Academic craft jewellery has been featured lately in two exhibitions here and at an international conference, JEMposium, in Wellington.
The work poses questions about the nature of materials used in craft work and in the closely related arts of painting and sculpture. Painting in oil on canvas and making sculpture in bronze are accepted as obvious choices of expression but they are not the first choice of medium as they once were.
Fabrizio Tridenti (Italy) and Manon van Kouswijk (Netherlands), whose work is on show at Objectspace, were keynote speakers at the conference. Both have distinctive styles within contemporary jewellery.
The pieces by Tridenti are jewellery only because they share some of the qualities and forms of the manufactured product. They are often bright, highly polished and undoubtedly well wrought. The industrial process by which the materials were made conferred these qualities on them and the jeweller-artist's job is to recognise those values, select the object and change its function from industrial use to a valued piece of adornment.
Most of the pieces have "Object" in their title, which indicates how these pieces sit between decoration and sculpture.
For example, two small roller bearings are made with utmost precision; the rollers themselves are shining and ranked in a perfect row. Either could be a brooch.
An equally clever choice of found material is a piece of blue propane gas-pipe where the brand and specifications are printed, decoratively, in yellow. This is formed into a wearable necklace by turning it into a single loop tied with a pipe-fitting. It loses something of its appeal as an adornment because of the unamiable connotations of "gas". The delicate folds of the interior of a motorcycle oil filter are also visually delightful.
The secondary aim of this work - to make us aware of the beauty of industrial objects around us - works splendidly. The primary aim to make precious adornments or exquisite objects that can be worn to adorn the body is less clear.
The work of van Kouswijk follows a different pattern. It does not rely so much on found objects but rather on found materials. It takes simple clay, even brick-clay, and forms necklaces of unexpected strength and beauty.
For this artist-craftswoman the necklace is a primal form of great antiquity and cultural significance. With the exception of some witty play on tableware, eggs with cup handles and the like, her work is entirely devoted to necklaces. There are 20 on one table alone.
Each necklace is carefully graded from large to small items and the principal variant is colour. Most are ceramic, although some are made of wooden beads or paper stickers. They are deliberately non-precious material yet they are the artist's version of pearls. The title of the largest group is Perles d'Artiste.
Van Kouseijk's approach to the archetype of jewellery and Tridenti's treasuring of familiar matter of today makes this a challenging exhibition of exactly the kind that Objectspace as a public gallery should offer.
The play on material continues around the corner at Whitespace where Regan Gentry is showing sculpture with the title Floating. The title arises because the material used is pumice - the only stone that floats. Pumice, the result of volcanic activity, has been gathered here for the most part from Taupo and Wanganui.
Gentry has a penchant for odd mediums - his previous exhibition was sculpture made from gorse wood that is notoriously difficult to fabricate anything from.
Like that show this exhibition uses everyday objects as subjects. Under the title Floating comes a large inner tube and a Lilo, both fashioned from the soft, porous stone.
Pumice is easily turned on a lathe and whole groups of pieces are cylindrical or round with fins or a fuse attached. These are all called Bombs. Many are hung from the ceiling. They are a clear reference to the origin of pumice in "volcanic bombs" formed when a volcano ejects lava. The verbal connection is clear, the artistic not so apparent.
The best thing hanging from the ceiling with lively, paradoxical qualities is Breeze. This work is a balloon of stone attached to the ceiling with an apparently stony concrete block hanging from it. It is a paradoxically bright idea. A much less bright idea is piling cast-off pieces of stone left over from the making of the show into two heaps and calling it Double Mountain.
Strong figurative drawing on a large scale is combined with the reflective layered material of road signs in the work of Delicia Sampero at Orexart. When a light is focused on the reflective material the figures float in a void of colour. The people in the paintings, all Polynesian, interact with wording on the paintings.
The meaning is by no means as obvious as it looks. The wording refers to places in Auckland but we only get part of it. Whenua has a Maori reference but, completed as Whenuapai, it adds a European modern element by evoking aircraft. Outlines of aircraft feature in some of the paintings as symbols of modernity and travel. The figures in full-face confrontation have many expressions: puzzlement, assertion or concern are some of them. There is a sense of crossroads, most obviously in Forwards and Backwards and Wayfarer, where black, curved track patterns look like Maori motifs or tyre tracks. Along with the aircraft they suggest strong pressures of many kinds.
As with the huge, bold drawings in Sampero's debut exhibition there is a sense of authority and clear purpose in these works but the need for special circumstances of display to make their voids of colour really work is a limitation.
AT THE GALLERIES
What: Jewellery by Manon van Kouswijk and Fabrizio Tridenti
Where and when: Objectspace, 8 Ponsonby Rd, to March 10
TJ says: Academic teaching, design preoccupations and intellectual exploration all tend to bring craft jewellery closer to sculpture, and fascinating work from the Netherlands and Italy illustrate the trend.
What: Floating by Regan Gentry
Where and when: Whitespace, 12 Crummer Rd, Ponsonby, to March 3
TJ says: After grappling with intractable gorse wood, Gentry has moved on to make sculpture from pumice and play games with the term "volcanic bombs".
What: Reflective by Delicia Sampero
Where and when: Orexart, Upper Khartoum Place, to March 3
TJ says: Reflective material poises strong personalities caught between traditional and European situations indicated by placenames.