What and who: The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen, by Octavia Cook
Where and when: Anna Miles Gallery, 4J, Canterbury Arcade, to October 31
I'm killing off Cook & Co," says jeweller Octavia Cook. That's not definite, hence the title of the show. Cook added the "& Co" tag at her first show at Anna Miles in 2005, part of the process of staking out territory in the world of art.
"It was born of a need to make more than just jewellery. It brings my family into it. It started off as my version of Tiffany & Co, a humble, no-frills version, but it has grown and expanded with every show," she says.
Two photographs made to accompany specific works show Cook picking up on the performance aspect of wearing an eye-catching piece of jewellery and turning it into performance art.
In one, she is seated in a chair in the corner of her parents' Pakuranga living room, which has been augmented by items like royal portraits added to things Cook grew up with.
A photo within the photo shows the interior of a maharajah's palace with an octagonal table with a mirror top, the model for the table Cook's pieces are displayed on.
"Mine is more a customised barbecue table," she says, picking up the theme of the shady cousin with aspirations to grandeur.
The other photo has Cook sitting in a narrow book-lined corridor at her husband's workplace. "I like the theatricality of it. It references portraits of genteel folk in their home library without being my own home or a genteel library."
While staged, the photos are less contrived than similar creations for a show two years ago. "There was more of a mask in those [earlier] photos. Now Octavia Cook is more in line with Cook & Co.
"It used to be I was more separated. I'm letting the guard down a little bit.
"Just before opening I felt nervous about how open it was. I mean, that's my parents' living room. I grew up in that house. I'm an Eastie!"
The brooch she wears in the library includes a large mosaic of the Taj Mahal with a drop pendant cameo below. The cameo inserts Cook's profile on to a Lady Di silhouette with the pie crust collar and floppy hair.
The millefiori technique used to create the Taj Mahal out of scraps of acrylic set in epoxy is also used for a pair of earrings featuring "the ancestral home and garage".
"I felt the need to balance out the grandeur of the Taj Mahal with my parents' house," Cook says. "They are both memorials in some way."
A plate-size brooch, the one she is wearing in the Pakuranga photo, is a cluster of white on white cameos of her alter egos: as Captain Cook, a sharina, a tsarina, a maharaja.
A medium-sized version is done black on black, memento mori style. Then there's the compressed "micro-dynasty" version, a small silver brooch in an edition of three. A jointed brooch is based on Mexican paper cut outs done for the day of the dead. The last work is a necklace made to look like a series of linked cigarettes holding up an ashtray, a smouldering commemorative souvenir.
Apart from the two photos, the works on the table and a decorated mirror for buyers who want to try pieces on, the gallery is empty. "It's probably the most minimal display I have done in a while. I wanted unapologetic jewellery," she says.
Cook also shows her work at contemporary jewellery co-operative Fingers, so the contrast with the gallery setting is instructive. "Here I have a whole room to work with and the work is seen in isolation which is interesting in jewellery, being such a small scale."
She says she doesn't differentiate between exhibition work she does at any place. "It's all just me and where I'm at the moment."
But when she's asked if she would show the larger works somewhere like Fingers, she says: "Possibly not. I do feel at Anna Miles I have licence to do anything and I make things because I really like the pieces."
As rigid prejudices about what art is have broken down, there has been space for jewellery to be made and accepted as contemporary art without abandoning its craft history.
"I wouldn't call myself a sculptor. I make jewellery and I like it to be worn even if crazy and slightly unwearable ... theatrical. It's important it is worn and can be worn."
Cook says it's hard to escape the fetishistic quality of jewellery. "I like the idea of someone spending a long time making a piece and seeing it in the finished piece, seeing the person behind the piece. I've never been interested in being abstract or just doing process.
"I always load things up with sentiment or layer symbols of my own."
Anna Miles says she shows Cook, whose work she first saw when Cook was a student at Unitec, because "it's the best art around".
"I would show someone who made beds if they made them well. I'm interested in things that are amazing, and I think this work is exceptional. Octavia is so thoroughly immersed in the jewellery tradition.
"Its engagement with craft is deeply conceptual. It scrambles the idea that you can separate making and thinking."