Corpus in contemporary society – Dare to scratch the silver surface

Article  /  Making   Artists
Published: 04.11.2014
Corpus in contemporary society – Dare to scratch the silver surface.
Klara Eriksson
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An investigation of the role of silverware, its function or non-function, in today’s Western society.
Summary of post graduate Research Project
Ädellab, Konstfack 2014

For the last 15 years I have been working as a silversmith. In my practise I generally make objects in silver that relate to the table and the everyday life. The traditional term in Swedish for silverware and hollowware is Korpus, deriving from the Latin word Corpus meaning “body”. Throughout this text I will use the word corpus to describe this tradition. However, working as a silversmith has made me realise that today’s “corpus society” is a dwindling one. My experience is that today very few know what corpus is, to the extent that we as makers almost have stopped using the word. The average Swedish family has no idea what silverware is or can be. Therefore I have felt a need to know which possibilities I have as a hollowware maker, and how corpus might be given a greater significance in contemporary society.

In order to answer these questions, I also had to position myself in the field and decide what purpose corpus has for me. To understand how silverware can be used I needed to involve people. I have focused on Swedish middle class families (in different stages of their lives). I initiated my own test kitchen by making a generic silver mixing bowl and a whisk.  I then gave them to different families to be used in their kitchen for two weeks each. The families were instructed to document their use of both items and to answer a questioner. The questioner included questions such as: Is there a place for handmade silver utensils in your everyday life? Has the silver’s unique property as a heat conductor made a difference in how you have used the items?

The questioner provided me with great insights on how the families used the silver bowl and whisk. But the most important aspect of this project has been that I have enabled and encouraged several families to really use these silver items. An important issue I stumbled up on was the rumours about egg and silver. The tradition says that you should not combine silver and eggs because the silver turns black. That was my expectation and it became important to investigate what it really signified. But It had become an obstacle in the test kitchen, when I told the family that the silver might turn black they did not dare to use eggs in the bowl. I decided to make a film with eggs being whipped in a silver bowl. My idea was that the surface of the bowl would dramatically turn black. Together with a filmmaker I issued a test filming and - nothing happened! Now I know that fresh, room temperature eggs have no impact on the surface of silver. The film will still be done, but not showing a silver bowl turning black. I also changed the text in my covering letter and my approach when I presented the bowl. In the end, what was returned to me was a bowl that was filled with life, marked as it now is, by everyday use. I found myself being part of a process where I as a maker had to let go of control and in this process I had to redefine my relation to corpus. The natural way forward was to start using my own corpus.

Silver bowl Columbi by Klara Eriksson
Photo Christian Habetzeder

I have noticed that during the last 30 years, there has been a great change. 30 years ago the average silversmith was a man. Back then the students at Konstfack’s Metal department, where equally divided by gender. Now women predominantly attend the program. During a visit to London and the Goldsmith’s Hall they showed me their commissions: in recent years the commissions are predominately objects made by women. But the average silver buyer has also changed. The renowned Swedish silversmith Wolfgang Gessl told me that in 2003 most of his teapot customers where women. Before that his typical teapot customer used to be a man. He has also noted that the female customers want to be involved in the design of the teapots to a larger extent than the male customers. Also, the female customers clearly intend to use the teapots, rather than to buy them as collectibles. I believe that in order to connect to a contemporary buyer, silversmiths need to invite people to use their objects. Even though silver is an expensive metal, money isn’t actually made of silver any more. Therefore we can now recharge the material with a new value, a new story.

As a silversmith, I have the ability to create stories and give new purpose to everyday objects, objects that can alter and increase social situations, in the home, at the table. In our society we obsess over things and technology. Usually these things are short lived and not supposed to age or even to be repaired. Working with silver, I make objects that can last forever. In my opinion, corpus should be used as a reminder of the importance of the daily act, of making pancakes, of mixing a salad, of serving, and so on.  It can also be used to make us aware of how we behave when eating and what we put into our mouths.  As a silversmith the most rewarding task is that these items can really matter in somebody ́s daily life.
Apart from the bowls and utensils I made for the test kitchen, this project has also included a series of spoons without a handle. The great significance of these spoons is that they have the ability to convey both how I use silver, and the process that made them. They have sculptural values but are nonetheless practical to use. They bring you closer to the act of eating. Food plays a central part of our lives and the table is a place of social importance in the home.

Recently I did a pop-up exhibition in a private home where the guests were invited to make their own pancake in the kitchen. They used a silver whisk for mixing the pancake batter in the silver “test kitchen bowl” and after frying the pancake they got to choose a silver spoon to eat it with and finally wash the spoon in the sink where a stopper in silver where placed. It was a grate experience for me to see how natural the discussions where evolving from these actions. At this point I feel that is was my best exhibition ever.

Henceforth I will continue with the test kitchen, as I am sure that it will give me insights that I have not been able to distinguish yet. In the process of activating the test kitchen I have gone from placing my objects in use, to actually use them myself to understand how to use my work in events, also to be able to document them in use. That’s how I see my work in the future, exhibitions combined with events as well as working with the test kitchen. By reminding people of that corpus is supposed to be used we can recharge and revalue the purpose of silver in contemporary society.

Silverware, jewellery and objects by members of LOD
Photo Christian Habetzeder

About the author

Klara Eriksson, silversmith & founding member of LOD.
LOD is a collective of seven gold and silversmiths, all educated at Konstfack, University of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm. Together they share a combined workshop, gallery and shop in Kungsholmen, Stockholm. Every year they curate exhibitions presenting contemporary silversmithing and art jewellery. In 2014, LOD celebrates a 15 year anniversary.

More information about Research Lab, Konstfack Stockholm

Photo credits:
Top image: Silver bowl Columbi by Klara Eriksson, photo by Christian Habetzeder
Portrait photo by Christian Habetzeder