Yuka Oyama’s Schmuck Quickies

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Jewellery making is, by and large, a solitary practice. The jeweller sits alone at a bench, making work for a more often than not anonymous wearer. There is, therefore, a huge gap between the maker and the wearer. Ironic – as the very wearing of jewellery is an inherently social activity, and for many jewellers it is the human body that completes their work.

Contemporary jewellery for both wearer and maker can be seen as an expression of individuality, a reaction against the generic, the mass-produced. It often carries with it a social comment, its forms and language reflecting wider conceptual concerns. Often though, the jewellers’ intent goes unnoticed or becomes subsumed by the stories layered onto the piece by the wearer and the life the piece has once it leaves the jeweller’s hands. As a response to these contradictions, there is a movement in current contemporary jewellery practice towards including the wearer more directly in the process of creating work – positioning the wearer either as a collaborator or participant in a performative process that extends beyond simply wearing a finished piece.

Another even more prominent characteristic of international contemporary jewellery practice is the shunning of the permanency of precious materials in favour of the temporal, the non-precious, the found object and often the inventive re-use and recycling of consumer waste. This, when coupled with the interactive or performative, pushes contemporary jewellery practice further and more definitively into the realm of social commentary and documentation ‘ and enlivens the social dialogue surrounding jewellery making and wearing.

In the UK, Europe and Australia many jewellers are engaging with a more interactive or performative approach to practice (and temporal, recycled materials) ‘ with a key outcome being the documentation of these processes. Solutions for Better Living, a recent exhibition at Craft Victoria featuring the work of Susan Cohn and Roseanne Bartley, among others, explored this notion. In the catalogue essay curator Kate Rhodes noted that the ‘social dimension of jewellery is enhanced when the audience and the artist interact ‘ a collaboration that produces the work itself’1.

A key international practitioner in this movement is Berlin-based jeweller Yuka Oyama who has, over the past five years, focused on ways of using jewellery as a vehicle to ‘solve modern isolations’2. Oyama states: ‘I noticed crucial contradictions in making jewellery alone in a studio that shall eventually complete the ‘picture’ once it is worn on the human body. I wished to bring out more individuality in each person informed by working directly on the human body and reflecting their opinions and personality.’3 In response to this Oyama developed the interactive jewellery-making project Schmuck Quickies in 2002.

Oyama describes the portable Schmuck Quickies set up she has devised as being ‘similar to that of a hair salon: one mirror, one chair and a lot of materials’4 (and of course the free flowing dialogue that comes with the salon). In her temporary ‘salon’ Oyama creates customized jewellery for volunteers spontaneously. Personable and charming, she starts by asking questions such as ‘What kind of jewellery shall I make you” and ‘How (do) you wish to look” and then creates ‘according to the participants’ opinions’5.

Since 2002 Oyama has as undertaken Schmuck Quickies in Europe, Japan and the UK and is coming to Australia for the first time to present Schmuck Quickies as part of Sydney Design 07 at the Powerhouse Museum before traveling to Melbourne. While in Sydney she will also be working with local jewellery students, staging ‘guerrilla’ performances in public spaces. Through Schmuck Quickies Oyama aims to facilitate projects that utilise social resources and enhance social interactions in an increasingly insular world. In each location her interactions with the public become the source of her work and creativity, revealing unique insights into the character, not only of individual participants, but also more general concerns of the populous.

For Schmuck Quickies performances discarded recycled materials, either donated or collected at the location are used by Oyama, along with basic tools such as tape, pins and scissors to make her unique, personal jewellery, which elevates ‘the wearer’s feelings just as precious materials would have’6. Recycled items provide Oyama not only with cheap materials, but an insight into the unique characteristics of the performance locale. Each performance is carefully documented, participants are photographed wearing the jewellery, and their requests and reactions to the jewellery recorded, resulting in unique social snapshots. For Oyama the results of Schmuck Quickies have not only expanded her views on the possibilities and definitions of jewellery itself, but also ‘demonstrate qualities in each person that mass-produced articles cannot. (She says) My interest (is in) bringing attention back to the authenticity of each individual and locale in this era of global homogenization’7

I wonder what Yuka Oyama’s Australian performances will reveal’

Melinda Young is a Sydney-based jeweller and lecturer in the Jewellery and Object Design Department at the Design Centre, Enmore.

Have your own personalised jewellery crafted on the spot at Yuka Oyama’s Schmuck Quickies Salon at the Powerhouse Museum, 4-5, 9-12 August. Visit the Sydney Design 07 website for full program details.

This project is assisted by D*Hub, The Japan Foundation, and Sherman Galleries through the Sherman Visual Arts Residency Programme. Yuka Oyama is assisted by students from Design Centre, Enmore, Sydney Institute, TAFE NSW.

Sydney Design 07
Yuka Oyama
Solutions for Better Living

  1. Rhodes, Kate; Solutions for Better Living ‘ Roseanne Bartley, Susan Cohn, Kiko Gianocca, Blanche Tilden, Phoebe Porter, Craft Victoria, Melbourne, 2007, unpaginated [back]
  2. Oyama, Yuka; Artist Statement emailed to the author 13 June 2007 [back]
  3. Oyama, Yuka; Catalogue essay in Oyama, Yuka (ed), Schmuck Quickies, mima, Museums and Galleries Middlesborough Council, England, 2005, p. 9 [back]
  4. ibid [back]
  5. ibid [back]
  6. Oyama, Yuka as in 2 [back]
  7. Oyama, Yuka as in 3 [back]