective is Assamblage from Romania. Founded nearly 10 years ago (around the same time as Autor Fair) as a school for contemporary jewellery, since 2015 it has doubled up as, translated literally, the “National Association of Authors and Designers of Contemporary Jewellery”. The name might seem like a mouthful until one realises, as PR Manager and Founding Member Valentina Buzamurga made sure to highlight, that the title of jewellery designer is not recognised in the bureaucracy of Romanian employment, with the idea of a jeweller continuing to be somebody who is employed to manufacture somebody else's designs. As a British resident of 25 years, I sometimes take the idea of the self-employed “designer-maker” for granted. And yet, even colleagues in other Western European countries, including my native Italy, tell me of the bureaucratic difficulties of studio and tax requirements for the category.

Assamblage, as a private enterprise, is then tasked not only to survive financially but also to deal with the logistics of creating the very environment that it needs in order to thrive. In a similar situation as Lalabeyou, the school trains new students through short intensive technical courses, encouraging them to continue their trajectory by returning for week-long masterclasses, also often run by foreign practitioners, focusing on specialisms and more conceptual work. Valentina explains how this cycle is aimed at creating the footings for a new teaching framework that was lost or heavily interrupted during the Communist years through the loss of specialist craftspeople and their technical knowledge. But this is only the first step in, as their website says, “supporting, developing and structuring” the field. To bring actual changes to the economical and employment infrastructure, Assamblage's activities have had to expand from training and education into consulting and mentoring, networking in the community and at the institutional level and, of course, curating events and exhibitions.

Ring from Stay With Me series by Gena Tudor. Represented by Assamblage.

In order to combine the necessities of technical training, the development of individual artistic enquiry and the furthering of professional practice, every year they challenge new and continuing students with a fresh theme for them to research and respond to. This year the theme is “BELONGING/S”, a play on words between the personal sense of attachment to a place or integration in a community and the physical objects we possess and which help us and others, at least in part, define our personal and cultural identity. Assamblage's proposal to Joya – which I was able to preview and which also very helpfully contained statements for the work of its artists – explains how this line of enquiry wants to urge “artists and designers [to] ask questions about the social and historical context … and how can they claim an active role for a better world”. By asking participants to develop their thinking around the three objects they would hold on to if they had to abandon their homes forever, the theme wishes to highlight the individual as well as collective extreme plight of contemporary political, environmental, economical, social and religious refugees. What Valentina explains is that it is also designed to encourage deep reflection on the conditions that abet the ever-growing voluntary exodus of Romanians from their country in search of a better life. With the overall theme of this year's Joya being “Diplomacy and Jewellery” – focusing the attention on the political power of art – it doesn't get more political than this.

It is no surprise that the work of the five participants selected by Assamblage President and Founding Member David Sandu all show strong personal emotional involvement. While Diana Tobosaru and Gena Tudor's approach could be interpreted by some as too literal or figurative in their use of objects connected with memories, it needs also to be applauded for choosing honesty to respond to questions about personal and collective narratives that so deeply affect us and the world we live in. Andreia Popescu and Mihaela Ciocalteu's contributions are also quite figurative and centred on memory but speak more of the energy of life cycles as shapers of personal and collective histories. What intrigued me the most, both on a visual and conceptual level, is the work of Silvia Cruceru. An apparent duality in its title – “Un/Revealed” – mimicking that of the theme itself, a combination of surfaces that sit on the precarious threshold between stability and decay, and an enigmatic statement unwilling to be read as either cynical or optimistic, are to be the best testament to the difficulty brought by sweeping mediatic generalisations trying to categorise as black or white what are not statistical data but the unfathomable spectrum of stories and histories of individual human beings just like every one of us.

Brooch from Un/Revealed series by Silvia Cruceru. Represented by Assamblage

The last of the collectives exhibiting this year is, once again, Artesania Catalunya. The organisation is tasked with adding contemporary craft to the Joya offering and, in this second year of their participation, they present ceramic sculpture by Alberto Bustos, glass objects by Ferran Collado and textile-based sculpture by Annie Michie, alongside the jewellery of Clara Niubò. David Places, responsible for Artesania Catalunya's publicity, explained that his choice of artists was dictated by several main objectives: first, naturally, they wish to present some of the best local craftspeople to an international audience; second, to display the diversity of materials, disciplines and techniques that are represented in the Catalunyan craft sector; and, last but not least, to appeal to that distinct knowledge of Joya's attendees which he has been observing for the past 10 years, and to broaden and deepen their interest in contemporary craft practices.

Piece by Ferran Collado. Represented by Artesania Catalunya.

I am particularly looking forward to seeing the ceramic work of Alberto Bustos in person, whose environmental concerns, through his tendrils trying to escape from and yet still managing to grow, thrive and stand out in a hostile environment, I feel become a poignant metaphor for the present human condition within the world we inhabit. The words ecology and economy, after all, share the same Greek root of oikos, meaning “house”, from an even older Proto-Indo-European root of *weik-, meaning “clan”.

Artesania Catalunya exists to protect the ecology of the Catalan craft sector and promote its economy. Part of the remit of the Consorci de Comerç, Artesania i Moda of the Generalitat de Catalunya (the government of the Catalan autonomous region), at an industry level the organisation fosters excellence in local artisanal heritage, as well as local and international representation, sector modernization and adaptation, and trends and markets analysis. At the individual level, it promotes professional accreditation, associationism, training, reintegration into the labour economy and social cohesion. Once again, it doesn't get more political than this.

Object by Alberto Bustos. Represented by Artesania Catalunya.

And looking at all the participating collectives and galleries, it is undeniable how they have have all in fact invested themselves of an activist political role within their communities and countries as pioneers of localism, models of production and growth, and even political lobbying. Their efforts, spearheaded by a formal organisation like Artesania Catalunya, whose scope is at least supported at a more institutional level, speak of the impending necessity for artistic jewellery to continue strengthening its voice and carving a rightfully more permanent place for itself within contemporary art. They are testimony to the resilience of the field and the ingenuity of its members to contribute to the creation of still much-needed awareness among their immediate public and, even more importantly, to think about the legacy that together they can build to make this type of jewellery sustainable, not only as a form of artistic expression but also as a viable life option for youngsters and for those many individuals who find themselves at a crossroads, often in countries that do not readily support career changes, and all the more so within the arts.

And it is in this context that fairs have the responsibility to make all art sectors visible in the larger economy. Joya, with its growing presence within the wider commercial/trade framework of Barcelona Jewellery Week and one of the most important dates in the European artistic jewellery calendar, as an entirely private enterprise has positioned itself as one of the field's principal flag-bearers. But, with the responsibility to open the eyes of the public to a form of jewellery that so many still find avant-garde, also comes the responsibility to influence the public and enrich its experience by offering a truer and deeper insight into the diversity of what the field's genre-testing practices and enquiries can be. Bringing Artesania Catalunya into the fold serves to put the spotlight on, just as an example, much more widely accepted ceramic or glass sculpture. So why not embolden Joya's role as a cultural leader by also showcasing artistic jewellery that expresses, as the application requirements state, its “originality, innovation and coherence” outside the confines of design collections, unfortunately still widely considered more commercially palatable in the jewellery field and yet never a specific requirement of other artistic disciplines?

Joya brims with the enormous potential to continue to generate interest and investment in a field that, despite our impatient frustrations, can still be considered, if maybe no longer in its infancy, in its developmentally-crucial teenage years. If the aim is for this jewellery to gain acceptance as an art form, this influence can and needs to be “political” in itself first and deployed for the benefit of its entire polis, its entire community. The fair should then not only be the one to adapt, rather than vice versa, to all its community's multifaceted manifestations but lead the way in encouraging experimentation that is not just technical and material but enquiry into the very nature of one's practice and of the field itself. In this sense, the presence of more diverse self-curated exhibitions by collectives and galleries that orbit the fair in the form of official and unofficial OffJoya events around the city provide content that promotes important conversations. On the other hand, it brings into the question their “outsider” corollary role which perpetuates, instead of subverting, the unhelpful yet lingering divide between jewellery worth buying and wearing and jewellery worth seeing.

By being seen to lean towards restrictive boundaries in its application process, Joya (like other similar fairs) runs the risk of creating unnecessary rules – which are then so often taken as the industry standard and perpetuated by new players in the field as well as absorbed into educational practices – for what is acceptable for a practice to be commercially viable, instead of promoting, and therefore normalising and validating, the richness of all possible individual practices within artistic jewellery. Because, ultimately, all of them need to be able to rely on the leadership of major players to help steer the wider political agenda and to be granted participation in order to be acknowledged and accepted into the art economy, if being an artist as a job is to be a truly viable option for all of those who wish to pursue it on their own terms. And extending the invitation to galleries and collectives, who can – and must – bring their own modes of expansion, production and selection to the table, is a reassuring step in the right direction.

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About the author

Lieta Marziali is a contemporary jewellery artist, independent writer and researcher based in the United Kingdom. She holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature from Roehampton Institute (now Roehampton University), a BA (Hons) in Three-Dimensional Design and Craft from Colchester School of Art, and a research MA by Project from The Sir John Cass School of Art, Design and Architecture (The Cass). She has been a regular contributor to and was on the editorial board of Findings, the magazine of The Association for Contemporary Jewellery, for which she also sits on the Advisory Board.