Susan Cohn wins 2017 Australia Council Award

Box, 'Cohndom box', Pressed Metal series Type 2, aluminium/plastic/gold anodising, Susan Cohn, Melbourne, 1995 2015, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017,

The Australia Council for the Arts has announced renowned designer, jeweller, curator, Susan Cohn,for her significant contribution to the cultural and artistic fabric of the nation along with 7 other outstanding artists in the areas of music, literature, community arts and cultural development, emerging and experimental arts, visual arts, theatre, and dance.

Susan Cohn’s work has been extensively collected by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). She established her workshop, ‘Workshop 3000’, in 1980 with Marian Hosking and Harry Rowlands. The studio also offered traineeships to emerging jewellers and metalsmiths during an era of intense creativity.

Cohn has long been recognised as one of Australia’s innovative, influential and well respected jewellers, metalworkers and designers. Her practice has always been inventive and sophisticated, often engaging conceptual aesthetics to push and challenge the boundaries of traditional jewellery making and design. Her practice has opened the dialogue of jewellery making not just in Australia but has also has contributed across the globe.

Box, 'Cohndom box', Pressed Metal series Type 2, aluminium/plastic/gold anodising, Susan Cohn, Melbourne, 1995 2015, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017,

Box, ‘Cohndom box’, Pressed Metal series Type 2, aluminium/plastic/gold anodising, Susan Cohn, Melbourne, 1995 2015, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017, <https://ma.as/147730>

Cohn uses form, materials, technique, content and wit to explore and challenge traditional notions of authenticity, preciousness and value. She melds mass production techniques with handwork and industrial materials with precious. She wants people to wear her jewellery not because of its material value or preciousness but because they form an aesthetic, emotional and associative attachment to it.

Cohn’s work engages directly with contemporary life, reflecting on broader social and cultural issues including ageing, recycling, cosmetic surgery and safe sex. In particular she draws on street life and the way ordinary things are transformed into ornament and become complex cultural signifiers.

Compressed brooch by Susan Cohn 2014, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017,

Compressed brooch by Susan Cohn 2014, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017, <https://ma.as/10543>

This brooch is part of her Compressed brooch series begun in 1984 ‘to spike pretensions surrounding a jewellery competition’ (Cohn 1989). It reflects her interest in serially produced items and mass production techniques. The bar brooch is made from recycled coloured aluminium scrap left over from the anodising process. Made with a simple press tool which compresses the aluminium scraps into a rectangular shape, the narrow bars are bound with plastic hair ties. Conceptually the brooch is based on the scrap metal industries car compaction machines.

Compressed brooch by Susan Cohn 2014, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017,

Compressed brooch by Susan Cohn 2014, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017, <https://ma.as/10543>

The pin that is used to attach the brooch to the wearers clothing resembles the ring pull on a drink can. The result is a beautiful, finely crafted brooch which derives from and visually speaks of its origin as industrial waste and whose industrial technology combined with intricate handwork creates an ambiguous reading of mass production and customised one-off at the same time.

Box, 'Cohndom box', Donut pendant series, aluminium, Susan Cohn, Melbourne, 1995 2016, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017,

Box, ‘Cohndom box’, Donut pendant series, aluminium, Susan Cohn, Melbourne, 1995 2016, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017, <https://ma.as/147743>

Susan Cohn has sought to explore the idea of designing for production through reproducing the same form in a number of different materials and with a number of different decorations. She has added to the meaning of the work by making a pun about the design process (reproduction) through the function of the box as a container for condoms.

The ‘donut form’ has been a constant design form for many years, ranging from a series of donut shaped anodised perforated aluminium bracelets in the 1980s to a series of installations using aluminium donut forms as floor pieces and in vending machines in the 1990s.

The design was a response to the theme of ‘Production/Reproduction’, one of the exhibitions associated with the 1995 Jewellers and Metalsmiths conference in Melbourne in July 1995. Susan Cohn was the winner of the ‘Makers Mark’ gallery award for this exhibition, selected by Massimo Morozzi.

Susan Cohn has made an exceptional contribution to the Arts but she has also even made art for aliens!

Cohn shares the status of Australia Council Award winner with seven further exceptional Australian creative practitioners in 2017 who include Kate Grenville (Lifetime Achievement in Literature), Lyn Williams (Don Banks Music Award), Stephen Page (Dance Award), Madeleine Flynn (Emerging and Experimental Arts Award),  Rosemary Myers (Theatre Award), Steve Mayer-Miller (Ros Bower Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development), Ali Kadhim (Kirk Robson Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development).

Box, 'Cohndom box', Donut pendant series, aluminium, Susan Cohn, Melbourne, 1995 2016, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017,

Box, ‘Cohndom box’, Donut pendant series, aluminium, Susan Cohn, Melbourne, 1995 2016, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 April 2017, <https://ma.as/147743>

Federal Minister for the Arts, Senator The Hon. Mitch Fifield, congratulated the 2017 award recipients and said these impressive artists are at the forefront of their chosen practice and are well-deserving of these prestigious awards.

“Honing their craft over many years,” Minister Fifield said, “these diverse artists are committed to their practice, playing an important and innovative role, pushing boundaries to challenge audiences here and abroad”.

Australia Council Chair, Rupert Myer AO, said these leading artists have been honoured for representing the finest artistic traditions and cultural expressions in their area of practice.

“These awards are an important way of acknowledging the role of artists in the life of our communities, and many of the past recipients have said how meaningful it was to be nominated by their peers,” Mr Myer said. “Widely respected both here and abroad in their art forms, the 2017 Australia Council Award recipients join a distinguished group of artists who are wonderful ambassadors for Australian art.”