Curating Alchemy, a conversation with Nichka Marobin

Published: 14.11.2017
Nichka Marobin Nichka Marobin
Carolin Denter, Yuxi Sun
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For the exhibition The Alchemical Egg at Hannah Gallery by Klimt02 in Barcelona, the whole curating process took one year: Curator and Art-Historian Nichka Marobin got invited by Paulo Ribeiro, founder of the Joya Fair to create an exhibition about the main topic of gastronomy.

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Laying in bed one night, Nichka dreamed about a famous painting of Hieronymus Bosch, her favourite painter: A demonic creature, fries a soul in a pan. Immediately she thought about Alchemy, about the fact, that for all the processes used here, you have to involve fire and heat, as you do for cooking. Stuck with this abstract interpretation of the topic, the curator decided to invite 2 Goldsmiths and 2 Enamelist Artists to interpret the idea of transformation. The 3 Stages of Alchemy.

What makes you feel inspired as a curator? What or who is your Muse?
For me, everything could be a source of inspiration. For “The Alchemical Egg”, for example, the fragment of a Bosch’s painting was the starting point of the entire project.
Basically, I’m inspired by my readings, by books, by fragments of ideas that fly into my head and then I link them to history, art and literature.

Jokingly, I define myself as a specialist of hybrid territories and complex systems and I like to connect different fields of knowledge. To me, anyway, one thing is extremely important: the study of the different cultural aspects supported by book and web references. I always document each project by books and references, in order to give more than one reading-key both to the Artist as well as to the reader.

I have a lot of Muses! All the women of the past who dedicated their lives to the spread of knowledge and who devoted their own life to something they strongly believed; novelists, scholars… but if I have to name two, I should say Palma Bucarelli and Diana Vreeland.

Exhibition view of The Alchemical Egg, the white pieces represent the second stage in Alchemy: Albedo

You know loads of artists and their work, what kind of work attract you in general?
My background as an art historian helped me a lot: the careful look to the paintings and the study of iconology and iconography trained my eyes to details.
No matter how could be the materials employed, I’m attracted by quality. And quality lies in good work, in excellent technique with that je ne sais quoi that makes the difference: that invisible (yet tangible) sign that makes the piece recognizable even after years and years….
Besides quality has to do also with humility, accuracy…and hard work day by day….

What do you think about Art Jewellery in general and events such as Joya especially?
I usually imagine Art jewellery as a great vault and under that, a myriad of languages, voices, and landscapes. Teachers, scholars, specialists, gallerists, collectors as well as the web platforms have an important task, that is the one to detect and convey all these voices and let them know through studies, readings, books, exhibitions, and visits to the Artists’ studios. But nowadays I see a lot of unknown people with an unknown background becoming suddenly curators and “specialists”…I’ve been waiting more than eight years before writing something related to contemporary jewellery because I simply think that only study, observation, visits to exhibitions are the only ways to get in touch,  know and the deepen this subject. No improvisation, but only work day by day because spreading culture is not posting a myriad of pictures without any credit and tagging them insanely…. Through the years Joya has become the autumn rendez-vous for the jewellery community after Schmuck and, from the first edition onwards, the aim was the one to gather the voices of the Mediterranean world: I think they are doing a good job and looking for new events for every edition: “The Alchemical Egg” was included in the Off Joya events.

What was your objective when you set up this exhibition & what was the most challenging part for you during this process?
At the very beginning the only objective was linking two fields like gastronomy and contemporary jewellery, then it became something else, more articulated, more interesting, challenging and appealing. The most challenging part for me has been writing the catalogue.

As an art historian, specialized in North Renaissance, facing a leading figure as Hieronymus Bosch was such an experience! In 2016 a great exhibition of his 5th centenary was held at Museo del Prado in Madrid and then in his native city of ‘S-Hertogenbosch…can, you imagine my attitude towards this?
On the second hand, there was the alchemical subject with its historical weight and the different philosophical and psychological aspects.
And then, there was the critical text on the pieces with the description, the iconography and the explication of the stages of the Opus.

Visitors at the opening of The Alchemical Egg, the first alchemical stage is called Nigredo, which means black. 

How did you decide who to invite to this exhibition?
The Artists’ selection has been discussed with the gallerists first. We focused on the subject matter, on alchemy and the transmutation of metals through the use of fire, thus the choice came easily because we have similar thoughts towards the project and the same taste in jewellery.

How is the communication with the artists? Are there any difficulties?
Sometimes is excellent, sometimes so and so, sometimes awful. But it always depends on the people you have “in front” of you.
I might say that when the communication with a person is difficult since the beginning, it has nothing to do with being a renowned, established and busy artist: it’s about being respectful, professional and educated. There’s a lovely word in Italian for all this: it’s “garbo” (politeness) and this is still, according to me, a supreme key- quality.

Nichka Marobin explaining her concept to some visitors.

How important is it for you to act personally with your audience?
Of course, it’s important, because it gives me the real possibility to get in touch with the audience and explain, answer to the different questions, clarify some passages.
A project like “The Alchemical Egg” involved a number of people who helped me, supported me and worked with me: it’s a privilege to show the result of all the work done together.

What has been your most memorable response by a viewer to the Alchemical Egg Exhibition? Is there any feedback from the visitor you find interesting or thoughtful?
Well, I do not remember…
A visitor (who is also a collector) told me he liked Gigi Mariani’s Albedo brooch because that piece was like a “concetto spaziale” of Lucio Fontana: I think this is a really nice feedback. For the collector that brooch was a work of art: good, isn’t it?

Gigi Mariani, brooch: This magic moment (Albedo), 2017.
Material: silver, niello patina. Size: 7 x 8 x 0,4 cm.


What is the most important part of being a curator?
First of all, let me tell you that I hardly define myself as a proper Curator since the fact I’m just moving my very first steps in this field and I have a lot of things to learn. Anyway, according to me, I wouldn’t say there’s a “most important part” about being a curator because the whole process of building up a project forces you to solve problems of any kind; it confronts you on several aspects of curatorship such as the contact with Artist, the communication, the writing process….etc.
Some weeks ago I read an interesting interview to Devrim Bayar on Collecteurs Magazine and she says something really interesting about curating that I gladly share with you: “In order to become a curator you have to see shows, visit artist studios and curate. It’s like jumping into a pool in order to learn how to swim": that’s how I feel.
But whatever are the challenges that a curatorship gives you, it is always a privilege: a privilege to get in touch personally with the artists, gallerists, collectors… the viewers and the public.
See the full interview to Devrim Bayar on Collecteurs Magazine via here

Nowadays, the curator seems to be replaced by Gallerist and Artists themselves. Where do you see yourself in the art world?
I’m a hybrid creature: I keep my foot in both camps, the one of art history full of my cherished Old Masters and contemporary jewellery: the two fields dialogue together. What you see from my projects is the result of this long and restless dialogue.

Has anyone or anything recently challenged your views on art?
I owe my gratitude to a lot of people in the field of art jewellery: makers, friends, gallerists and scholars who patiently “guided” me and offered me the different point of views, but above all, I am grateful to Ben Lignel. When he was editor-in-chief at Art Jewelry Forum he taught me to become more critical and less historical: this is a lesson I won’t forget.

About the Interviewee

She is a Dutch and Flemish art historian: she graduated at the Faculty of Letters of Padova, with a thesis on ornamental prints of the Renaissance between 1500 and 1550 in Germany and the focusing on the migration of forms, themes and styles starting from the engravings by Cornelis Bos, Cornelis Floris II, Lucas van Leyden and Tthe German Little Masters. In 2011 she founded the blog, “The Morning Bark”: a blo(g)azette on arts and literary disciplines, where she posts her articles through a multidisciplinary path in the fine arts, books, fashion and contemporary jewellery. In 2014 she started her project called “Les Métissages” developing the concepts of migration of forms and ideas by juxtaposing contemporary jewellery and fashion creations. Her blogazette, The Morning Bark, is one of the official media of JOYA Barcelona, the international contemporary jewellery fair and Gioielli in Fermento, an international contemporary jewellery contest. She is a passionate collector of contemporary jewellery.

About the author

Yuxi Sun completed her Bachelor of Arts in Jewellery design at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in 2015. She is undertaking her Master of Fine arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein till 2018. Meanwhile, she is making an internship at Klimt02 in 2017.

Carolin Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. In 2015 she made an Internship at Klimt02, where she is working since 2016 as Content Manager. In 2017 she graduated with Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she started working part-time as Marketing and Design management Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement.