Art Jewellery Challenge Day 3 / by Rui Kikuchi

'Facebook Art Jewelry Challenge', was started by Donna Greenberg, in the hope of capturing a diversity of what is happening around the world of art jewellery. A combination of tardiness and preoccupation with other pursuits has resulted in my nomination by not one but four esteemed jewelers (Please see Day One).

So, for 5 days I will show some of my jewellery, and deviating from the rules, I've decided not to nominate anyone else after this day, since I'm naturally adverse to virulent movements on the internet, and everyone I like has been taken already. As consolation, I hope that my friends and colleagues will instead be entertained with some autobiographical notes.

Day Three:

Life after graduation is a lonely road, full of uncertainty from being prized off the comforts of community and the facilities that one has come to rely on and take for granted in the insulated cradle that is university.

Like most, my life of making and running after capital trapezed to and fro and frustration soon mounted. Stepping out into the wide world from the glitter and congratulatory hype of the sandstone Great Hall never managed to equip me with confidence in technique, the weapon of impression that wows an audience. Or at least I had forgotten to collect my issue on the way out of the armoury. I was therefore unable to reconcile the title which I had been bestowed, disguised in the robe of a Bachelor with the rags of an utter amateur underneath. Yet the thought of abandoning my education to fall prisoner to the side of Job-of-no-Relevance-to-my-Degree was sickening. So, I felt no choice but to plunge into an apprenticeship in the lonely countryside of Japan.

Lady Hindsight would have urged me to exercise the virtue of patience and seek a variety of options and geographies but she is cursed to come too late. Anyway, it didn't go so well - I dived too deep and couldn't tread the mess. My curious and out-going personality was accused of 'being too Australian', though really, I would prefer the origin of my character to be attributed to my activist grandmother and the spirits of the anarchists I was named after. Neither did my inability to stray from the Osakan dialect help my standing. I expected too much of myself and consequently those around me and that level ended up being proportional to   Not even a year had passed and I retreated to familial land, my neck drooping and tail between my legs.

What to do now.
With my hand-made jeweller's bench shoved into a closet in a small apartment (See Day 2), I levered making with teaching English to kids and babies too young to formulate a word in any language.

Boredom and frustration with excessive education for the ungrateful privileged soon settled, but a year spent at the Itami College of Jewelry finally ironed out some of the bad habits I had of the fundamentals.  After graduation, I started a jewellery series based on floral forms which were received well, and became in demand. Sawing these delicate patterns in the metal revealed a paradox - where jewels of natural motifs, that purport to be inspired by the beauty of nature use processes and materials that contribute to its utter destruction. All the shiny dragonflies at once seemed to tarnish in my mind. It became more and more absurd to imitate the forms present in life, because it seemed rather pointless for humans to depict nature in place of it.

Other glaring paradoxes started to gnaw at the fabric of my consciousness. When was it, that  Japan's wonderful biodiversity and our innate sense of oneness with nature and our reverence of its spirits become to be undermined by modern methods of consumption and our actions and reactions toward materials and objects. Here it is very noticeable that people’s interaction with objects now has come to be defined by a specific role and purpose and has little no emotional bearing on the user. As a result an object is used and disposed of once this function is fulfilled. For example, packaging, paper, electronic items are satisfies a perceived need but is then thrown away, seemingly without a second thought.
The consequence of this behaviour is not only the overconsumption of goods, a nonchalant insatiability and worse, the narrowing of our scope towards the definition of beauty.
I began to wonder why is something is perceived to have little value in the first place? Why do conventions about value affect personal opinions about beauty?

One day I just happened to notice a floral pattern on the bottom of a plastic bottle of tea that I kept at my bench. There was something that was beautiful  - a mixture of function and aesthetics - and a sense of pity. as it had come from an assembly line that qualifies speed can low cost as ideal qualities.  I wondered if it can be turned into a piece of jewellery, and after about a year of experimentation, failure, rethinking and pushing, I was awarded the Good Material Award at the Itami International Craft Competition, with the works shown here. They were the first in the series of "PLAnta",  which I have continued to make to this day. The series then garnered much attention in "Signs of Change - Jewellery to Make a Better World", curated by Kevin Murray and held at FORM in the city of Perth during the Jewellers' and Metalsmiths' Group of Australia's (JMGA) biennial conference in 2010.

Since then people have said that my works look like anemones or algae. I’m sure that having been immersed in the ocean, I found sea life to be beautiful in their grotesqueness and peaceful in its abundance. Although these experiences must influence my work, I am not conscious of presenting my pieces to resemble marine life, rather as I play and experiment with the material, I learn of the potential that is hidden within it. I find that the material itself speaks and teaches me about what kind of augmentations and transformations it wants to take. Control of nature I found, is not just about domination over a certain material but a type of conversation and cooperation perhaps, a harnessing of an ability to listen and to recognise that the material also strives to become beautiful. That's how I've come to reconcile the role of the human being making objects with the semblance of nature.

I feel discomfort if my work is interpreted as being “precious garbage”, simply because this is a contradiction. (If a piece of garbage was precious, it is not garbage).
I am also doubtful that my work speaks truthfully about environmental consciousness either because my works have taken an x amount of calories to produce, and am not making a net return of those calories to the ecological system, therefore I don’t think they qualify as being up-cycled either. These are just the doubts I have towards the quality of my work. I really just want people to see that anything can become beautiful and cherish the objects in their lives.

This quasi-philosophy took on a bizarre significance to me,  because in March of the the following year the earthquake happened.

The cities, towns and fishing villages directly facing the shoreline in the Tohoku region of Japan had literally turned upside down and inside out by the ferocious tsunami that came after the quake. Two months later, during a volunteer mission to clear debris, one victim described to me the sound of the wall of water as been like a insane stampede of horses. People's livelihoods, homes, schools, and families had been thrown out into the open, then bulldozed to clear the streets, then bulldozed again or packed into bags, stacked or heaped into miserable mountains on school grounds, awaiting clearance again. The city of Ishinomaki, where I had spent most of my time during that tumultuous year, was for a time, churning with aftershocks, battered by the smell of decay and rotting fish, the whirring of Self Defense Force helicopters looking for bodies, hype and naive excitement of volunteers, the roar of the supply trucks, and the vibes of restless, hopeful, anxious, impatient, traumatised and thankful survivors.
Looking around, the bizarre thing was that despite all the achievements of people, their sturdy buildings of concrete and steel were all toppled like toys, yet the grasses and the flowers started to spring up and thrive early on, undeterred by events that are tragedies in the human mind.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. I still don't know what I've learnt from seeing the scenes. Now, the rubble is gone and clear space is being filled up abandoned for good.  Today I think back to those events, being humbled and confused and still will be for some time.