Jewellery should be inspired by anything but jewellery. Saskia van Es JOYA 2021 Jury Member interviewed by Klimt02

Published: 28.05.2021
Saskia van Es Saskia van Es
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Paul Adie. Ring: Mother, 2019. Silver, aluminium, paint.. Image Courtesy Galerie Rob Koudijs Amsterdam.. Paul Adie
Ring: Mother, 2019
Silver, aluminium, paint.
Image Courtesy Galerie Rob Koudijs Amsterdam.
© By the author. Read Copyright.

JOYA Barcelona, the main art jewelry and art object event in Spain will celebrate its 13th edition this year focussing on the subject of Alchemy:
This antique discipline of doctrine and experimentation of chemical phenomena analyses the transmutation of metals, the elixir of life, and the search for stone philosophers. The Alchemy is also related to secret methods, the elixir of immortality, the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease; and to development of a universal solvent.
In this second interview of three, we spoke to Jury Member Saskia van Es, an art historian writing on contemporary jewellery and fascinated by materials.
Saskia, you are an art historian who writes about contemporary jewellery, and your interests go from the meaning people attach to jewellery to the stories behind the materials. Tell us more about your professional development.
Many moons ago I worked as a consultant in the leisure and arts industry. I wandered off to other pursuits; we lived abroad for some years. I went back to school, to study Art Therapy, but we left again. At the time of our return to the Netherlands, I was hugely interested in fiber art. I remember coming across this amazing felt jewellery by Brigit Daamen. That’s when I discovered that there is a kind of jewellery outside the high street shops: jewellery that tells a story. And the best part for me as an art omnivore was that any material - glass, gemstones, metals, ceramics, wood, fibers, recycled stuff, synthetic hair braids, an inner tube of a wheelchair tire, or a wisdom tooth – can be used and no technique is too far-fetched. I saw a lot of exhibitions and over-ate myself of images on the Internet. Many things struck me, but they just sort of vaguely fermented inside. I started writing which was a time-consuming but rewarding method of finding out exactly what I thought!

Brigit Daamen, Boa necklace, felt, rubber, yarn, 2003. Photo courtesy of the artist.

You have been writing on the environmental impact of animal materials, plastics, gold, gems, pearls, and man-made materials, how do you understand Alchemy, JOYA topic of this year?
This theme immediately got my mind racing. I like to think of Alchemy as the perfect lens to look at the jewellery practice of our time. There is an increased focus on the environmental and social consequences of our consumption. Take gold for example. This mythical jewellery material can only be extracted from the mountain in a harmful way. If gold comes with an impact, what do jewellery people do with that awareness?
Those Alchemists, experimenting over their crucibles, were convinced they could make gold out of base metal. That was perhaps a little ambitious. But in the process, they gained all sorts of knowledge. Today’s Alchemist has a similar job, to try and find a cure. Only this time it is alternatives for freshly mined gold: substances that are as solid and as desirable but low-impact.

Miniature from a 16th century manuscript on Alchemy, Dresden.
Image: Wellcome Collection, London, UK / Wikimedia Commons.

What is the specific aesthetic you are looking for and what criteria or visions do you have for your selection?
My specific aesthetic as a personal taste, I’ll try to leave at home. It is useless anyway because it is very inconsistent. An example: I always thought that using words in jewellery was unnecessary and a bit silly. Too literal, too verbal. Until a ring by Paul Adie, with the words ‘mother’, ‘other’ and ‘her’ scratched into it, touched me deeply. I am a mother of three and I feel connected to a sense of otherness too. Don’t we all feel alienated from daily life sometimes?
To come back to your question about the selection, I do have some criteria. I am looking forward to the applicants’ statements. I hope to see work that is the translation of an observation, on the world the artist lives in, into jewellery. There are too many jewellery makers who, instead of departing from a personal fascination, imitate what they see as ‘art jewellery’. Jewellery should be inspired by anything but jewellery. Unless it is a commentary on the jewellery tradition, of course.
Having said this, I won’t look for the most elevated, conceptual work I can find. The first impression counts. That physical draw that you can’t even put in words is important. Moreover, this is work sent in for a fair. It has to sell; otherwise, there is no point in organizing it all.

We read one of your current interests is about the notion of authorship, can you explain us a bit more?
Last fall I listened to an episode of Sofie Boons’ BAJ podcast with Dr. Roberta Bernabei. She mentioned that as a maker you can’t have sole authorship over the material. You find yourself at a point in a long chain of numerous (human and non-human) hands that have facilitated you using a specific material at a specific moment. I was already a fan of the idea that we are part of a chain, or a network, or a bundle or an entanglement, whatever diagram you prefer. The fascinating part is that Bernabei suggests that we might see the end of the genius artist, signing a piece with his or her name like there were no other co-authors worth mentioning. If authorship develops into a thing that is shared by a group, it would be interesting to see how this is or isn’t practiced in jewellery. I know of some collectives in fine art, and I would love to get in touch with collectives that make jewellery in a spirit of less ego and more network.

Title vignette from a 1580 treatise on mining and metalworking (Beschreibung allerfürnemisten mineralischen Ertzt vnnd Bergkwercks Arten). Image: Getty Institute / Wikimedia Commons.

What kind of contemporary jewelry would you like to see more often?
For me personally, it is rings and earrings and sometimes necklaces. I guess I like that because they are very much related to the body, the size of a finger, and the movement of the head. Brooches require a layer of clothing. Granted, as a ‘sign on the body’ they have a front-row seat. But I can’t help thinking that some are actually a small wall sculpture ended up pinned on. Brooches tend to forget the body, they forget about sensuality. Another thing, apart from the risk of being static objects, brooches attract out-of-control collages. About three materials is ok: just when you are wondering what their relationship is, they enter into a conversation with each other. But be careful with work with a bunch of ingredients. That only mystifies things. So the kind of contemporary jewellery I would like to see more often is a brooch that convinces me it is jewellery.

What do you think of the fair as a communication and/or professional development event?
Fairs like JOYA have a solid position in the set of channels through which jewellery finds its way to an audience. I can’t substantiate this with financial data, only with my personal experience. Ten years ago, I was excited to discover there was such a thing as SIERAAD Art Fair in Amsterdam. I had felt out of place in art galleries at times. Here was something for every taste and budget. I got to chat with like-minded people. Looking back at what I bought, I became braver with every consecutive fair. Fairs were my low-threshold entry to contemporary jewellery.

Some jewellery Saskia bought at JOYA Barcelona and SIERAAD Art Fair Amsterdam: ring by Ana Król, wing bracelet by Peggy Bannenberg, ring by Studio Droomjuwelen, earrings by Jillian Moore, necklace by Hadas Levin, earrings by Daniele Geargeoura.


About the Interviewee

Saskia van Es​ (Amsterdam, 1972) is an art historian. She writes texts on contemporary jewellery, such as exhibition reviews. Her fascination: jewellery materials. She was a board member of the Françoise van den Bosch Foundation.
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