Tallinn/Melbourne and the Jewellery Revelation

Article  /  Artists   History
Published: 18.12.2014
Tallinn/Melbourne and the Jewellery Revelation.
Robert Baines
Edited by:
Claire McArdle
Edited at:
Words and Works from a World Away at Project Space in Melbourne, Australia 2013. Photo: Courtesy of Project Space
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Words and Works from a World Away at Project Space in Melbourne, Australia 2013. Photo: Courtesy of Project Space

© By the author. Read Copyright.

What is it that draws us to Estonian jewellery culture? Robert Baines writes about the developments of Australian jewellery and its relationship with the Estonian jewellery tradition.
Essay by Emeritus Professor Robert Baines
RMIT University, Melbourne, June 2013
First published in the exhibition catalogue Words and Works from a World Away
McArdle, Melbourne 2013

Painters in the nineteenth century viewed the Australian landscape with a fondness for ‘the spirit of the bush’.  They no longer saw it as their predecessors had as hostile or indifferent.  In the 20th century, landscape painting captured an excitement about the Australian bushland with evocative patterns of gum trees in the forests or in sparse stands among rocks and grasslands.  Inland Australia has been depicted as an arid hot dry land. 

Australian studio jewellers have largely lived in the milder coastal regions within a suburban habitus, and jewellery references to the land with its flora and fauna were nevertheless important.  Aboriginal Australians of mixed descent along with all Australians, have forebears who arrived within the past five generations. We share the consequences of waves of immigrants and their offspring. The eclectic jewellery culture in Melbourne is a reflection of this mixing of cultural contexts. Melbourne studio art jewellery is inextricably connected with the post-1945 wave of migration representing a massive inflow of different peoples.[1]  In each of the six states, independent art jewellery communities exist on the coastal fringes and these have all looked to influences from Europe and the USA, further enhancing the eclectic mix of contemporary authored jewellery in Australia.

Anna Davern, Leilani sublimation printed steel, copper.
Photo: Marc Morel

Estonia’s glacial erratic boulders [2] add to a sense of national identity for both environmentalists and patriots, as the cultural historian Simon Schama writes, the character “would lose much of its ferocious enchantment without the mystique of a particular landscape tradition.”[3]

The spirit of Estonian authored jewellery has an enchantment partially submerged, revered but not totally revealed. The glacial erratics seated in the land partially hidden, and as a mystery, wait to be fully known. The jewellery, like the erratics transcends periods of fashion and style. Estonian jewellery artefacts seem embedded in a cultural earth that has exposure and relevance in any time and continually emits personal signals of meaning and experience.
What is it that draws us to Estonian jewellery culture?  The twentieth century saw Estonian artists who escaped World War II and continue to work and make use of Estonian subject matter, and there was considerable testing of cultural pursuits under the cloud of occupied Soviet Estonia.  The esteemed Estonian poet Juhan Liiv wrote at the turn of the century: “Our room has a black ceiling, and so has our time”. Kadri Mälk puts it in a broader way, “Contemporary humankind’s dynamic insecurity – the product of endless adaptation – is a good starting condition for an encounter with jewellery”[4].
The Melbourne jeweller Claire McArdle has proposed the exhibition Words and Works from a World Away. This exhibition of Australian and Estonian jewellers continues a long-standing jewellery dialogue between the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn and RMIT Gold and Silversmithing in Melbourne [5].  Claire McArdle with this cross-national exhibition is the contemporary bridge for furthering the north-south jewellery discourse.

[1] R. Broome, The Victorians Arriving, University of Melbourne Press (Melbourne, 1984).  Introduction”, perhaps only Israel outdoes Victoria in the scale and diversity of the newcomers it has accepted in post-war years.  Victoria is now a multi-ethnic society.  In 1981, almost a hundred different birthplaces were listed in the census.  In 1981, twenty-three per cent of Victorians were overseas-born and together with their Australian-born children they formed thirty-eight per cent of the Victorian population”.
[2] Robert W. Smurr, Monuments of Nature as Monuments of Nation: The Meaning of Estonia’s Glacial Erratic Boulders,, 1/2001 pp. 49-53.
[3] Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York, 1995), p. 15.
[4]  Kadri Mälk, Keystone,, Jewellery Special 2012, pp. 64, 65.  Kadri Mälk, Estonian jewellery artist is the professor at the Estonian Academy of Arts Jewellery Department.
[5] Both jewellery /gold and silversmithing programs are similarly positioned in Fine Art schools.  Robert Baines would frequently meet Kadri Mälk at jewellery events in Europe with brief ongoing correspondence since 1997 - usually about a “North /South jewellery dialogue” with RMIT students and staff.  In 2001 at the invitation of Kadri Mälk, Robert Baines presented a keynote lecture and exhibited in ‘Nocturnos’, International Jewellery Colloquium, hosted by the jewellery department in Tallinn.  In 2004 Robert Baines conducted a one week Masterclass workshop and public lecture “Pettus või lihtsalt mäng?”
A student exchange agreement 2006 between the two jewellery programs led to a continuing exchange of students in the Undergraduate Program and additionally RMIT Alumni have had residencies combined with teaching at the Academy in Tallinn. 

Top right image: Robert Baines, Meaner than Yellow, silver, powdercoat, paint
Photo: Marc Morel

Exhibition catalogue Words and Works from a World Away
IBSN 978-0-646-90637-9
McArdle, Melbourne 2013

About the author

Dr. Robert Baines is a jewellery artist living and working in Melbourne, Australia. For more than 30 years, Robert Baines has profoundly shaped Australian jewellery, object-making and international historical scholarship.  In 2006, Baines completed a PhD at RMIT University, where he is an emeritus professor of RMIT University in the School of Art.