Soak it up

Chlorophyll Skin from Lucy McRae on Vimeo.

I heart Lucy McRae. At some stage there will no doubt be a lengthy post about how awesome she is, but for the moment just a link to her Chlorophyll Skin clip. I'm intrigued by absorption at the moment.

Studio: 100 hand sites

Today I set myself the task of locating one hundred sites on the hand. 

This was partly with the intention to later analyse what constitutes a site and how the wearable ties into this, and partly because body casting and latex can't ever really go astray. Here's a selection of some of the outcomes...

plaster bodies built over the last few weeks

casting latex on plaster

skin texture

latex details

I've also stumbled across this great archive of hand images at Black Hands 


Representations: Ron Mueck and the frozen moment

I consider myself very fortunate to have caught the final days of the National Gallery of Victoria's exhibition of Ron Mueck just as The Great Relocation For Research drew me southward at the beginning of 2010.

Ron Mueck. Dead Dad (1997), detail. Pregnant Woman (2002).

Having come across Pregnant Woman many years ago in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, I immediately became a convert and was particularly struck by the weight of the piece -  this was a woman caught in a single moment of silent stillness. Weighed down by her heavily pregnant belly, her feet braced stolidly apart to support her changing form, she exudes a quiet weariness. Onlookers can observe the translucency of her skin, the blue veins and stretch marks and slight blush on her cheeks, the bead of moisture on her lips and fine lines around her eyes. The realism is uncanny. At over 2.5 metres tall she stands solitary and frozen, the enormous weight made visible as she focuses herself inward. 

This embodies the powerful formula behind Mueck's work - startling moments of personal intimacy and vulnerability are captured in time as the hyper-realism of the pieces is offset by their alarming detail.  Rendered in the miniature or at a gigantic scale the moment is both lain bare and concentrated as the narrative is contained by halted time.

Woman with Sticks (2008)

  Of the exhibition, the NGV writes on its site:

"Mueck’s sculptures are some of the most widely acclaimed, prominent and identifiable works in the international contemporary art arena. Often naked and suspended in states of self-consciousness, introspection or deep contemplation, his figures present both emotional and physical states of exposure.

As viewers we experience a level of unease that is borne of a voyeuristic awkwardness, as though we have invaded some kind of personal space. However, we also identify with the human condition these poignant moments express.

Astounding in their apparent realism and compelling in their ability to invite interaction Ron Mueck’s works have earned him a singular place as the creator of some of the most evocative sculptures of our time.

This is the most comprehensive exhibition of work by the Australian-born, London-based artist to have been presented in the southern hemisphere. It includes four new works by Mueck in addition to some of his major, recognised works including the iconic Dead Dad 1996/97."

Mask (1997)
Dead Dad (1997)

Dead Dad was commissioned along with two other sculptures (Angel and Mask) by influential art collector Charles Saatchi for the Young British Artists show Sensation in 1997. The piece is tiny, a mere 1.2m long. His skin is rendered wan and pasty in death, greying and spotted with light stubble as he lies limp and exposed on the floors of galleries across the world.

The vulnerability of the piece is heart wrenching and in stark contrast to Mask, which at almost 1.5m tall is confrontational, gigantic - and frankly terrifying - with its direct, belligerent gaze. Yet the experience of rounding the corner and discovering the featureless shell that is the back of this very solid looking face is by far the most unsettling aspect of the work. This piece, and the similarly monumental Mask II (2002) bring the illusion of the realist form and emotional narrative embedded in these skin surfaces tumbling down when seen from a revelatory angle.            

Wild Man (2005)

The experience of touching the provided material samples in the NGV exhibition is also a revelatory experience. Revealing what the respectful distance of a gallery environment does not, the tactility of the sculptures is exposed as cold, hard, and very solid. Made from resins, silicone, polyurethane, fibreglass, aluminium and steel armatures, and synthetic hair fibres these pieces are a tribute to the power of representation and illusion.

In pieces like Woman with Sticks, Wild Man, Spooning Couple and Two Women the skins of the subjects are inscribed with their immediate experiences. The Woman with Sticks has roughened hands from her ongoing hard labour and pinkening scratches from the branches she struggles to carry criss cross her arms. Wild Man (my favourite Mueck piece) has pimples on his back, oversized pores on his nose, sunspots, overgrown hair, callouses on his toes, fragments of dirt under his nails, and has raised veins as he grips his oversized chair in terror. Already a contextually powerful piece (the crowds of gallery going onlookers clustered in intense scrutiny could be the source of his discomfort), these markings signify his life that has taken place away from culturally established standards of personal presentation.   

Spooning Couple consists of a small scale man and woman in the midst of sleep, skins subtly charged with the differences of gender - hers pillowy, soft, dappled, and loosened at the stomach (has she had a child?), his tauter with the implied underlying structure of a male physique with less fat. The Two Women are wizened, softly paunched, delicately wrinkled, and expression lined with the years preceding their current age.

These are examples of the highly emotive, richly detailed works that Mueck has perfected. His sculptures have been elevated to a level of hyper-reality that leaves observers with an uncanny sense of connection and wonder at the minute detail captured at these different scales. Particularly, the nuanced role that skin has in communicating our histories and present experiences.

Two Women (2005)

Spooning Couple (2005)

Representations: Jenny Saville the fleshy female

Jenny Saville & Glen Luchford. Closed Contact. (2003). C-print mounted in plexiglass. 
Once on a roll inertia takes care of the rest... there are so many great practitioners with skin-related offerings that I just can't wait to present here!

Jenny Saville is one such artist.  Skin in these works is expansive and sensual; imprinted with a visceral vitality as it envelopes the folds and fleshy forms of female body, it is caught in moments of vulnerability, ponderousness, and in pain after brutal interventions. The sheer size of these canvasses is astounding, viewers are overwhelmed by walls of skin in all its confronting glory.

An English painter and one of those Young British Artists, Saville's entire senior show was notably purchased by leading British art collector Charles Saatchi, who then commissioned works for the next two years. Impressive, no? Best known for her monumental women, usually self portraits, Saville spent substantial time observing plastic surgery operations in New York and draws on these experiences as subject matter for her traditional figurative oil paintings. 

Surgeries, liposuction, trauma victims, deformity correction, disease states and transgender patients feature heavily in images that are highly emotive and strongly pigmented. In the Closed Contact series, Saville collaborated with fashion photographer Glenn Luchford to capture the full range of color, tonality, and topography of live flesh through her own body. Flesh is manipulated and animated by gripping hands as the contorted body is pressed against glass sheets. Exploring the violence and anesthetized pain of observed surgeries, Saville's distorted bodies range from the grotesque to great, ponderous beauty.

Jenny Saville & Glen Luchford. From the Closed Contact series

On a secondary note, I find it particularly interesting that Saville's subjects roughly fall into two categories: bodies are either curiously disembodied and exposed to the intense scrutiny of observers, or the subjects gaze past the viewer, inviting entry into that moment of experience. Whether these vacant stares are out of  numbness or obliviousness is ambiguous, but it would be interesting to spend a bit of time on a feminist analysis of her work, especially in comparison to other forms of female carnal art (Orlan being the main culprit).

Representations: Skin detail sketches

Body Map 7, Body Map 4, Body Map ? , Body Map 1, (2009). Skin detail drawings from rileypile

I'm particularly interested in representations of skin. Images or creative interpretations of a subject say far more about cultural attitudes, trends, and the artist than the depiction often does.

Featured here is the student work of rileypile which I find particularly engaging for its diversity and fresh, raw intersections of materiality, object and line. Yes. Fresh and raw, and sort of meaty...

Stitches Thumb. (2009). oil on board.

Geoff: scab day 5. (2009). Pencil and carving on wood block.

Tattoo scab. (2009). Oil and acrylic on board and foam core.

Geoff: scab day 3. (2009). Mixed Media.



Design candy


Ryan Ward of United Measures, Melbourne. 
Gorgeous sharp detailing on joins. Head to The Design Files for more tasty treats.

Lynsay Raine
For an incredible collection of inspiring international art jewellery go to Klimt 02

Juliette Warmenhoven 'Potato Music Box'
Interesting bloggery on cutting edge design from around the world at Design Klub

Polymer Clay and the art/craft/design issue

Hoedlgut. Carved Rings, polymer with texture panels.

(top row) Malodora. Colour challenge pins. Polymer, and polymer with koosh tentacles.

The humble polymer clay is one of the best materials for model making and creating delicate pieces for casting due to highly durability, detail retention, variable plasticity, and post-cure finishing properties. Yet it is persistently frowned upon as a suitable material for use in jewellery pieces, perhaps as a result of 'craft' overtones, an association that dubiously leads to it being deemed what may be termed 'not precious enough'.

... But, seriously people? Let me tell y'all a little something 'bout preciousness and contemporary jewellery, via the venerable Susan Cohn who is arguably amongst Australia's most influential contemporary jewellers today. Read on for insight ...
 A little history:

The Contemporary Jewellery Movement (CJM) grew out of Modernism, and developed as "intellectual alignment among jewellers took place through a shared questioning of jewellery’s social role, mixed with experimentation with new materials. The cultural resistances of the early movement were configured towards an agenda that emphasised the democratic nature of jewellery and renewed its connection to the body.” 
From here the movement adopted three key principles:

"First, the value of precious materials in jewellery was seriously challenged, and jewellery was deflated as a status symbol. The use of non-precious materials would become a benchmark of contemporary jewellery. Second, there was a newly apparent need for jewellery to maintain its relationship with the body, and jewellery was made with the intention that it be worn. Third, contemporary jewellery was made to be accessible for everyone, regardless of age, gender and class.”

Malodora. RAW 24/52.

Fabricated sterling silver, polymer micromosaic.

Malodora. Hollow, oversize bracelet.

Accessible and using non-precious materials, eh? Yet certain developments occured...

"There is ready acceptance among contemporary jewellery’s niche clientele (which includes its makers, audiences, owners and wearers) that work will be non-precious, experimental and ‘democratic’. However, the radical social overtones of these parameters have largely been absorbed. Jewellers appear unable to reinvigorate contemporary jewellery’s concerns over the object’s values, roles and currency. New jewellers who seek to renew the anti-elitism of contemporary practice must go further than merely rejecting non-precious materials (which have now come into widespread acceptance)." 

“The most contentious debate, and root to all others, was on the ‘proper’ function of jewellery. Views diverged on matters of materials (precious or non-precious), wearability (jewellery or sculpture), and value (elite or democratic). These debates extended the manifesto of the movement and polarised the CJM field. Makers sought to differentiate themselves on common grounds of artistic content (biographical or political), inter-disciplinary positioning (craft or art) and intended audience (gallery or shop)."

The lack of early critical introspection in the movement (especially in the limited local arts scene) may still be manifesting as a need to establish the function of the object itself, but the crux of this is rooted in the ongoing CJM identity crisis. Namely, the desire to distinguish itself from craft. The art/craft/design debate has persistently distracted contemporary jewellery from the potential of other theory.

So how does craft become defined when confronted with a contemporary jewellery movement that still largely favours a handmade approach? 

According to jeweller/critic Bruce Metcalf, craft makers fixate on the functionalities of the finished objects they produce, craft makers, and "tend to envision ‘their production as a means of distributing experience’. Such a stance (which underscores the frequent rejection of theoretical engagement in craft) succeeds in inhibiting the ongoing transformative impact and open interpretation of craft objects in the everyday. It is clear, however, that once objects enter through their display and use into the cultural stream of the everyday – and this is particularly true of jewellery-objects – they attain the potential to alter the ground on which they stand, to transform the networks in which they circulate, and to be syncretically recoded in the process.” 

And from the theorist/critics, Peter Dormer defines craft as a ‘practical philosophy’ or knowledge process, and Sue Rowley states that "The ascribed conservatism of craft is pivotal to maintaining the radical traditions of art,” by acting in contrast to the heavy emphasis of  theory in fine arts discourse, thus establishing an arts-craft dichotomy.

Hoedlgut. Artichoke bangle. Polymer, silver.

It seems the contemporary manifestation of the CJM is not just about the issue of non-precious materials, but about determining the role of the object, and firmly establishing the theoretical standing of the movement in order to move beyond situational debate. Given that most contemporary Australian jewellers will at some stage be using a combination of hand making, outsourcing, utilizing commercial modes of production, and experimenting with a variety of materials, it's fair to say that the design/art/craft border will remain blurred. Get over the Us And Them already!

That's not the say that there has been no progress made in the direction of contemporary jewellery theory. The body of theoretical knowledge grows as gaps in the field become obvious. The dispersed field is rediscovering solidarity as record numbers of design outlets, galleries, and studios proliferate.* With it, the movement is rediscovering the need to position itself strongly amongst the other booming art/design sectors and to engage in critical debate about the future of design.

On the topic of jewellery function, Cohn herself writes that:
“For wearers, the value of jewellery lies in the ways it ‘talks’: its unique capacity to attract, deflect, evoke, provoke, guard, reveal, seduce – in other words to perform. For viewers, formed into anonymous audiences, jewellery provides material for the games of daily life: the reading of peopled environments, forging of alliances, stimulation of desires, and touching between object and skin. The language of jewellery is never fixed because the relationships between makers, wearers and audiences are ever changing." 

This is the crux of the wearable: Evolving networks, performance and codification. 

As part of this, materials become heavily invested with meaning. Perhaps the aversion to polymer clays is an uncertainty over what codes are actually conveyed. I think it can be said, given the examples by the two artists (artisans/designers/jewellers/craftspeople) featured in this entry, that in skilled hands polymer clay does posses the ability to give a nuanced 'performance' as jewellery.

Embedded in the practice of these artists, who also use metalsmithing and more traditional jewellery making methods, polymer clay is realised as a material with great versatility and possibility. It can be sculpted, carved, is highly compatible with other materials, can be finished in any number of ways, and yes, can reach a level of refinement that, in my opinion, makes it worthy of moving up in the esteem of contemporary designers beyond model making applications.


*For further reading of Susan Cohn's thesis, Recoding Jewellery: identity, body, survival, the full text can be accessed here.

*For Bruce Metcalf's article on hand making and the question of craft, The Hand: at the Heart of Craft look here.

*Key local contemporary outlets/galleries/studios I recommend:


  • Metalab
  • Object Gallery
  • Studio 20/17


Attachments: Apparat

A bounty of jewellery inspiration awaits at Apparat. Today's selection focusses on designers whose practice embraces unusual findings and reveals an object's attachments.

Marina Elenskaya (above and below) - uses unusual industrial or non-precious materials like concrete (below), foam (above) , and plastics in her work. I love the clean, no nonsense harnesses, elastics and bags she often makes to hold central forms, and the embedding of wires into cast pieces.

more practitioners after the break...

Rinaldo Alvarez - I'm intrigued by the delicate twists and tiny hooks that hold these pieces together. Often the wire of the main forms is bound into the delicate strings that the pieces tentatively hang from.


Lore Van Keer - Visually, these ceramic pieces are translucent, milky, and inviting. I love the juxtaposition of the taut strings and chains with their softly melting forms. Plus glorious riveted plates, hooks, and knots.

"In my work, I equate emotions and the diversity of emotional personalities with spaces. There are moments when we allow people to enter those spaces; and there are others when we close off the spaces and anxiously keep them shut... every feeling, every emotion is pure at all times, just like porcelain.
Porcelain is a material that combines the elements of both solidity and fragility.  Porcelain has a memory of its own, which is, just like emotion, indelible and impossible to ignore."


Iris Bodemer - playfully subverts the 'hidden' side of split pins, stitches, and twists by making them features of her work, which is often based on threadlike wires emerging through sheet metal.


RĂ©ka Fekete 
- uses the discarded etching plates of other artists, binding them together in often elaborate ways.


Beate Eismann - sewn metal. More specifically, beautifully sewn metal.

Ela Bauer - luscious, drooping and dripping, these works appear in the midst of organic change, melding sewing and binding with the soft aesthetic of the materials.


Malu Berbers - sews tube and sheet into wearable forms


Helena Lehtinen - binds and clamps


Emma Donald - inverts the practice of adorning the exterior in favour of conical studs riveted so their heads sit against the wrist and the rivet pinning is visible on the outside of the cuff.

Kathleen Hennemann - concrete casting with joining elements embedded to join and adorn. I particularly enjoy that nails, a traditional method of connecting surfaces, are instead used as decorative elements that may even foil a wearer's attempt to place the object on their body. 


Naoko Ogawa - this jewellery is both created and attached to the garment by crushing  an aluminum plate on the clothes, changing the look by creating fluid folds. Genius!

Masako Onodera - creates fleshy wearables using found objects, wool, and dipping plastics. These pieces are bound together when felted or dipped. 

Stephanie Hensle - quite apart from having a wonderfully bizarre collection based on meat cuts, uses some  interesting connective methods. Delicate pins with the neck chain threaded through, lattice-like stockings containing objects, tiny hooks, and then the miniature meats are sometimes cut into sections and turned into multiple brooches and pendants. L'amaze!

Mia Maljojoki - captures everyday moments. Embedded into the different casting mediums are strings, elastic bands, ribbons, and cords so the moments can be carried later. 


Ursula Guttmann - this ring is loads of fun. Lolly colours, giant stone... and made from a latex balloon.


Jimin Park - again, bright joyful  colours and a combination of dipping, tabbing, and plasticine-ing.

Check out Apparat for more spectacular work!