Art Jewellery Challenge

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.

Art Jewellery Challenge Day Two 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 each day I will also nominate another artist to show us his/her jewellery, though so late in this chain I am running out of friends on Facebook to nominate, so I apologise in advance if one has shown their work previously or are just bored with this initiative.

Day Two:
The works below are a series I produced for the exhibition "By Example - Australian Contemporary Jewellery" curated by Karin Findeis and was shown at the Itami Museum of Arts and Crafts in 2010. A survey of the current waves in Australian jewellery, two younger participants are selected through nomination by their former mentors, but the confines of space and practicality inevitably produces some glaring omissions. Hard choices had to be made by the curator with the list of candidates blowing out exponentially.

Even before that though, the concept of the exhibition had a hard time getting into the first gear, as the creative organiser of the host institution, Fumiko Tsubo had much to convince the mayor and other municipal bureaucrats of the viability of the show. Two years previously, the British contributions did not cause much excitement, tempting the city to consolidate and keep programmes more local. Could the Australians do better? I wasn't privy to the arguments but thankfully Tsubo sensei won out, and the project got another boost with confirmation of funding from the Australia Council. The museum staff, not used to receiving money from national governments and skeptical of such avenues due to the ongoing drought in interest and support in Japan, were ecstatic. They could hardly believe it.

Meanwhile back in Sydney, Karin was left with the arduous task of putting together the actual exhibition, while I pitched in from time to time with meetings, interpreting, drawing up press releases and even appearing on local radio.

The series "Physis"  that I eventually submitted came about when I was milling through my grandfather's drawers of forgotten tools in my hometown of Mino.  Niro was a humble man having escaped the great incendiary bombing of Osaka City, death through conscription and battled food shortages in the aftermath of the Second World War.  His life was one of austerity and humility and the shelves put together by his resourceful hand showed it. It was a lifestyle of prosperity based on principles of poverty.  I loved his collection of random household elements - hooks, pins and baubles - and from his neglected stockpiles of nails I decided to make some jewellery.

Valerie, the much loved workshop technician at Sydney College of the Arts once dumped another pile of nails on my desk when she heard what I was doing. Her father had passed away some years before - and even she, despite being the regina instrumentum was forced to concede much of his tools to the dumping ground. Of the things that she had left she told me to make good use of it, and I packed the rusty iron into my suitcase back to Osaka and set to work.

The pieces were forged into elongated lines or broad tails, the heads cupped and made into spoon forms or pods, then blackened and wrapped or set in 18K gold.

Producing them proved to be an extreme challenge,  technical considerations, pressure from feeling too immature for inclusion not withstanding, as an old apartment of wood and paper construction was certainly not the ideal place to be forging steel (See Day One and Shota's problem). The impacts and vibrations were causing headaches to my elderly neighbours, particularly in the extreme humidity of summer and all my open windows.

They were finished in the following spring but in the 11th hour and Karin was growing restless. The exhibition had been the usual headache to organise-  juggling the logistics of so many participants, the multitude of paperwork to present at customs, going through the tedious process of ensnaring grants and communicating with an international venue of another language and culture, the day of installation was closing in -  and mine was the only work she hadn't seen.

Karin never painted these stresses on her face but I finally presented my work at her hotel lobby under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights. As I unwrapped the tissue paper, I felt like a nocturnal marsupial being pulled out of its burrow, but knew that she had liked the results.
"They're quite beautiful", she remarked.
Only three words, but Karin tends to only make full comments on things that require criticism for lack of attention to detail or the harsh words of scrutiny towards conceptual vagueness. Having risen to her seemingly impossible bar, I was relieved and so was my nominator.

A few days later the opening was buzzing - the Japanese audience had taken a liking to the colour, wearability and the striking forms of much of the presented pieces, the mayor could recognise them as jewellery at least and the hosts delighted in receiving a substantial proportion of the artists.  There was twinkle in Tsubo sensei's eyes and a great cultural exchange was taking place.
The Australians had made a great impression.

The first necklace below can be seen in the exhibition catalogue "By Example" published in 2010.  

For the second day, I nominate my friend and fellow university alumnus Saori Kita. whom I met when I was doing a residency at my alma mater. Strange things happen when you are with Saori - her coquettish frivolity is absolutely infectious and your whole body becomes consumed. Looking back to the JMGA conference in Perth, I entirely attribute my inability to stop giggling during the whole conference to her. By her bad influence we ticked off every Japanese girl stereotype with our incessant laughter and excitement, even getting a few laughs out of a bemused Karl Fritsch.
Furicchi (as he is known to us, but unbeknownst to him), would later be a great influence on Saori and her experimentation with rough stones and silver casting. She's recently back home in Japan after a long stint in Australia much to my pleasure. I'm glad to be ever extending my network of young jewellery artists.


Art Jewellery Challenge Day One 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 (it was exhibition preparation I promise) has resulted in my nomination by not one but four esteemed jewelers.

I was nominated by my dear friend and mentor Karin Findeis, lecturer at the University of Sydney in Sydney College of the Art's jewellery department. Her attention to detail and how she taught me to relentlessly question myself and the making process is both quality control and a nightmare to my obsessive analytical self; Erin Keys, a Sydney jeweller whose biceps I envy, can endure the task of cutting and forming elegant Pollock-like lines in hard cold steel; Akiko Kurihara, currently residing in Milan whose jewellery specialty is delighting with her whimsical sense of humor; and Regine Schwarzer, long time resident of Adelaide who hand-cuts stones of delicious colours and presents them in elegant and bold settings.

Akiko and Regine have both visited my Kyoto studio and I look forward to more visitors in the future.

So, for 5 days I will show some of my jewellery, and each day I will also nominate another artist to show us his/her jewellery - though so late in this chain I am running out of friends on Facebook to nominate, so I apologise in advance if one has shown their work previously or are just bored with this initiative.

Now, before I can procrastinate any further I shall present my Day One.

These are some blasts from the past, a series titled 'Natura Insolitus' from 2008. Of this series, one was accepted into the Friedrich Becker Prize, another appears in Lark Books' "Silver and Gemstone Jewelry" and another was shown at the South Australian Museum.
The materials in the rings shown are silver, copper, gold leaf, freshwater pearl, peridot, rough diamond and silk.

The movable parts are connected to the ring body through a ball and socket joint I devised after being inspired by the engineering of Friedrich Becker and managed to figure something out without an aeronautical engineering degree. A personal feat but never managed to continue the series due to the impracticality of wear.
However, some nice memories I have of this series are when I showed it at the Migration Museum in Adelaide ("Moved", curated by Kath Inglis), is when Anna Davern and Vicki Mason gently jumped up and down in front of the plinth to make the parts move and exclaimed "How are they in there? ", and when in Munich, Otto Kunzli cocked his head, turned the ring over and made a contemplative "Hmmmm" sound.

For this first day, I shall nominate my friend and neighbour, Shota Suzuki. Originally from Miyagi prefecture in Japan's north-east and student of Toru Kaneko, he chases delicate floral forms in various metals, exhibiting the finesse of our traditional crafts with a contemporary edge.
Even though Shota has only recently moved to Kyoto he's hoping to move out of his current home. The walls of his apartment are rather thin, a common problem plaguing us jewellers in Japan who like to bang on metal and make sawing noises. My hope is that the people next door will be too obsessed with their life to notice him and will continue to be my neighbour and come around for dinner again, though I won't bring out any fish next time because it'll never be as good here as in Miyagi. But our eggplants and tofu are better than yours.