Three Artists Seen Through Materials - Holland x Japonism

Published: 18.03.2015
Three Artists Seen Through Materials - Holland x Japonism.
Makiko Akiyama
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In 2014 Chitose Ohchi, producer of the contemporary jewelry gallery O-jewel, organized Holland x Japonism, an exhibit of twelve Netherlands-based artists that create jewelry with Japanese paper. The exhibit traveled through Tokyo, Hokkaido, Nagano and Kyoto and will finally arrive in the Netherlands this year. I'd like to focus on three of these artists.

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First we have Katja Prins. After graduating Gerrit Rietveld Academie in 1997 she participated in many solo and group exhibitions in the United States, Taiwan, Europe and other countries.
Her recent works explore the relationship between human beings, human bodies(1) and technology as seen in her collection Hybrids (2014). The materials make this collection look more like medical instruments than pieces of jewelry. Here she substitutes her usual silver for dental resin and chrome plated brass.
The most interesting aspect of this collection might be the fact that the pieces are jewelry. The decorative elements we usually expect from jewelry - precious metals, colored stones, and so on - are suspiciously absent. This foreignness forces the viewer to wonder -what kind of person would wear this? How will it feel to wear? What does the piece say about the wearer?
The lack of jewelryness conjures up such fundamental questions and stirs your curiosity to give this collection a highly intellectual aspect.
Papilio pulmo are three necklaces exhibited in Holland x Japonism derived from the Hybrids collection. The phrase is an odd combination of the Latin words for “Butterfly” and “Lung,” respectively. The association was intuitive to the artist(2). I believe it will also be intuitive to the viewer as soon as you look at their three-dimensional symmetrical shapes. Furthermore the layer of thin, delicate Japanese paper that covers the surface adds a decorative element while revealing the sensual shape that was somewhat hidden by the strong materials used in the Hybrids collection. It is interesting to see how a layer of paper revitalized the jewelryness that was absent in Hybrids. This is a fine example of how a new material can bring an unexpected chemistry to an artistic expression.
 Katja Prins  
Necklace: Papilio pulmo
Photo by Chitose Ohchi

Our next artist is Gitte Nygaard. The scope of her work expands beyond jewelry to include relational aesthetic projects such as installations or collaborative works in public spaces.
Recently she and collaborator Josephine Winther held a mobile jewelry workshop called Makers Move. For this project they walked around in Copenhagen, Paris, Cape Town and Gothenburg with a stall where they molded the objects of passers-by into pendants. This project won them the 2013 Design and Craft Biennale in Copenhagen.
According to the artist, she is constantly trying to elaborate on jewelry as a product and a medium, be it through the process of creation or the qualities of material(3). The exhibited pieces, Tangible Territories, are a good example of the latter, with the artist exploring the best possible approach for each material.
Tangible Territories consists of four brooches. The idea is based on the exhibition title, Holland x Japonism, and Japanese paper. One brooch is a Y-shaped piece made by stitching together multiple layers of thin paper. The stitch outlines a map of the Netherlands and Japan that were overlapped then flipped horizontally into a symmetrical shape. To create the other three brooches she first burned sheets of paper, then layered them to create a contoured pattern that she wrapped and secured around a steel oval frame.
Gitte Nygaard
Brooch: Tangible Territories
 Photo by Chitose Ohchi

This series draws the viewer’s attention to the way the artist uses the Japanese paper according to a concept perfectly matched to the exhibition theme. Japanese paper is expressive--see its layered translucency, the slight irregularity of the surface caused by the pressure of stitches, the rich variety of edges, some linear, some ragged, others burned. Although works made from paper often become fragile and fail to possess power as an artwork, she succeeds in making strong pieces while keeping other materials to a minimum. This reveals that she is an artist who excels not only at conceptual or relational aesthetic work, but also at drawing out various aspects of materials to make them into beautiful art. These quiet and poetic works sublimely invite the viewer into serene contemplation.

Gitte Nygaard
Brooch: Tangible Territories
Photo by Chitose Ohchi

The third and final artist is Nina Sajet. Since graduating from ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem in 2011 she has made jewelry and objects with porcelain as her main material.
Porcelain and Japanese paper appear to be two completely different materials, but the way Japanese paper is both thin and strong resembles porcelain(4). She took part in White for Japan(5), an exhibit that preceded Holland x Japonism, with a necklace entitled Paper Pearls(6) that focused on the strength of the material. In contrast her new work looks to feature the delicacy of material. Sunny Ruff, a piece from this exhibition, takes its inspiration from a ruff seen in a Rembrandt painting. Historically, a ruff is a ruffled collar popular among the wealthy from the 16th to 17th century. Her version keeps the impression of the traditional ruff while interpreting it in more modern and democratic way.
Both her paper and porcelain works speak to the viewers’ imagination and senses, bringing with them the possibility of a new world. According to Nina, she sees each new object and project as part of a new reality to which she wants to take the audience(7). This new reality stimulates our imagination while conjuring up our memories alongside a new story. For instance, for her Tablearu Vivrant collection(8) she used porcelain to craft a cabbage sprout-inspired necklace and earrings, along with a bird-shaped pipe and containers. The pieces evolved into a short movie where each served an impressive role.

Sunny Ruff inspired friend and performer, Toru Fujimoto, to create an imaginary conversation between Rembrandt and Toru that was performed during the 2014 Tokyo Art Fair(9).

Nina Sajet
necklace: Sunny Ruff
Photo by Chitose Ohchi

It's possible for such stories to arise from her work, perhaps because she keeps the shape as close to the original material as possible while leaving room for the viewers’ imagination. From here the work serves as a building block for another reality that spreads beyond the work. The place where this new reality overlaps with the memories and stories of the viewer forms the birthplace of a new story.
I visited the Kyoto installment set in Lakuyohsou, a traditional Japanese inn. The jewelry exhibited in a spacious tatami room served as the backdrop for an opera concert. As a whole, everything looked to serve as a stage to Ohchi’s own concept – the story of how Japanese paper met the West, primitive human desire as a common thread between singing and wearing jewelry, the feminine, and so on. This led me to contemplate one question – does incorporating a piece of art into a grand concept turn the art into a prop?
Ohchi calls herself an artist who creates something unique by collecting and assembling various objects instead of making her own items. The way she approaches this stance will be a major factor for her to consider as a curator on future projects. The space manages to become more than a simple Japanese-European hybrid that unites twelve artists of significantly different styles through the theme of Japanese paper thanks to her aesthetic sense and profound understanding and modern interpretation of Japanese. How she uses these strengths will be key to her success.

(1) Interview with Susan Cummins.
(2) Email from Katja Prins, 13 December 2014.
(3) Document from Gitte Nygaard, 14 December 2014.
(4) Email from Nina Sajet, 23 December 2014.
(5) Exhibition White for Japan.
(6) Scroll down page for her work.
(7) Quote from artist's website.
(8) Website Nina Sajet.
(9) Performance by Toru Fujimoto at 2014 Tokyo Art Fair.

About the author

Makiko Akiyama was born in 1979 in Osaka, Japan. She works as a writer and a translator. In 2013 she launched a newsletter for Japanese readers that regularly features translated articles from Art Jewelry Forum, Klimt02 and so forth. 

Translation assistance and editing: David Kracker