I am excited about blurring the lines between art, science, and some sort of mystical something or other. Interview with Lena Echelle by Klimt02

Interview  /  Artists
Published: 05.05.2022
Lena Echelle Lena Echelle
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Lena Echelle. Piece: Ofelia’s Crown, 2018. Rawhide, thread. 75 x 10 x 12 cm. Photo by: Lena Echelle. Crown/necklace. Lena Echelle
Piece: Ofelia’s Crown, 2018
Rawhide, thread
75 x 10 x 12 cm
Photo by: Lena Echelle
© By the author. Read Copyright.

I believe networking is basically the difference between being an eccentric and making art.
Tell us about your background. What were your first influences to be creative and become an artist and what has drawn you to contemporary jewellery?
I was born into a family that included both ranchers and conservation biologists. In college, I studied fine art. After graduating in 2001, I began to make studio jewelry based on natural forms and participated in juried art and craft fairs throughout the United States. I was a participating jeweller in the No Dirty Gold campaign and used recycled metals for my pieces. At the same time, I had the privilege to travel extensively throughout the US and Latin America and see the real impact mining operations can have on ecosystems and communities. After moving to a farm in the mountains of western Argentina in 2009, I began to seriously question the reasons for my own continued use of precious metals. After all, while independent jewellers may not use a significant amount of metal, we still influence what is seen as valuable, fashionable, or important in society. Gradually, I began to use more materials collected from the rural area where I live in Argentina, such as bone, rawhide, hair, manure, and wood. I feel that my current work is more contemporary jewelry-ish than my previous work, as it involves more concrete social critique.

How has your work changed over the past few years and what are you excited about these days?
For the last several years I have been using primarily materials I find in my immediate environment. Now I am trying to capture in my pieces some of the fascination and connection I feel for the natural world when I am experiencing it outside the studio. I am excited about blurring the lines between art, science, and some sort of mystical something or other. To do this, I am investigating the way objects and places can feel charged with magical or sacred energy while I accompany my botanist husband in a study of the plant community structure of the mountains where we live. We ride mules or hike out from our house, sometimes for several days at high altitudes, collecting and documenting plants in places few people have visited. I feel incredibly lucky to live in a place so wild and beautiful, and for the excuse to be able to explore it in detail. These trips have become both a source of materials and inspiration for my current work.

What are your general thoughts on the contemporary jewellery world (education, market, development), where do you see chances and where are dead ends?
Even though, or maybe because, I have many years invested in formal education, I feel that college art education can sometimes lead to at least short-term professional disappointment. When I graduated, I felt completely unprepared for life outside of the University. It took some time and some pretty un-artsy jobs to get by until I could figure out how to make a go of it on my own. For me, having supportive parents, a husband with a job, and eventually, a farm has been a safety net in terms of food and stability that not all recent art graduates can count on. As a side note, I have never lived in a place where contemporary jewellery is taught on a formal scale. In some ways, I think that has kept me grounded in terms of valuing process and craft, but the conceptual side of contemporary jewellery is often overlooked in metalsmithing programs.

How important is networking for you in your professional practice and what are your preferred tools for this?
I believe networking is basically the difference between being an eccentric and making art. A work of art might have the potential to be beautiful, profound, disturbing, etc., but until it is experienced by others it doesn’t really exist. Before I moved to Argentina, my pieces were seen in retail situations with prospective buyers as their main audience. Lately, I have been working on more experimental pieces for specific exhibitions. I am an active member of Joyeros Argentinos and the collective Caracú. Interacting with Caracú has been an inspiring, challenging, and supportive experience. It has given me the courage to make and show more provocative pieces, as well as the chance to see these pieces in conjunction with that of others and to try to understand my work beyond my individual perspective. In the context of the third Biennial of Latin American Contemporary Jewelry, in 2021 I also curated and presented “Valor Agregado,” in English “Added Value,” a group show of contemporary jewelry made with recycled and ordinary materials in an abandoned local winery. Recently, I have begun to expand my networking to botanists working in the area and local people, as well as participating in international events such as Brazil Jewelry Week and Feria Equinox.

Thinking about your career, what role do technology and the digital play in your artistic development and communication?
The internet, digital photo and video technology, and social media allow me to interact with the world and live the hybrid lifestyle I enjoy. I think it is very important to learn to use these modern tools to communicate what we are doing with the rest of the world. I have been learning to use video in my work for the last year or so and this has opened doors to new ways of communicating the messages that are important to my work.