Serendipity in Art. Article part of the Master Degree Thesis by Stina Siqiong Wen

Published: 09.01.2023
Stina Siqiong Wen
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Fig. 11. Stina Siqiong Wen, Photos Taken by Pinhole Camera, 2015, film..
Fig. 11. Stina Siqiong Wen, Photos Taken by Pinhole Camera, 2015, film.

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Through her thesis Serendipity in Contemporary Jewelry, submitted to the Faculty of Jewelry in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Stina Siqiong Wen is focusing on how contemporary jewelry reexamines the notion of traditional meanings of jewelry, from value to status, materials to wearability, and personal to cultural definition. It tirelessly tests its existence as a form of art through those processes.
​I aim to bring new perspectives in creating jewelry with unexpected materials. In contemporary studio practices, more and more artists explore diverse approaches in materials and processes to arrive at innovative solutions. In my perspective, innovation not only means using new materials, but further exploring undetected properties or possibilities of these new materials. There are many uncontrollable factors that will happen in the creative process. Sometimes accidental mistakes can even bring unexpected surprises. These serendipities not only allow artists to have new discoveries or get new creative inspirations, but also allow viewers to find unexpected surprises in artists’ works, whether in terms of materials, value, or aesthetics.
I divided my research into three parts: serendipity in life, serendipity in science, and serendipity in art, then I found similarities and made an analogy between my artistic practice and these three categories.

This thesis focuses on what role serendipity plays in contemporary jewelry as well as my studio practice, and the published article is the third part of the thesis: Serendipity in Art.

Purple dye is not only a big scientific discovery but also promotes the development of textile, fashion, craft, and art. Therefore, art and science are sometimes related.
One of the most influential discoveries in the 19th century was the invention of photography. A French artist, Louis Daguerre (Fig. 7), was famous for scenery painting but was also interested in photography because the camera obscura was helpful in his scenery painting and sketching. In 1829, his passion for this new technology led Daguerre to collaborate with a French scientist Niépce who specialized in photography. They experimented with photographic techniques that exposed iodide vapour on silver-plated copper sheets and created light-sensitive silver iodide on the surface. Although this method was theoretically feasible, the exposure time took too long, and the image was 'latent' or invisible to the eyes. Their experiments lasted several years, Niépce died before their experiments led to a conclusive result. While this was a setback to the experimentation, Daguerre did not give up.

Fig. 7. Louis Daguerre, Self-portrait, 1844, daguerreotype, GalleryIntell.

In 1835, Daguerre’s experiment was greatly changed by a serendipitous accident. One day he accidentally broke a thermometer, but he did not realize that mercury remained in the
cabinet with the exposed plate. When he opened the cabinet the next day, a visible and clear image showed on the plate. In other words, mercury could develop an exposed plate and shorten the exposure time to 20 to 30 minutes. This great invention made him the father of photography, and this photographic method came to be known as the Daguerreotype (Morris).

Boulevard du Temple, Paris is the first photograph that includes a recognizable human form (Fig. 8). The exposure time for the image was around seven minutes, and although the street would have been busy with traffic and pedestrians, it appears deserted. Everything moving was too fast to register on the plate. The exception is the man at the bottom left (Fig. 8-1). There had not been a photograph of human being before, but this serendipitous discovery speeded up the process and shifted photography from capturing still life or natural scene (Fig. 9) to being able to capture human being. This is not only a new science and technology, but also the birth of a new art form.

Fig. 8. Louis Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple, Paris (the first photograph of a human being), 1838, daguerreotype (Bavarian National Museum, Munich).

Fig. 8-1. Louis Daguerre, Detail of Boulevard du Temple, Paris (the first photograph of a human being), 1838, daguerreotype (Bavarian National Museum, Munich).

Fig. 9. Louis Daguerre, Still Life (the first still life picture), 1837, daguerreotype.

Looking back upon my studio practice, I was always drawn to techniques that allowed for chance. After learning the serendipitous and interesting story of the invention of photography, I became interested in photography. I decided to learn pinhole camera (Fig. 10) instead of digital camera because digital cameras are ubiquitous, but the most traditional photographic methods have more possibilities and chances for serendipity (Fig. 11). This experience expanded my way of working and thinking, which lay the foundation of my current methodology.

Fig. 10. Stina Siqiong Wen, Self-made Pinhole Camera, 2015, gift box, aluminum, film.

Fig. 11. Stina Siqiong Wen, Photos Taken by Pinhole Camera, 2015, film.

Within contemporary art, we see artists move away from traditional materials and techniques to alternative materials and engage serendipity as a common part of their artistic practices. Some even look to serendipity as part of their art.
Cai Guo-Qiang is a Chinese contemporary artist who is famous for his gunpowder drawings, explosion events, and installation art. Explosion Studio is one of his explosion art events in the amphitheater of the Pompeii archaeological site (Fig. 12). Canvases in different sizes and objects related to Pompeii’s daily life were laid out at the center of the space. The
firework explosion ruined all the artefacts, which mimicked the volcanic eruption (Zhang). The traces left behind became a painting (Fig. 13). Many critics suggested that the exploding and disappearing fireworks are like the rise and fall of human civilization. Cai uses non-traditional materials and methods to create painting artworks, creating a dialogue between ancient and modern Pompeii.
The explosion was very successful, but in fact the result was different from what he expected at the beginning. During the preparatory work, the fuse was ignited accidentally, which created small fire on the canvas. When the staff put out the fire and cleaned up the scene, the original image developed with the spreading of gunpowder was damaged, and the realistic shapes eventually turned into abstract paintings. In the past, his sparking and detonating works were precisely controlled by computer programming, but this time all the gunpowder was spread by hand (Fontaine). Cai asserted: For this project, I tried to let the hormones take the lead, to create something with a touch of ferocity, at a time when people often strive to be too civilized (Fontaine).

Fig. 12. Cai Guo-Qiang, Explosion Studio, The ignition of Explosion Studio, February 2019 (Amphitheater of Pompeii, Photo: Wen-You Cai, courtesy Cai Studio,

Fig. 13. Cai Guo-Qiang, In the Volcano: Cai Guo-Qiang and Pompeii, 2019 (National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Photo by Wen-You Cai, Courtesy Cai Studio,

In the creation process, although the artist’s subjective thought determines the ideology of the work, it will also be affected by serendipity. Art needs creativity, and serendipity stimulates the creativity of artists and gives them more possibilities and new directions.

>> Read the complete Master Thesis.


About the author

Stina Siqiong Wen just graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design as an M.F.A student in Jewelry major, and now works as a custom jewellery designer in New York. Although she was trained in traditional metalsmithing in her undergrad study, she is passionate about exploring alternative materials and observing everything in her daily life that infuses her creative process. During her graduate studies, she invented unique soft concrete jewellery that challenges the property of concrete and ultimately provokes dynamic interactions between wearer and viewer, visually and tactually. Stina attends the Smithsonian American Craft Show and Philadelphia MoA Contemporary Craft Show annually, and her works have been exhibited in New York Jewelry Week, Milano Jewelry Week, Russia Contemporary Jewelry Exhibition, Romania International Jewelry Fair as well as some international online exhibitions.

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