Co:operation Garnish - an interview with Rachel Timmins and Brigitte Martin on the power of collaboration

Interview  /  BehindTheScenes
Published: 07.11.2014
Co:operation Garnish - an interview with Rachel Timmins and Brigitte Martin on the power of collaboration.
Sanna Svedestedt
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With the mission to overcome division and misconceptions within the metal and jewellery community Rachel Timmins and Brigitte Martin initiated the collaboration project Co-operation Garnish.  Artists from different backgrounds are encouraged to team up and create jewellery for a new exhibition that will tour the US in 2015-2016.

In the open call for Co-operation Garnish you describe a troublesome gap between artists from different backgrounds. Do you see this division as a global phenomenon or an American phenomenon?

Brigitte: I don’t want to claim in-depth insight into what goes on in all other countries, that’s hard to say if you are not globetrotting or closely following every international network. I would suspect though that the differences and animosities do not run as deep as in the US. The reason is that in the US other than in say, Germany, the dominant way to learn about jewelry and metalsmithing is via an art school setting not a trade school setting, with art schools leaning more towards exploring content and un-traditional materials than a vocational or trade school. That leaves makers who wish to make more traditional work on the outside because that approach is often derided as “commercial” which at an art school translates to “undesirable”. Somehow in that equation, skill and traditional craft have become 4 letter words, with makers on that end of the spectrum feeling alienated and excluded from a club that - in their minds - they helped build in the first place.
Rachel: I would add that this is a two way street - each side tends to stay on their own path.  I have seen non-traditional work be ridiculed by more traditional makers and I’ve seen very beautifully crafted jewelry be demeaned by more conceptual makers.  It is this divide that we are trying to overcome with our project.
The deadline of the open call is February 15th 2015. Have you been receiving applications already? What feedback or reactions have you been experiencing?

Rachel: We have not been receiving applications quite yet as the work is currently in process, however we have been receiving updates and news of collaborative partnerships.  We anticipate a high number of entries.  Makers seem to be very excited about participating in this project as it’s not a collaboration that most people would explore without a prompt such as this one.  We’ve gotten a fair amount of interest from galleries and educational institutions, as well. I think a lot of people are curious to see how these collaborations will manifest.  

Have you considered doing a similar project but asking for collaborations between jewellery artists and artists from other fields (performance, photography, film, print) and would that be interesting? Where could such a project be exhibited?

Brigitte: Such an exhibition already took place within the jewelry field, I arranged one a few years back together with Sarah Abrahamson. “CoOperation Tableware” took place at the SNAG Seattle Conference and it did exactly that: pair metalsmiths with people from outside of our field. It went well, makers absolutely relished the idea of working with someone collaboratively. As with CoOperation Garnish, it is always wonderful to get to an end result, but I believe the actual benefit of any cooperation is the working partnership itself. By necessity or choice, most of us makers labor along in fairly isolated settings, our work usually calls for big stretches of uninterrupted work time, so when we get a chance to work with someone who shares and understands our world, that is like a vulcan mind-meld. Good things come from unexpected places.

What parameters will you use when categorizing work as traditional as opposed to non-traditional?

Rachel:  Things like function and materiality will play a big role in our decision.  It can be a hard line to draw, but most people know it when they see it. This has caused confusion for some participants - which was surprising to us. It’s not our call to make in terms of the creation of partnerships. However, when it comes down to jurying, we will look at how seriously the call for entry has been taken in the resulting work - we should see two (or however many participants were responsible for making the work) decidedly different voices coming from opposite ends of the metals/jewelry making spectrum.  We’ll also be looking at how successfully (or not) these making attitudes came together in the resulting object.

You are encouraging display of humor in submitted works. Can you tell us something about the agency of humor in craft?
Brigitte: Humor is definitely a strong component in both Rachel’s and my work. As far as I am concerned, there is a lot of seriousness and darkness going on in people’s lives and work already. Every now and then I like to shine a light on the humorous side of things, just so that we don’t forget that it’s important to have and share fun with each other. Life is not a Kafka novel.
Rachel: I use humor as a tool to allow people to examine darker issues. If you just confront people directly with darker issues, they can shrink away from tackling it. Humor helps people to engage at their own pace.
Brigitte and Rachel: We are very excited to be able to do this project and to do it together. Rachel and I come from different backgrounds, so we are like the poster children for this collaboration. In fact, we are also working on an actual piece together, we are blogging publicly about our project and its progress, and the final garnish we create will be part of the traveling show as an example of a partnership between two very different makers.
Many artists have teamed up and alerted us to their collaborations, and galleries have shown substantial enough interest to block away time to host the exhibition. There is still time to get started, the deadline is February 15, 2015.  For more information, please visit:

Left: Ring Music Clown by Brigitte Martin. Right: Body piece "Minnie Woosley" by Rachel Timmins.

Short bios of the interviewed:

Rachel Timmins earned her MFA in Studio Art (Metals + Jewelry Concentration) at Towson University in December 2012 and her BFA from Buffalo State College in 2009.  Her work has been shown in numerous exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, in venues such as the National Gallery of Victoria, Snyderman-Works Gallery, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the Design Museum London and the Baltimore Museum of Art and her work can be seen in many publications such as Unexpected Pleasures, Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective published, and Jewel Book: International Annual of Contemporary Jewel Art.  
Brigitte Martin apprenticed with a Master Goldsmith in her native Germany prior to moving to the US. She is the founder and editor of crafthaus and organizes an annual national Craft Think Tank in cooperation with the American Craft Council. Martin published Humor in Craft in 2012, which won a FINALIST award at the 2012 USA Best Book Awards and a 2013 Gold Medal from Independent Publishers. Martin is a current board member of the Society of North American Goldsmith and a public speaker on social networking, online community and entrepreneurship.