I Wish That Jewellery Could Be Seen More As An Agent With Social And Civic Impact. Roberta Bernabei, Joya 2020 Jury Member interviewed by Klimt02

Published: 25.06.2020
I Wish That Jewellery Could Be Seen More As An Agent With Social And Civic Impact. Roberta Bernabei, Joya 2020 Jury Member interviewed by Klimt02.
Carolin Denter
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JOYA Barcelona, the main art jewelry and art object event in Spain will take place with its 12th edition this year and focusses on new technologies and crafts:
The skilled and sensitive human interaction with technology, involved in jewellery and object making is arguably central to the maker’s art. The direct relationship with tools & materials is essential to control an intimate way of making. Through the exploitation to new technologies, the whole working process of the artist can change, but as well open new possibilities and creative paths are developed.
In this last interview of three, we spoke to Jury Member Roberta Bernabei, jeweller, curator and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Jewellery Research.
Roberta, you currently work at the School of Design and Creative Arts, Loughborough University. You do research and lectures in Critical Historical Studies and Jewellery Theory and Practice. This year you are selected as JOYA 2020 Jury member. Please tell us more about your professional development.
My personal and professional career as an educator started in 1995 in Italy at the Jewellery School Le Arti Orafe in Florence. I established a module on critical studies on contemporary jewellery. My interest in investigating this subject in depth brought me to the UK in 2001. I undertook an MA in Jewellery at SHU (Sheffield Hallam University) and after one year I started lecturing in the same institution with an open-ended contract followed by another one at De Montfort University in Leicester. This sequence of events led me to understand that I could pursue a permanent position at a UK university. In 2004 I joined Loughborough University, where I succeeded David Poston as Programme Director for the last three years of the BA(Hons) Silversmithing and Jewellery.

Unfortunately, during the 2000’s there was a sad phenomenon for several Applied Arts/3D Design BA programmes throughout the UK. Some of these programmes were closed or restructured by merging several disciplines together and thereby eliminating specialisms. My personal view is that multidisciplinary programmes can be an interesting offer if designed with this intention from the beginning. The opposite is so, if the decision is imposed and tutors do not fully embrace the spirit of the multidisciplinary ethos. This wave of closures hit Camberwell College of Art: BA Metal and Jewellery (closure 2006), Manchester Metropolitan University, Contemporary Applied Arts (closure 2007) including Loughborough University. [1]

Moving back to my career, my role as Programme director changed and I became a school-wide Director of Postgraduate Taught Programmes and also I completed my PhD. Recently, I have been appointed as a visiting Reader at Birmingham Institute Jewellery, Fashion and Textiles (BCU). In all these years I have been following my research interest in jewellery and exhibited my own work in several international venues and published articles, essays and a monograph book.
New technologies and crafts are the topics for JOYA 2020. Why have you been selected to join this year's jury, and where did your interest in the so-called new technologies have begun, and where did you have contact with them so far?
I gained interest in exploring new technical possibilities in contemporary jewellery that could have been combined with traditional goldsmith techniques when I undertook an MA at Sheffield Hallam University in 2011. I came in contact with “new thinking“ where the concept of innovative technical solutions was touched upon during discussions with tutors and peers. Also, for the first time, I had the opportunity to use new pieces of equipment. So the freedom of learning and exploring new techniques was very attractive. I was intrigued by the challenge of diluting the direct somatic experience of working with materials with hand tools first and then with a digital mediator. For example, by using hand files, lathe, laser cutter, precision photo etching or 3D printing.

  • I hope to see ‘other languages’ that can tell us new stories or maybe similar stories but with a distinctly personal voice. I wish to be enthralled by investigations that can bring to light different perspectives.

As a judge for the 2020 JOYA Award, what do you expect to see? What is the aesthetic specific you are looking for and what are your criteria or your visions for the selection?
Joya’s selection criteria competitions are: originality, experimental techniques, a combination of tradition and innovation, strong concept, well-executed pieces and new materials. Personally, I hope to see ‘other languages’ that can tell us new stories or maybe similar stories but with a distinctly personal voice. I wish to be enthralled by investigations that can bring to light different perspectives. My interest spans from jewellery that conveys joy to the audience to intuitions that bring viewers’ attention on jewellery values and its role in society.

What is your personal interpretation of this year’s topic? Any thoughts?
For some artists, the exploration of new technical solutions or new materials and their combinations are key to their practice. The current context might blur the meaning of ‘exploring new materials or new technical solutions’. One could argue that these solutions should enrich the quality of the object in terms of aesthetic, content or even function. On some occasions, the use of new technologies can achieve exciting results that may increase the communicative capacity of jewellery. Perhaps a technological innovation can feed our curiosity and surprise us with the complexity of the geometry of the work that otherwise would not be possible to be made by hand.

What do you think of the fair as a communicative event and/or for career development? What personal experience have you had about it & what do you think is special about the JOYA Jewellery fair in Barcelona?
I had the pleasure to visit Barcelona Joya in 2015 and my experience was amazing. I enjoyed talking to exciting and inspiring artists who became so friendly after a very short period of time. It is a good opportunity for artists at differing stages of their careers. Apart from the obvious prospects that Joya can offer to visitors, it is also an opportunity for artists to look for synergies amongst colleagues for new collaborations, new exhibitions, and share their knowledge and practices.

Joya Barcelona 2015 at Santa Monica Arts in Barcelona, Photo by Klimt02

What kind of contemporary jewellery would you like to see more often?
Artists’ authentic expressions of their inner feelings. Too often, I see copies of ‘object languages’ that I am already familiar with. Furthermore, I wish that jewellery could be seen more as an agent with a social and civic impact. Some artists conceive and propose jewellery with this role.

Yes, of course, jewellery can be seen as a pure joy to feed our senses and aesthetic pleasure. However, I also wish that the power of jewellery could be employed to instigate wearers and viewers to consider their roles and the impact of their actions in society through the communicative power of jewellery.

  • Too often, I see copies of ‘languages’ that I am already familiar with.

The development of digital technologies in the late 20th century for both 2D and 3D productions has had a huge impact on the economics of customisation, enabling the production of one or many products from digital data, and greater economic flexibility in relation to supply and demand. Do you make a distinction between designers who consider themselves artists and those who work in a commercial setting?
These can be two distinctive professions but they can also overlap. It depends on the context. There is a distinction if their intentions are different when they operate.
How will the technical possibilities impact the creation of jewellery?
Being that we are experiencing unprecedented situations due to Covid-19, we might also see a ‘new utilisation’ of online bureau services, where they offer easy access to new technologies such as laser cutting or 3D printing services. The affordability of jewellery will be an important aspect that more makers and artists will consider. Alongside, the preference for some jewellery typology or size of the pieces of jewellery. For example, brooches might be easier to be worn instead of earrings or rings due to the safety practices we are adopting during Covid-19, or bigger size jewellery will become more popular than small pieces as social distancing measures can be an obstacle to see tiny objects when they are worn.

What is the difference for you between jewellers that manufacture their work or those who have the work produced for them?
In both cases a co-creation of artefacts takes place. The difference, in this case, is how far is diluted the interaction between the maker and the corporeal experience with the manipulation of materials. What is the emotional engagement of both during the creation and to what extent their emotional connection to the making process can emotionally charge the final pieces? The makers interaction with materials constitutes what is defined by Tim Ingold as ‘making as growth’ (Ingold 1993) [2]. There are other factors that interact with the makers and materials such as space, time but also all of those people who were involved in the process of enabling the maker to acquire the materials and tools. It is an interesting question that can prompt wider considerations that go beyond the jeweller’s position within the process of creation.

[1] P. Held, H. S. Lineberry (2013) Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft, Arizona Board of Regents, p. 29.
[2]Ingold, T. 2013, Making Anthropology, Archeology, Art and Architecture, London: Routledge,

About the Interviewee

Roberta Bernabei is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Jewellery Research; visiting reader at Birmingham Institute Jewellery, Fashion and Textiles; and, since 2004, a lecturer at the School of Design and Creative Arts, Loughborough University, UK. Her work ranges from publications such as the monograph Contemporary Jewellers: Interviews with European Artists (published in 2011 by Bloomsbury, ex-Berg) to international exhibitions at the Museum of Arts & Crafts, Itami; Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland; Museo Arti Decorative, Turin; and Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin. Her work has won awards, from the EPSRC to the Craft Council.