Space/Craft. An Eye into Stephen Bottomley's Praxis. Exhibition Review by Nantia Koulidou

Article  /  Review   Exhibiting
Published: 17.01.2020
Nantia Koulidou Nantia Koulidou
Nantia Koulidou
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In the contemporary world, many of us leave our homelands to temporary or permanently live elsewhere. Many of us live and work between places constantly probing our identity. We are not sure what to do about it. We don’t know indeed whether to enjoy or be afraid of, to put everything in order or to revel in rebellion or maybe to escape into the outer space. 
The Space/Craft exhibition is the journey of Stephen Bottomley’s praxis presented as a timeline of his experiences with different places, materials, techniques, and textures. Traces of his craft practice offer numerous answers on how he copes with changes in space and time by questioning the connection between what is familiar and rather traditional and what is unknown or rather new.

Stephen Bottomley, Brooch: Space, 2018, Silver, enamel, steel, faience, mother-of-pearl., 4.6 x 7.3 x 1.3 cm, Photo by Stephen Bottomley

Stephen Bottomley, Brooch: Pulp, 2018, Silver, enamel, faience, stone., 6.5 x 5 x 1 cm, Photo by Stephen Bottomley

Bottomley is known for his hand-made precious metal vitreous enamel jewellery. From the early works including the Tech-Tile collection, he experimented with small architectural forms. The material and geometrical structures of Brooches such as Black Traces (2014) create new spaces within and shows his longstanding fascination with patterns and textures on metal.

Two pieces that particularly stand out are Space (2018) and Pulp (2018) that present at glance two sets of matching pieces. Both brooches exhibit unique charm. The pieces successfully give us a sense of movement or continuous rotation. They combine Bottomley’s vitreous enamel jewellery in an intriguing combination of forms, colours, and materials.  Bottomley’s work reminds us that some stars don’t stand alone in the dark sky, but are actually suns that can be paired with each other and can have different colours. The pieces seem to be the result of a perfect balance between the forward motion of a planet in space and the gravitational pull on it from another body in space, such as a large planet or star.

What holds the stars together? What is the gravitational force in Bottomley’s work?
Our gravity is what makes us connected to things. I am thinking about how binary stars have these connections. Maybe in Stephen's work, we can think about the gravity that connects Dark Moon (2015) Extra Solar (2019) or Penumbra (2017) together. Some of the stars that we are observing are lights that have already gone out. The star even though we can see its light, it might actually already be destroyed/ burnt out?  It takes a long time for the light to travel to reach our eyes and in fact when we look at the stars, we are looking at history.

Stephen Bottomley, Pendant: Stella, 2014, Enamel, copper, gold, rubber, steel., Ø 4.8 cm, Photo by: Shannon Tofts

left: Stephen Bottomley, Brooches (top to bottom) Dark Moon, 2015, Extra Solar, 2019, Penumbra, 2017; right: Stephen Bottomley, Brooch: Black Diamond, 2012
Silver, precious yellow metal, enamel and diamond-encrusted aerospace material, 5x5 cm, Photograph by Shannon Tofts

Stephen Bottomley, Brooch, Stephen Bottomley, Brooch: A Complete Unknown Allochthonous Brooch, 2016, Stone, silver, enamel., Ø 6 x 1.8 cm, Photo by Shannon Toft

Yet the exhibition does not overlook the immeasurable distances that make space so out of reach: the connectedness explored in Bottomley’s work also offers a sense of escapism. The exhibition ‘Like a rolling stone’ (2018), co-curated with Susan Cross in Edinburgh, explores the themes of relocation, transplantation, camouflage, identity and material. Stones form, move, wear out. In the work Allochthonous (2016), Bottomley draws inspiration from materials found at the Scottish seashore to make a brooch that found a new place. The word allochthonous derives from the allo - “other” and the greek word khthon -” earth” + ous.  The stone is smooth, like a pebble; it is weathered by time and washed from the sea.  It is not a coincidence that the peddle is not polished and enclosed in a cage-like brooch; as a single entity in the blue ocean.

Stephen Bottomley, Badge: Watcher(s), 2018, Enamelled steel re-cycled watch cases with 22K gold image., Ø 4.2 x 0.6 cm, Photo by Stephen Bottomley

Space/Craft Exhibition, 2019

Among the many attempts to make us think about space & craft, we looked at the outer space, the oceanic escape, the architectural space. There is one approach to follow that links the studio space and the materials’ experimentation. This road was taken by Bottomley in this collection Various Studio Samples (2017-19), Watcher(s) (2018) and Spiral eye (2017). These objects enter an incessant dialogue with tradition and technique, which gives us various perspectives on how to look at them. I have chosen to look at them as ways of making pathways in embellishing metal by enameling, material-led experiments, and Egyptian symbolism. These pieces can be seen simply as excavations of Stephen’s studio practice.

Space/Craft Exhibition, 2019

Space/Craft was exhibited at Vittoria Street Gallery, Birmingham School of Jewellery. Monday 14th Oct – Friday 1st Nov 2019.

About the author

Nantia Koulidou is a design researcher with a background in architecture and jewellery. She is currently a Senior Research Associate in the Enabling Ongoingness project at the University of Northumbria. She completed her doctoral studies in digital jewellery from Northumbria University (2015-2018), an MSc degree in IT Product Design from the University of Southern Denmark (2012-2014), a training in silversmithing (2011-2012) and a Diploma in Architecture from Aristotle University in Greece (20142011). Koulidou’s research practice explores and reconsiders the role of digital jewellery as objects that combines contemporary jewellery practices and digital technology. She actively presents and exhibits her work nationally and internationally.