Cyber-bling: The winner of the Design NSW: Travelling Scholarship is announced

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Jewellery or a comfortable chair is probably the last thing most folks think about when they look deep into the bowels of a discarded computer. But Liesl Hazelton has always looked at the world in a slightly off-kilter way, compared to her peers.

Hazelton’s unique take on the world has led to her being awarded the 2009 Design NSW: Travelling Scholarship, after winning over the judges with her jewellery and a chair, created only from discarded computer cabling, wires, and stainless steel mesh.

It’s been a long journey for Hazelton, from her family home in uber-conservative-Don Bradman-obsessed Bowral, NSW, to the racy streets of Amsterdam.

As a child she recalls helping her mother in the craft-room, weaving, embroidering and sewing. This fostered her interest in ‘making things’.

She excelled at painting while attending Bowral High School. This won her an art scholarship to Oxley College in Burradoo (Southern Highlands), where for her HSC project she created a sculpture with Perspex and buttons.
‘I didn’t even make it into Art Express,’ she laughs. ‘But I did get in the top 10 percent in the state.’

After school she did a short stint with a graphic design studio in Sydney and then spent several years in and out of jobs, including artist management for a comedy agency. ‘My art was put on hold for a while and I really missed it. I really missed making things. So I quit my job at the agency and looked at different creative avenues, eventually settling on jewellery,’ she says.

Which was a surprising choice, considering Hazelton had never been interested in jewellery before. Even today she rarely wears a watch, let alone one of her own creations. ‘I recently got a tattoo of a gemstone on my finger, so it looks like a ring. That’s about it,’ she says.

Part of her decision was simply pragmatic. She noticed a lot of her friends wearing jewellery and realised it might actually be an art form from which she could forge a living.

She also liked the notion that jewellery drew on several interesting disciplines, such as soldering and silver-smithing. ‘I thought it would be a good test of my patience,’ she admits.

Hazelton was accepted to the Design Centre Enmore in 2004, completing her Advanced Diploma in Jewellery and Object Design three years later.

One of her third-year lecturers, Melinda Young, recalls an eager young student with an innovative approach to work. ‘She was always so passionate,’ Young says. ‘A go-getter with an infectious enthusiasm. It was quite inspiring.’

While still a student, Hazelton produced a range of silver and glass jewellery and marketed it through the Sturt Gallery in Mittagong, one of Australia’s oldest craft galleries.

For her final year of study, she concentrated on contemporary Japanese jewellery, moving to Japan for four months to immerse herself in the culture. Then she embarked on a world trip to ‘check out the scene abroad’.

On arriving in Germany she enrolled for a guest semester at Pforzheim University. ‘It was fabulous, the best thing I could have done for my career,’ she says. ‘It allowed me to break into the European market. I now have a gallery representing my work in Antwerp.’

It was during her time in Germany she discovered a ‘computer graveyard’ and was shocked at the amount of e-waste being generated. ‘I felt a social responsibility for this waste to be used,’ she says.

So she hit on the idea of utilising the cabling and wires to create a woven chair. The result was stunning, not to mention completely unexpected. It was exhibited and sold at the Milan Furniture Fair earlier this year. The chair also formed part of Hazelton’s winning body of work.

From Germany, She flew to Amsterdam to work as a jeweller’s assistant in the infamous red light district. She lived in a former brothel, right next door to a sex cinema. ‘It’s an amazing time to be living in Amsterdam,’ she says. ‘The City council are trying to transform the area, buying up brothels for artists to live and work in and charging them peppercorn rent. It’s becoming an exciting design district.’

In Amsterdam, she began experimenting with the computer cabling and wire, weaving this former landfill into whimsical and downright funky pieces of jewellery.

It was 7am in Amsterdam when she was told she’d won the Design NSW: Travelling Scholarship. ‘I was stoked! I cracked a beer to celebrate,’ she laughs.

Her former lecturer wasn’t surprised by the judges’ decision. ‘Her work has always been so innovative and edgy and I just love the way she uses the language of a sustainable craft, within the context of contemporary jewellery practice,’ Young says.

Now back in Australia, Hazelton has discovered a recovery centre in the Southern Highlands, where she gathers her raw materials. She says that roadside throw-out piles are another good source of computer junk.

Since winning the award, Hazelton has already fielded enquires for another ‘cable couch’ (she estimates a retail price of around $3,500). And then there’s the question of what to do with the $18,000 prize money.

‘I’ll use part of the money to fund my trip to going to Korea,’ she says. ‘There’s a furniture and lighting designer over there – Kwong Ho Lee – who is using cable and garden hose to create incredible designs. I’m going to assist him for a couple of months.’

Hazelton will now plan her trip in detail with Arts NSW, which funds the award. Read on for full details on the Design NSW: Travelling Scholarship.

The Design NSW: Travelling Scholarship is presented by the Powerhouse Museum and Arts NSW in partnership with the British Council.

Follow Liesl on her travels through her blog
What is the Design NSW: Travelling Scholarship’
Meet last year’s winner
Interview with Liesl on designfederation.net
Search the Powerhouse Museum’s collection of international contemporary jewellery