The run up to our recent interim exhibition was a tough couple of weeks. I was at a bit of a junction in my studio work. My forms were developing, but I hadn’t quite grasped where these ideas were heading, or if my ideas would have evolved enough to effectively display and communicate my ideas by the exhibition date. I decided that my priority from the exhibition had to be getting feedback and started work on producing at least three pieces for the exhibition.
With some help of some observational drawing, I had started to really develop my forms whilst also considering fixtures, such as brooch fittings as an integral component to this development. Armed with some new forms, I headed back to the kiln and I was reminded how hard and unpredictable enamelling on steel is. After previous problematic attempts at enamelling on steel and much research, I trialled out a new wet process, sheet steel ground-coat rather than dry form which I have previously been mixing myself, and the process was a LOT more stable.
This allowed me to really concentrate on producing a smooth, glossy and even surface, another development was that I also paid real attention to cleaning up the edge surface between firings. I continued to print the decals using some of my family archives and diary extracts. To ensure a better durability this time, the decals were placed in a low temperature kiln for up to 4 hours.
I moved onto developing and producing my magnetic components. To try and resolve the issues I had identified with the placement of images especially at the edges, I decided to produce sheets of imagery before folding and constructing the component. I colour matched and painted the card before applying the decals. I also introduced a double fold at the edges to ensure a neat seam. The resulting pieces were actually very durable and splash proof due to the clear lacquer. Producing them from the pre-made sheets worked – But I still think there are improvements to be made in the construction.
My final stage was to ensure the pieces had a professional finish. Magnets had been attached to the smaller components, similar to the geometric parts this allowed interchangeability but also functioned as a magnetic brooch fixture, allowing the pieces to be worn. For the purposes of the exhibition, the reverse of the steel and enamel pieces were sprayed with enamel paint and the raw steel edges were waxed to ensure they didn’t begin to discolour. Moving forward the finishing of the reverse of each piece needs refining. In my previous development work I had tried and miserably failed at embedding/hiding magnets within the steel components, but maybe I should be making a feature of them, or accentuate their presence on the surface.
The interim exhibition took a pivotal role allowing me to take stock of my progress in the module so far. And was a real opportunity to get peer and industry feedback. Feedback I wasn’t expecting or had completely overlooked was that I had a product which actually could be very commercial. That has made me really rethink how I could possibly progress different collections into my Final Major Project and how I would need to allocate time to identifying, network and build my knowledge of commercial outlets such as Tomfoolery, Dazzle and Studio Fusion Gallery.
At this stage I am aware that I really need to push forward and take more risks. These pieces feel safe and I feel like I can resolve any remaining issues, but that wouldn’t be really challenging myself. So, what’s next? Whilst deliberating my next move, in my research, I come across Mah Rana’s, A First Class Ticket For Worthing, 2004. The extract below explaining the project is taken from the Navigating History initiative. Navigating History. The project was based in and around Sussex and aimed to shine a spotlight on unique local history collections through a series of specially commissioned projects by practitioners from the fields of art, design, jewellery, film and interactive technology.
A First Class Ticket For Worthing is about discovering personal and a local history, and it is an exploration of how jewellery marks points in our life stories.
From the wealth of Worthing’s local history material, Mah Rana unearthed a part of her family history and created a fictional piece of jewellery left to her by her great great grandfather’s sister Mary Conyers Godfrey Garnett, in 1901. The starting point for the project is the 1901 census, in which details of Mah’s family appeared. But how did they come to be in Worthing from their home of British Guiana?
Mah Rana followed two strands of investigation; one about Worthing in 1901 and the other about the Garnett family who Rana discovered were holidaying in Worthing. Rana wanted to make a connection to her great, great, great aunt that was more than just dusty facts. She had a photograph of Mary Garnet’s brother, but nothing that would have belonged to Mary Garnet herself so she imagined that Mary had passed down a piece of jewellery to her descendants, a souvenir or keepsake from her time in Worthing. From her research into both the Garnett family and Worthing Rana created the gold and blue jewellery, the blue is the same colour that is used to identify local history books in Worthing Library.
Mah’s research extended from Worthing Library to the British Library in St Pancreas and Colindale and the internet and utilised a professional family historian. It included an article published in the Medical Journal by Mary Garnett’s son Graham, newspaper articles, ships’ manifests and a book by Diana Dill.
All the research kept leading back to the 31 March 1901 so rather than creating a chronology of her ancestors Mah has traced local and worldwide events that would have connected to the Garnetts, and brought these stories together in a fictional issue of the Worthing Observer.
Collect a free copy of the fictional Worthing Observer 31 March 1901 from Worthing Library.
I find Rana’s project really exciting, not just because I am also personally interested in working with personal archives, but in the placement of her work in the wider industry and potential for social engagement. It obviously gives me a lot to think about in my own practice and how I can develop and engage my audience in my own stories. The idea of twisting the truth is quite a hard concept for me to get my head around. Working for years in the auction industry, I often grafted long and hard to research and uncover true, factual provenance, items I catalogued had to be 100% accurate. As I write this I realise what a juxtaposition that often was from the wild and elaborate tales that clients would often tell me that they believed about the provenance of their heirlooms. Oral history as it is passed down through generations often gets chopped and changed, pieces forgotten or added to, inaccuracies creep in each time the story is recalled.
Truth, fantasy or fiction…