People Sometimes Treat their Jewelry with Great Disrespect. Schmuck 2022 Curator Helen Britton Interviewed by Nina Gassauer

Published: 01.06.2022
Helen Britton with brooches, 2016.
. Copyright and courtesy of the artist. Photo concept, Helen Britton; Styling, Corrina Teresa Brix; Photo, Dirk Eisel. Helen Britton with brooches, 2016.
Copyright and courtesy of the artist. Photo concept, Helen Britton; Styling, Corrina Teresa Brix; Photo, Dirk Eisel.

Nina Gassauer
Edited by:
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Helen Britton. Pendant: Keys, 2019. Antique and vintage stone, silver, silk.. Photo by: Dirk Eisel. Part of: CODA Museum. Helen Britton
Pendant: Keys, 2019
Antique and vintage stone, silver, silk.
Photo by: Dirk Eisel
Part of: CODA Museum
© By the author. Read Copyright.

The Australian Helen Britton is one of the world's leading designers for author's jewelry. As an excellent connoisseur of the worldwide jewelry scene, she is the curator of SCHMUCK 2022 and thus selected the 63 participants from over 650 submissions for the special exhibition 2022, which this year has been canceled. Nina Gassauer talked to the artist about her work, the entries for SCHMUCK in the exceptional year 2020, and the importance of author's jewelry in times like these.
Munich is known worldwide as a center for contemporary jewelry. This is especially evident when SCHMUCK takes place every year in March as a kind of summit of the scene, attracting goldsmiths, artists, gallery owners, and collectors from all over the world. Over the years, SCHMUCK has grouped dozens of events of contemporary jewelry around it. Each year, one person from the scene of art jewelry is making the selection for the special show amongst all entries. This year, the Australian jewelry designer Helen Britton was selected.

Can you give us an idea about Helen Britton as an individual? Who is she, who are you?
That's an interesting question because I don't think about it much. One thing is clear: I am introverted by nature. I'm a rather shy person, I'm not good with crowds and I'm obsessed with making art. However, my practice and my professional life mean that I am often in the spotlight of the public. All the more, I tend to spend a lot of time alone in my work. I dive deep into it and explore possibilities to communicate through my art.

Author's jewelry is a very direct and individual form of artistic expression. The artwork is worn on the body and so, it enters into direct dialogue. Are there any expectations and questions you have in regard to the people wearing your jewelry objects?
People sometimes treat their jewelry with great disrespect. I like the thought of carrying this little thing with you exactly because of it being important to you. Wearing the jewelry is a kind of ritual to me. It appeals to its wearer and may even be a bit fragile. So, I hope that I can inspire people for the stories behind my work, make them understand the things I want to tell. I am a storyteller through my art. Thus, I am very interested in the life of materials, their texture, and how they affect us and perhaps change us. I, therefore, wish that the individual who wants to integrate a piece of my work into his or her self-image is also interested in its narrative and materials.

For 2022 you have been appointed as the curator for the special show SCHMUCK in the context of Handwerk&Design at Internationale Handwerksmesse in Munich. Does that honor you?
It´s an incredible honor. I was very touched and deeply moved to be asked. It felt not entirely comfortable because I would hate to feel that I was making a public judgement by having to select 60 works out of nearly 700 works. But on the other hand, I was very curious to see what people were sending and to be able to select things that resonated with me, and to put together the diversity of art jewelry so that I could illustrate the diversity of our very interesting little niche.

The submissions of this year might probably be a class of their own, considering the exceptional situation in which the Open Call for the SCHMUCK 2021 took place. What is your impression? Does this exceptional year reflect new trends and tendencies?
Some pieces certainly reflect the current situation. But it is not that obvious. The themes have developed over the last few years and have now become more acute in the works of some artists. But there are numerous works that are completely free from any conclusions about the current situation. I consider this to be very healthy and it is wonderful to offer these other perspectives to society, but also to our colleagues and friends, that are not burdened with the strong despair that many of us feel at the moment.

Which considerations guided your selection for SCHMUCK 2022?
I am interested in works that develop over time, that have an authentic voice, that are a considered contribution to our scene, and that have a unique, unmistakable signature. The world of author's jewelry has exploded over the last 20 years. The downside of this is a kind of stylization, which means that certain forms are now en vogue and are repeated by emerging artists.I am very sensitive to this kind of work. Part of my selection process was to be aware throughout how much repetition is present in contemporary jewelry and how difficult it is to develop and maintain an authentic and clear voice - so that one really feels that an artist had no choice but to create the work in this way. Certain works simply stand out. By beauty or by irritation. And I am not talking about classical beauty. It's more the moment when all those things come together that make the piece perfect.

>> Listen the audio of the complete interview

About «Handwerk & Design
As part of the Internationale Handwerksmesse the «Handwerk & Design» arose in 2008. The idea behind it was to combine outstanding performances in crafts, art handicrafts, and design at the Internationale Handwerksmesse. During the Internationale Handwerksmesse, everything is about the incorporation of craftsmanship and good design in hall B1 on the Fairground Messe München. The «Handwerk & Design» is made up of numerous special shows such as EXEMPLA, SCHMUCK, TALENTE or MEISTER DER MODERNE.


About the Interviewee

Helen Britton is a Multidisciplinary Australian artist based in Munich, Germany. Her practice creates jewellery and objects, drawings, stencils, and installations, and is informed by popular culture and folk art, disappearing traditions on the backdrop of a strong underlying influence of her natural Australian environment.  Helen completed a Master of Fine Arts by research at Curtin University, Western Australia in 1999, which included guest studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, the Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam, and San Diego State University, California. In 1999 she returned to Munich to complete postgraduate study at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 2002 she established her Studio in Munich with David Bielander and Yutaka Minegishi. Her work is held in the National Gallery of Australia, The Pinakothek der Modern, Munich, The Schmuck Museum Pforzheim, The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Boston Museum of Fine Art, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, The Hermitage, St Petersburg, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, The CODA Museum Apeldoorn, among others. In 2005 Helen was awarded the Herbert Hofmann prize for excellence in contemporary jewellery and in 2006 the state prize of Bavaria for craftsmanship. In March of 2011, Helen Drutt-English launched a new catalogue of Helen Britton’s work in Munich. In 2013 at the invitation of The Neue Sammlung, Munich, an overview of 20 years of Helen's work was shown as a solo exhibition in the Neues Museum, Nürnberg, Germany. In 2013 Britton was awarded the Förder Preis of the city of Munich, and in 2014 was an artist in residence at Villa Bengel in Idar-Oberstein. In 2015 Helen Britton was Artist in Residence at Vasse Felix in Western Australia. In 2017 Helen created the exhibition "Interstices" at The Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, UWA, Western Australia - a complete overview of her practice in conjunction with the Festival of Perth, including her large-scale drawing works, Ghost Train installation, and a selection of small sculpture and objects. A metaphorical relocation of the Munich studio of Britton, Bielander, and Minegishi was constructed in the Project Space of RMIT University for Radiant Pavillion in 2017, and a long-term dialogue project was realized at the Bavarian Crafts Council with fellow artist Felix Lindner in 2018. In 2019 Helen Britton was made Adjunct Professor at RMIT University in Melbourne.

About the author

Nina Gassauer lives and works in Munich. The business economist and journalist with an international career coordinates the PR department at the Gesellschaft für Handwerksmessen (GHM) and communicates for Handwerk & Design. For the 33-year-old, craftsmanship is a well-known terrain, on which she completed her dual degree in business administration in 2008. In the meantime, Gassauer lived and worked as a trainee in Hong Kong, where she subsequently worked for several years as a communication director for a publishing house before moving to Seoul, South Korea. Back in Germany, she first communicated in the press and public relations department of the Federal Office of the German Alpine Association before returning to GHM and thus the sector of craftsmanship.