Lecture by Manon van Kouswijk at the Koru2 International Contemporary Jewellery Symposium

Article  /  Artists
Published: 03.01.2007
Lecture by Manon van Kouswijk at the Koru2 International Contemporary Jewellery Symposium.
Manon van Kouswijk
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Within my work I focus on the value and meaning that everyday objects represent to us.
Koru2 International Contemporary Jewellery Symposium
This is the text of the conference of Manon van Kouswijk were she made a presentation of her entire work showing the different projects of design and jewellery she made from 1995 to 2006.


Moving within and without jewellery.

Before I studied at the jewellery department of the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam I was educated as a goldsmith in a small town in the Netherlands. This technical basis I still consider to be crucial for the way I have developed my work, even though I don’t work with metal so much anymore and my approach is anyway not a technical one to start with.
I will first show a selection here of works of the last 11 years and after that some images of different exhibitions to tell something about the way I use the presentation in a gallery space as an extension of the work itself.

My graduation project at the Rietveld academy in 1995 was based on my interest for classical pieces of jewellery, like in this case the pearl necklace. I was intrigued by its rigid and aloof character and felt very tempted to attack it in such a way that other aspects then just its perfect ness became more visible.
To achieve this I used the specific characteristics of the necklace, like the severe order of the pearls and the knots that both separate them, but also hold them in place to make a series of alterations to the piece.

One of them was this transparent bar of soap, containing a strand of pearls that slowly comes out the more the soap has been used up. The necklace is born from the soap like a pearl from a shell. (picture 1)

This necklace only consists of the silk threads with the knots that are there to secure the pearls.
On the gold lock the word ‘once’ is embossed in Braille (blind writing). (picture 2).

Later on I started working with other jewellery archetypes, like in the next two pieces titled “Alice in Wonderland”:
The enlarged earrings are based on the same principle. (picture 3)

Apart from these kind of classical jewellery pieces I became increasingly interested in other kinds of archetypical objects that we surround ourselves with. Also in these pieces I was looking for ways to make aspects of use and wear visible in the object itself.

In the bowls of four silver spoons the areas are marked corresponding to where the taste buds on the tongue are situated for the four different tastes that we distinguish: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

On a white table cloth I embroidered the stains that were left over from a festive meal; a very contradictory process to take so much effort embroidering something you normally don’t wish to have on your pristine table linen, thus elevating the stains to a form of decoration. (picture 4)

Years later I did this napkin and plate, using the embroidery, or maybe I should call it ‘debroidery’, to make the textile pattern underneath the plate invisible and transferring this onto a porcelain plate by means of a ceramic screen print. (picture 5)

For an exhibition during the Gay games in Amsterdam I knotted these x and y necklaces out of blue and pink glass beads, as a reference to the chromosomes that define the male and female gender.
With the necklaces you can create your own gender, combining them in any way you like.

In these early pieces I have stayed very close to the objects themselves in a sense that I have only worked with materials and techniques that the original objects were made of, which I have used to create a visual translation of the piece. Like using the knots of the necklaces as a visual feature, the engraving for the silver spoons, and embroidery for the tablecloth.
Also there are the traces of the way things are being used and worn, that have become an integral part of the work like stains and holes and drops. Language appears in different ways on the pieces, the tastes that are marked on the spoons, the drops on handkerchiefs, and the knots of the necklaces that seem to suggest they could be read like a rosary.
I don’t consider these pieces as being designed; there is no intention or effort here to find new shapes or to apply revolutionary new materials: the investigation takes place very much within the perimeters of the objects themselves.
The making process I view as an act of translating and of making aspects of the everyday life of things more visible.

For a series of exercise books I stitched the lines on the sewing machine, an action which seems to be related to writing on a type writer in a sense that it is repetitive and also noisy. The sulek-burcu-emptiness-2015 of the pages is ambiguous; the threads of the stitching restrict the movement of the hand when trying to use the books. Maybe they should just be read between the lines...

In later works more often the characteristics of certain materials are the starting point for an idea.

This silver spoon called “An angel at my table’ shows a stage in a process of which it is not clear whether these are two spoons becoming one or rather one spoon dividing itself in two. (picture 6)

Also loosely based on the mirrors the reflective quality of silver was the starting point for these objects; “1/2 teaspoon” and “1/2 tablespoon” based on the descriptions in a recipe book, are made of silver spoons which I literally cut in half. The half shapes I mounted onto a polished sheet of silver, so that in the resulting object a whole spoon has become visible again.

Also this work has been derived from the mirror image of certain shapes. In a commission for the Dutch Textile Museum for a project on Dutch Souvenirs, I wanted to work with the specific textile action of the folding. By dividing the shape of the Netherlands into four parts and mirroring each of them twice I obtained four different stain like shapes, which were woven into four napkins. When folding them the shape of the country is visible again. For exhibitions in Australia and Belgium I did these countries as well; Australia in 8 parts, and Belgium in 4. (picture 7)

In the past few years I have started working with porcelain, I mostly cast shapes in porcelain by using moulds. For me this process seemed quite familiar as it is in some ways similar to the casting of metal.
Also it seemed like a logical step to broaden the scope of my working with table objects from metal and textile to this material of which the most archetypical crockery items are made.

During a working period of three months at the European Ceramic Work Centre in Den Bosch in the Netherlands I did a project which I called “Room Service”. The mould as a shape which surrounds the object became the starting point for the works I made there. (picture 8)

After this period I continued working with this new material in my own studio, and developed another series of porcelain shapes.

“Re:model”, a necklace and an object are cast from a generic round beaded necklace, as a wearable and a non wearable version of the same work. (picture 9)

As a result of my research into archetypical objects, I’m also interested in the different roles that objects play in daily life, in relationships between people and in rituals. The object as a gift, as a family heirloom, as an object of exchange, or a memory of a trip to a specific place; the souvenir.

This silver “Travel cutlery” consists of two spoons that fit together through the imprint of a fork. (picture 10)

In a collaboration with graphic designer and photographer Monica Schokkenbroek I developed these puzzles of the inner city of Amsterdam, in which a walking route through the city has been punched out and taken from the map like a necklace.

Another important aspect of my working process consists of collecting and the theme of the collection as a group of objects. This is the collecting of things as a source of inspiration for the work as well as the collecting of materials and objects that are directly used to produce the work itself.

A collection of dotted textiles and ribbons was the starting point for this series of necklaces, where part of the beads is replaced by a kind of textile collar, resulting in a hybrid between clothes and jewellery.

“Re:turn” is an edition of air mail envelopes that I have collected for a long time from many different countries, I have turned them inside out, so the stamp like patterns that are usually hidden on the inside become visible on the outside as a decoration.

With the same patterns I also made a map of Europe at A4 size which consists of four postcards that can be send separately.

For a series of necklaces titled “Of white” I used a collection of diverse beads of wood and plastic. I cut them in half and covered the flat top with a white plastic circle to acquire a shape which is like a template of a necklace. The half spheres of the beads underneath make it three dimensional and also the colours reflect on a white background. The title is based on the fact that white light is made up of all the different colours from the spectrum. (pictures 11&12)

For these necklaces titled “Heart Beads” I cut up coloured wooden beads and leave the surface rough, so at the edge you can see the colour of the paint that has permeated the round shape. The wooden pieces are connected by a stitched line of silk thread. (picture 13)


To close off I would like to show some images of different exhibitions. I use the opportunity of making a presentation in a gallery space to work on a larger scale in a way that extends on what I do within the small scale work.
I have been looking for ways of presenting my pieces that are less static than presenting them behind glass, to find a way of presenting that serves as a temporary environment for the works.

For the graduation exhibition at the Rietveld academy in 1995 I painted a small space including all the details in the standard colour that is used in the entire building. This colour is named ‘Rietveld- grey’, after the famous Dutch architect who designed the academy building.
I installed grey furniture and lighting; the dull grey colour was a good contrast for the shiny pearls.

For the first solo exhibition I made at Gallery Funaki in Melbourne, Australia, in 1999, I made a plan for the presentation without ever having seen the space in real. We took out the existing display system for jewellery and I changed the gallery space into a room by installing furniture and a long curtain in front of the wall show case. .At the entrance visitors could wash their hands with a piece of pearl soap. Within the room each work obtained its own place.

In 2000 I spend one year in Melbourne as an artist-in-residence. At the end of the year I made another exhibition at the same gallery. Knowing the space much better now, I wanted to make a presentation which would be more integrated in the existing architecture in such a way that for people who hadn’t been there before it would seem quite natural. I build three sets of stairs that were put in front of the showcase, so a space above the showcase became accessible as a new exhibition space. The title of the show was “Gallery Funaki, the second floor”.

A few years later in 2004 I made another exhibition there, and this time we build a construction in and in front of the existing display system, which was loosely based on scaffolding.
Within the construction the work was displayed as a collection of objects in various ways that reminded both of a museum display and also of a storage space.

The last two exhibitions I will show are both at gallery Ra in Amsterdam.
The first one in 2001 was called “Horizon table”, for which I constructed a huge table at eye-level
that was put in the middle of the gallery space. Climbing up a chair you could reach the work that was displayed on top of the table. Underneath the table there was a reading corner with sketch books and a slide show.

In 2003 I made an exhibition called “Re:place” which consisted of a kind of landscape of tables of the same size but different heights that were scattered through the space. On the windows and walls the points of the compass are marked ; North, South, East and West, thus defining the situation of the gallery within the larger space of the city. Also in the displayed work this theme of placement and the use of cartography played an important part.


Manon van kouswijk, born 1967, The Netherlands, jewellery artist. Lives and works in Amsterdam. Van Kouswijk focuses on everyday objects, which vary from jewellery, ceramics and textiles to stationary and other works in paper. Exploring the memory left behind by objects from people's lives the artist creates a fictitious space between the past and the present. She has been teaching at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam since 2000 and exhibits internationally.
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