Described as a “floral feast for the eyes”, the latest exhibition to open at the Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery, Saltaire celebrates all things bright and botanical about contemporary jewellery design. Beth Walton catches up with Kath and assistant curator Ruth at the Gallery to discuss the inspiration behind the show and why they firmly believe that Jewellery is as exciting an art form as any.
Into-Flora, an obvious pun on the name of the well known florists chain Inter-Flora, is a show of work byeight internationally renowned jewellers all inspired in one way or another by the power of nature and in particular by flowers. “I met most of the artists in Munich where I go every year to a huge jewellery competition and exhibition,” explains Kath. “Hundreds and hundreds of people congregate in the city for about a week and that’s where I go to look for people to show. Sometimes I go with a clear idea of what I am looking for, but on this occasion I went with an open mind. I was looking for work that excited me and I just kept seeing flowers everywhere.”
In addition to inviting them to show existing work, Kath then asked her chosen few to think of someone whom they considered to be inspirational and then to make a ‘floral tribute’ to that person: “I asked everyone involved to pick someone that would inspire them to make a new piece. This part of the show we called ‘I’m Into’. At first we thought it could be anyone, but then made it someone well known to engage visitors that bit more. The public can’t really be inspired by someone’s mother.”
And in terms of curation, Kath says, “we have done this Graphic presentation,” referring to a wall of pictures and post-its, the idea for which also came from the shows in Munich: “I saw this exhibition in which they took shirts from charity shops, and just pasted them onto the wall, and then each shirt had a big brooch attached to it. They were all different shirts, laid out they looked like the outlines you draw when someone has been killed! I just thought it was such a good way of displaying work and so beautiful to look at. Actually I was a bit distracted from the actual work, because there were no cabinets. So we thought lets use some of that but do it in a more accessible way, and people can see it and then come in and get to know a bit about it.”
The wall is decorated with pictures of the celebrities chosen by the artists involved, underneath each of which are ‘bouquets’ of post-it notes left by visitors: “As people make their contributions we hope they will become beautiful big bouquets, blooming and blossoming all over the place,” says Kath. “It’s lovely to get people in who wouldn’t normally be interested,” agrees assistant curator Ruth. “There is even a post-it that reads ‘I don’t normally like jewellery’,” Ruth continues.
Of all the works on display probably most notable are those by German artist Lisa Juen. Her giant sized glitzy brooches are made using LED screens, industrial switches and false fingernails: “Working in Shanghai she is inspired by traditional flower sellers, but then at the same time behind that is all the neon and bling and madness going on. Her inspirational person the provocative rock star Peaches, whose extreme performances push boundaries in the same way that her jewellery does. She made a pussy brooch you can wear on your underwear in tribute to her, she’s been in touch and loves it!”
Another piece of work which is sure to draw attention is an unusual necklace and adjoined ring by young British jeweller Mikaela Lyons, designed with Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine in mind. Hanging off the body almost like a beaded sash, “it’s a piece for the hand and the heart. All the photos are Mikaela’s own which she then massively manipulates. It’s about Mother Nature and fighting back. We haven’t been able to make contact with Florence, although we have got very close. Hopefully we still will we would love for her to have it.”
But not all the pieces on display are so over the top. “I kind of like to go for a real mixture of both technically innovative and delicate work. Sometimes we choose to show work much more to do with ideas, other times pieces which are purely visual,” comments Kath placing, an extremely delicate snowflake-like brooch into the palm of my hand, a piece by Swedish designer Anna Atterling: “Its just one sheet of silver. It’s very finely repoussed, which usually involves denting the material, but she has chosen to punch straight through, It’s not an obvious flower, but there is a subtle alluding to the shape.”
To co-incide with the show, Kath has also organised a talk with Joanna Hardy Head of Jewellery for Sotheby’s: “Joanna is also a resident expert on the Antiques Roadshow. She will be here to discuss the way that flowers have provided inspiration throughout the ages for jewellery and about the the language of flowers and what each different one means. There is a long history of people going on expeditions and bringing back unusual botanical specimens and of jewellers finding inspiration from the new and exotic flowers they brought back.”
It will be 15 years next year since Kath opened the gallery, and since then she has gone on to inspire a whole new generation of jewellery curators, including Ruth: “I started two and half years ago and always wanted to go on to set up my own gallery. Initially I always assumed it would be a mixed gallery, but actually whether it’s fine art or jewellery doesn’t matter, and working here has opened up my mind to a whole new world and art form.”
And as for Kath: “If you’re asking me what the difference between jewellery and painting is? I’m not sure there is one… For me they are just artworks you can wear on your body.”
You can see Into-Flora at the Kath Libbert Gallery, Salts Mill near Bradford, until September 26.