In a way that's the skill of making a very complex idea kind of communicate simply. Caroline Broadhead, Curator of Schmuck 2023, interviewed by Julie Metzdorf

Published: 02.01.2023
Caroline Broadhead Caroline Broadhead
Julie Metzdorf
Edited by:
Edited at:
Edited on:
Caroline Broadhead. Object: Dressed Up, 2011. Vintage child's chair, glass beads.. approx. 70 x 30 x 35 cm. Photo by: Philip Sayer. Caroline Broadhead
Object: Dressed Up, 2011
Vintage child's chair, glass beads.
approx. 70 x 30 x 35 cm
Photo by: Philip Sayer
© By the author. Read Copyright.

The British artist, Caroline Broadhead, curator of the upcoming SCHMUCK 2023, talks about the selection session and her artistic point of view.
You have just come straight from the selection session for SCHMUCK 2023, which you made alone. That means you have just seen 600 pieces of art jewellery...
A chain more than that, 600 people have submitted, so it's a lot more pieces than that.

So how do you feel after such a jewellery marathon?
Very full of jewellery. But it's a very interesting process. It's lovely to see so much diversity from so many different parts of the world. And it's very hard when you have to make the final decisions.

Did you notice anything among the submissions, certain topics or questions that come up often?
I think there were. What I look for goes on to what motivates people. So there are quite a few pieces that remark on the pandemic and the responses to that and how it made people feel. And some work comments on colonialism, which is also an interesting way of using jewellery to comment, that’s quite an unusual one I think. The other thing is there‘s always a fantastic range of materials and really interesting processes as well. So that's also the sort of alchemy at work there.

Bringing complex issues like the pandemic or colonialism into a relatively small piece is a big challenge, isn’t it?
Yes, definitely. And in a way that‘s the skill, of making a very complex idea kind of communicate simply. So yes, that's the job of an artist or jeweller or a maker. And there are some stunning pieces I consider, that have been chosen.

Have you seen some completely new materials or tools or something like that?
I think the other topic is sustainability. So there's a lot of concern about the use of materials and what we should be using and what we shouldn't be using. And also a kind of comment on capitalism. There's a lot of critical thinking about that too.

It almost sounds like there are quite a lot of critical pieces.
I think so, yes. There are a lot of comments about social issues or kind of political issues. I think…It's quite hard to keep thinking of all the different things I’ve chosen (laughing). But yes, I think there is.

And what about beauty?
In a way, there is a seduction in beauty and sometimes I haven't chosen beautiful things because I've gone more with strong ideas. But sometimes they're combined. Sometimes strong ideas come out in less expected ways than beauty, I think. Something maybe a bit more arresting or a bit more conflicting, kind of forms or colours or whatever.

Have you been surprised by some pieces?
I don't think surprise is the right word, but you become more alert to different things because I've seen such a lot of jewellery in my career and my teaching. So in a way, I've seen a lot and it's quite hard to surprise me am. But it's delightful, I supposed I am delighted by it, rather than surprised.

How did you choose? Did you have clear criteria in mind beforehand? Or do you simply trust your intuition, your eye and your experience?
I think I don't have a clear idea before, I thought that would be far too difficult to have criteria that I was measuring against all these hundreds of pieces. I think it's trying to look at something afresh, so something to do with an instinctive reaction to something. An immediate response, I suppose, is what I have been looking for and it's very often yes or no quite quickly. But there are also quite a lot of question marks in the middle as it were so things that aren't quite so definite, I don't have such a definite response to and there are the difficult ones.

In the end, you have selected 67 artists …
Yes, there was a lot more I would have liked to have shown the lot more. I can have lingered over and found it difficult to say no to. But there's quite a strict limit to how many people can be shown, for obvious reasons. So in a way you have to reluctantly say goodbye to pieces that you might have included otherwise.

I can imagine that it's not easy to suddenly appear as a curator. You are part of the scene yourself, you know many of the other jewellery artists personally, there are friends, colleagues and students among the participants. I suppose it’s hard to handle this…
…this dilemma! And yes, absolutely So why did you decide to do the selection nevertheless? It's a great honour to be chosen to do it. And it's an opportunity to kind of test yourself in a way to see actually what are my criteria for choosing pieces. And, because it‘s such a large pot of work, a large range, such a huge number, you get to see a lot, in a very short space of time. So it's a way of informing myself, what's going on and a way of reflecting myself on what I consider a good piece of jewellery or an interesting piece of jewellery.

Would you say it’s a personal selection of Caroline Broadhead or is it a cross-selection of the current development?
I hope it's both… but it's a person's selection and reflects the things that I respond to well, and that I like. So there's probably quite a lot of textile work in there, there's a lot of flexible things, there’s a lot of chains. I think there are quite a lot of works that made me feel emotional, so in a way, it‘s an emotional response to something, it's a kind of a kindred spirit in something so somebody who feels very strongly about something and is portraying the idea or developing that position through a piece of jewellery. So I admire that.

In general, when you look at the current development, is there a lot of emotional jewellery?
Yes, I think jewellery is a place where you can express emotions through jewellery because people wear it through emotion as well. So it becomes part of you very often if it's something that you wear every day, it's often about relationships or gifts or something. So in a way it's a holder of emotion, and that’s just inherent in jewellery but I think it's also now in contemporary jewellery, it has the potential to carry very weighty ideas because it is something that is the body, it follows the dimensions of the body. So it's something that we instantly feel is close to us or can be close to us. So there is an ability to touch both the body and the kind of emotional side.

Let’s come to your own artistic work. Which role plays in jewellery in your work?
My work isn't always jewellery. It's been a kind of a recurrent theme throughout my career and sometimes have gone quite far away from it and sometimes have come back to it. And most recently I've been doing jewellery and what I've been thinking about in the last, whatever is, ten years, I've been thinking about beads and making something from small units and kind of bringing those small units together to make something. It's beadwork but it's also I can think about how one can kind of think about the interconnectedness of things and am making a career here and whole out of something. That doesn't necessarily mean anything when it's not together. So the process is interesting to me how you stick things together and how you make, or you can create something like that. And then I've been making things about pearls. So thinking about pearls as both the material and the way pearls are made, and way pearls are found so I’ve been making things out of mother of pearl as well as glass beads… anyway, I've been interested in pearl jewellery and I've recently just done an exhibition with four colleagues about the pearl. So that’s my most recent work.

You’ve been teaching at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Are you still teaching?
I was there for nine and a half years as the course leader and the program director. And then I retired four years ago, but I still go back in to teach occasionally. So I'm still kind of part of the team. But I'm not running the course anymore.

Within the field of contemporary jewellery, which role does play the technical skill, and the craft? Is it important?
I think it is because there's got to be enough technical skill to allow an idea to communicate something. If it gets in the way, then it means that the idea doesn't come over well enough. But that's not my top criteria as it were. It's got to be invisible like to be invisible, so it doesn't interfere with what the object is saying and it's not just a kind of something that is just about technical skill. So it's the idea that is the most important for me.

The SCHMUCK exhibition at the Internationale Handwerksmesse in Munich has a tradition going back more than 60 years and is an important forum for contemporary jewellery and an important meeting point for makers, collectors or curators. But luckily, newbies who know nothing about that kind of jewellery and the scene keep stumbling into the exhibition at the fair. What are your experiences with people who see something like this for the first time?
Actually, I don’t often meet people who haven't had any connection with jewellery (laughing) … well actually that's not true. Because every year at the degree shows at Central St Martins there would be people who'd come around and not know they would be expecting something quite different. And actually, very often they're completely bowled over by the strength of ideas, the strength of making skills, the diversity of materials and the combination of materials. So I think there's something that a lot of people respond to because it is tangible somehow and relatable.

At the SCHMUCK every year anew, pieces of jewellery from very different cultural contexts, generations, and artistic biographies come together in a very small space. In your opinion, what special opportunity (or challenge) does this present for the viewer? What does this form of presentation entail compared to, for example, a solo exhibition or a thematic show or a class exhibition?
I think that's what's so exciting about contemporary jewellery it is an international affair now and very widespread. And I think that's the benefit of having this. There is quite a strong focus on contemporary jewellery at the SCHMUCK exhibition and the fact that it also happens every year and you see different pieces. You see pieces from the same person but a different piece. You see what's happening in different cultures and I think that's that something very special about that, it probably happens somewhere else as well. But here is a very important place for it to happen.

Last year you received the Herbert Hofmann Prize, the ‘academy award’ among jewellery prizes, as one of three artists or artist duos. And the exhibition is somehow the first selection of who can become the next winner because the jury chooses among the exhibited pieces. What role does the prize play in the biography of a jewellery artist and what role do prizes play at all?
Well, it's a great honour. It's amazing to be chosen and to join the list of all the other winners. But I don't know... there's something about prizes that are somehow also not very real so it doesn't matter in the long run. It's fantastic for that time and it's nice on your CV. But It doesn't change the way you work or it doesn't change the way you think about things, you see what I mean? I don't want to be too dismissive of it at all because it's fantastic to be chosen. But it doesn't change my work and it doesn't change my life. If you see what I mean, but it's, it's something I'm very grateful for.

And my last question: Would you please be so kind to tell us a little bit about your pieces that had been awarded the Herbert Hofman Prize?
I put in three pieces and they were depictions of pearls but made in glass beads. And one was a flat piece that was woven into a net so it had an image of very large pearls on it. And then you could open the net and you could wear it as a scarf. So it was the idea of something valuable like pearls kind of disappearing so you could make them disappear and you could wear them without showing them and then you had to kind of manipulate them to get them back again to see them. So I quite like that idea of something disappearing, something could be returned to you. But there had to be an effort involved in it. And then the other two pieces were pearls but made to look a bit like a frill on a dress. So they weren‘t proper pearls, but you could see them as pearls. But they acted like a piece of cloth or a piece of garment.

About the Interviewee

Caroline Broadhead has lectured, taught and exhibited widely and her work is represented in many public collections worldwide. A book, published by Arnoldsche, and a retrospective exhibition at CODA Museum, Netherlands showcased work spanning four decades. Other acknowledgements include Jerwood Prize for Applied Arts: Textiles, 1997; Textiles International Open, 2004, and The Goldsmiths Craft & Design Council Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. Retired as Course Leader, BA Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins, she still goes back to teach occasionally. In 2022 she was awarded by the Herbert Hofmann Prize, the ‘academy award’ among jewellery prizes, as one of three artists or artist duos.
She is the curator of the SCHMUCK 2023.

About the author

Julie Metzdorf
studied art history and literature in Regensburg and Seville. As a cultural journalist, she mainly works for radio and print magazines; her focus is on art, applied art and crafts. She lives in Munich.