In a Material World

‘While conceptualism has become an important framework for contemporary jewellery, materials continue to play a critical role in setting the creative agenda’ (Skinner, Damien, ed., 2013, Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective)

As we are exposed and asked to consider the power of materials in contemporary jewellery, I immediately feel a pang of guilt for wanting to remain in the sphere of traditional materials historically used in jewellery & silversmithing. Whilst my classmates appear to be researching wild and wonderful materials, more than ever I feel aligned with metals and long-established modes of decoration. I ask myself: Why do I feel guilty and how can I push myself beyond materials that are already familiar to me?

A good starting point was definitely this week’s materials workshop. In groups, we were challenged to discover 100 materials and produce our own materials library taking inspiration from UCL’s Institute of Making. My immediate reaction was which artist doesn’t love a skip dive! And despite the strange looks from bystanders we quickly found ourselves eagerly scavenging the streets surrounding the SOJ for scarce and unusual fragments.


Our finds were imaginative and collectively I thought they looked impressive. It was such an inspiring workshop, even the immediate change of context of somebody else’s waste wielded impact.

So, how has this week’s lecture, workshop and discussions impacted my views on materials? I recognise that I am gaining perspective on my own practice – Although I haven’t been struck with a golden moment of material inspiration, I am understanding and eliminating what I don’t like. I’m probably not the artist who will be using new materials at the forefront of technological advances, or those with ephemeral qualities but I see this decision making being just as valuable in driving my own development forward.

After the workshop I spent some time looking through images of Rachael Colley’s work. It’s probably not relevant that I am drawn to art which nods towards anything slightly heraldic, or a Tudor Rose hailing from Yorkshire, as Colley’s ‘Doggy Dodger’ brooch, 2010, is made from British beef, gold plated silver and steel, yes, I did say beef! I love cooking but I am certainly not going to start raiding my fridge for materials. Colley’s work really brought home the messages and stories we can convey with our choice of material.

Rachael Colley

After years working in the auction world and hoarding ‘left over’ provenance in the form of letters, tins, photos and fragments of lives lived I am keen to utilize these in my work. I am quickly discovering that regardless of my choice of material, traditional or not, the key will be how well I can master and transform these materials. This doesn’t mean I am not interested in investigating new materials but for me the ultimate quest will be for my audience to need to ask what my jewellery is made from.

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