Roseanne Bartley is a jewellery designer with a distinctive sense of civic responsibly – not as a recent development in her practice but something I have observed throughout her career. She is a designer that sees jewellery making as a refection of our humanity and our relationship to one another, environment and place.
Born in New Zealand and living in Melbourne, Bartley graduated in Fine Arts (Gold and Silversmithing) from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1991. Her practice has always had a conscience. Questioning the notion of jewellery as adornment or as a form of personal expression has always been a fundamental premise to her work.
Her practice has a conceptual base developed from her ideas about what jewellery is, to why and how we make it. This has immersed her deeply into the theories and philosophies of design critics and practitioners from the ideas of Husserl on materiality to the study of phenomenology (otherwise described as the science of consciousness and our interactions with the world) to those of Deleuze and Guattari.
It is complex yet logical to ask questions about what we do, how and why. Making jewellery is an interaction after all, a communication with one another. But what are we trying to say? Bartley tackles this along with the questions ‘what makes us design’, ‘what do we say about culture and society’ and for ‘what purpose’? In asking these questions can we understand our material culture and the practice of making jewellery.
Her research has led her to explore our reactions to her pieces as in ‘Culturing the body’, the performative pieces ‘Link, link, link’ and the ‘Human Necklace’, Barcelona 2006, that describe the meaning behind the practice of forming ‘links’ both physically and metaphorically.
Today her work has become more focused on what the work reveals about ourselves as a collective, and of a place and time. It is inevitable that within the current turn of events her focus has switched to an ecological and environmental awareness. But will jewellery save the world? D*Hub had the opportunity to catch up with Bartley this week.
Do you feel different from other jewellery designers and in what way?
Hm, interesting question I think I would have to say yes and no. I am still concerned with many of the things that jewellery designers do but in recent years I have been more inclined to make jewellery led experiences than a jewellery product. So if I were to define the difference I would say I work with the medium rather than within it.
Did you ever think you would become a student of philosophy when you started out and what value has it been to your work and how has it changed your practice?
Hah, very nice to be considered as a student of philosophy but if I am, I don’t think I am a very good one. I’m always messing up my quotes or forgetting my references. Having said that I do read theory and non-fiction (my favourite time to read such text is around a fire whilst camping somewhere remote – relaxed, less distracted by noise) I think it’s really important for an artist to read and listen to good radio – perhaps not at the same time. I read to inform my practice, social anthropologists such as Tim Ingold and David Turnbill, craft/art theorists Glenn Adamson and Joanna Drucker are all very accessible and have been particularly influential in my thinking about practice.
Have you felt there has been something lacking in the way we think of jewellery design? When you teach what do you try to instill in your students to approach jewellery design of in their future?
Phew this is a big question, but in short yes I do. I am not so interested in making jewellery as a product or accessory. In my own work I explore the relationship of jewellery to culture and therefore I encourage the students I work with and to think more expansively about what jewellery is and what it can do.
Civic Responsibility also is an integral part of your work. What has this added to your work?
Jewellery is often thought of as an accessory, something we accessorize with, we see something ourselves in a piece of jewellery and wearing it signifies something of our lack – or at least that is how the key theory of jewellery goes. However I would say this understanding, or positioning of jewellery, is only ever about confirming identity and limits the potential of jewellery. I like a challenge so I took this theory of jewellery as a provocation and tried to find other modalities to activate jewellery.
So rather than uphold the studio jewellery model (working indoors removed from the environment in which I collected material from), I began to work outside and invited people into the process so that I could be more engaged with and by the world around me. For ‘Seeding the Cloud’ I also made a booklet of instructions so that others could share in the process.
Who are the designers that you admire and why?
I’d have to say Benjamin Lignel, Manon Van Kouswijk and Susan Cohn because they all work jewellery with an engaging and expansive vision.
You spent some time in Barcelona in 2006 where you did performative work that engaged the community. How would you describe your experience there?
I also visited Barcelona last year, this time only for four days but in that time I managed to do another work that held significance for me. So I have begun thinking of Barcelona as my muse. I find the city and its people very inspiring. My experience is informed by walking and observing the streets. The architecture is very rich, lots of physical and metaphysical layers, and the community inhabits public space (for meeting friends, dancing, festive occasions) quite differently to my own street. I know a few people who live in Barcelona and they help with any translation and I find making my work there is a great way to engage people who I might not ordinarily meet.
You are now doing work that addresses the issue of waste (Seeding the Cloud). What drew you/ inspired you to broach this environmental issue through your work?
Years ago I heard Tim Flannery, when he was Australian of the year, speaking of the radio about global warming. He promoted some fairly extraordinary scientific solutions one of them propelling sulfur into the atmosphere. I was equally impressed as I was horrified (an effect I am sure Tim was aiming for), but it made me think about the my knowledge base and I began to ask myself what sort of solution could I come up with? Idealistic, ambitious! Yep I know, but what I noticed about Flannery’s scientific solutions was they assumed a universal solution; intrusive globalized human intervention was the answer! There was no people power, no local knowledge no neighbourhood action, no valuing of what currently exists (maybe it’s too late for that!) which I think are important to activating any social change and that’s were I felt my area of expertise had an edge! Jewellery is personal, it also works on an interpersonal, social and cultural level, it’s aligned with the experience of preciousness and beauty, small in scale and rich in detail and so on. These conditions of jewellery are what I began to analyse and think about how I could activate them and once I had established that I started to invite people into the process.
Tell us about the relationship between walking and your jewellery pieces. Are the end pieces artworks, jewellery pieces or something more and what do they say about us?
Walking, collecting, making work outdoors is a way of working, it’s a process that both informs and leads to the creation of my work. ‘Seeding the Cloud’, is one example of how I work with this process. In one sense it’s a kind of cartographic trace of the body in time and space. I walk and work for the distance of a thread, when laid out, the interconnected threading of matter can be understood as a mapping, while when it is gathered up, it can be quite satisfyingly work on the body.
How long have you been working with discarded materials now? Will you continue using them and perhaps you could tell us about what you will be doing in the future?
I have been working with found object for at least 15 years in some capacity or another. Over the last 5 years I have been working more specifically with found plastic. For my latest work I am taking a short break from looking out into the world and I have been looking back in time to the origins of jewellery. I am using similar making processes but I felt I needed to understand jewellery as one of the first cultural expressions so that I might continue to find alternate ways of working with the medium.
You have stated that jewellery design will not save the world however I’m going beyond the spectrum of jewellery design now. Do you think that the way we design, if all designers put their civic responsibility cap on like yourself, that design / designers could save the world?
Who knows, but it’s worth a try!
Find out more about ‘Seeding the Cloud’ in her blog here.