Conversation Starter

studio 21 fine art, Halifax, Ns
june 8 — july 5, 2018

By: Emma Piirtoniemi
Published: 2018/08/14

Image credit: Grace Laemmler

In downtown Halifax, Studio 21 Fine Art hosted an exhibition of contemporary art jewellery in partnership with Co-Adorn Art Jewellery Society. This inaugural juried members' exhibition was the culmination of a furious amount of hard work in a short span of time. Co-Adorn Art Jewellery Society is under a year old, and this— their first major exhibition project— was a substantial one.

The exhibition, entitled Conversation Starter, is a juried sampling of its membership, spanning across the Maritimes and in fact, nationally. With such a strong showing by a newly minted society, Conversation Starter surely exceeded organizers’ expectations. As co-founder Emily Blair Wareham states, “With the launch of this project in January, our membership doubled with over half of the new membership applying to the show. The caliber of the work was astounding. I can still feel the excitement we all had when the Jury handed over the results”.

This exhibition had a clear mission, as exemplified by the exhibition text: “The conversation surrounding Canadian art jewellery is growing by encouraging intriguing questions from a broad audience and awakening new ideas about art and perceived value”. These notions truly reveal the crux of this project. While in thriving studios, schools, and community organizations, jewellers understand the value of the innovative work that is being made, but it is less understood beyond that. Showing this work in Nova Scotia— specifically in the context of a contemporary fine art gallery— goes beyond those boundaries, opening Nova Scotian gallery-goers’ minds to what exactly wearable art is and can be. As further described in Conversation Starter’s exhibition text: “There is a distinct set of dialogues established between the artist, the wearer, and the observer. As these discussions become concentrated, a ‘conversation piece’ emerges, promoting discourse instigated by the artwork. Art jewellery incites discussion: many of the most captivating discussions are found the in dichotomy between personal ornament and the public sphere”.

Studio 21 Fine Art owner Deborah Carver juried the open call exhibition along with Nova Scotian jeweller Catherine Allen and illustrator Charley Young. As Carver explained, the inclusion of Allen on the jury ensured an educated eye in assessing the technical quality of the works. What makes the jury such an interesting collective is the fact that no other members are trained jewellers. Rather, they are art professionals in other fields who appreciate this type of work on different levels. Additionally, they represent a sample of the exhibition’s desired viewing public, which is not exclusive to the art jewellery-literate but to all who appreciate and are excited by contemporary art in all its forms. In that respect, the diversity of jury members serves the mission of Conversation Starter, and in fact, continues to open up the conversation surrounding this discipline and the art that is made within it.

Image credit: Emma Piirtoniemi

Image credit: Grace Laemmler

The initial mandate of Conversation Starter was, as Wareham explains “to highlight art jewellery within Nova Scotia. Organizing an exhibition of art jewellery of this caliber, in a well established fine art gallery, organized by local artists, definitely brings awareness to this art form within Nova Scotia. Even though the call was made nationally, over half of the accepted artists were local. This is a testament to the quality of work being produced in this region!” Visitors of the gallery who are used to seeing sculpture, paint, and print, for example, and who certainly possess visual literacy when it comes to art, can still be boggled by the idea of polymer clay, paper, found objects, or rusted steel as valid materials and forms of jewellery. Showing art adornment in this context presents an entry point for those with open minds and a pre-existing penchant for contemporary aesthetic. Additionally, by being held in a commercial gallery, visitors are encouraged to touch, try on, and interact with the work. As an introduction to such objects, one truly cannot have better conditions.

The installation methods used in Conversation Starter were simple and effective, maintaining a dash of optimism and fun through the use of a fine line of hot pink edging each white-painted board that housed neckpieces and brooches. With regard to the exhibition signage, the use of an image of Anne-Sophie Vallée’s gypsum cement earring ‘Pavement’, called to mind the intimacy and tenderness of wearable art that comes from interacting with such objects. This evocative imagery adds yet another layer to the depth of understanding of these works to viewers.

Image credit: Grace Laemmler

Image credit: Grace Laemmler

Best in show was awarded by the jury to Kim Paquet, new to the Maritimes from Montréal. Her pieces draw from her past work in social intervention with addicts and the divide between poverty and wealth. Her ‘Reconstruction’ neckpiece and brooch entitled ‘Trust the Process’, mirror the urban landscape and serve as conduits for the disruption and instability of these complex situations. As Paquet describes, “My jewellery became a way to express what I was seeing and living at that moment … it’s something I will carry with me and be inspired [by] … probably because I still need to express myself about that”. Her work, angular and architectural in form, becomes a wearable graffiti wall rendered in enamel. With patinated wire structure and sugar-fired enamel panels, the roughness of surface belies the finery that hides beneath.

Being relatively new to Halifax, Paquet moved east to attend NSCAD University’s Jewellery Design and Metalsmithing programme after graduating from École de Joaillerie de Montréal in May 2017. As Paquet explains, “Co-Adorn made me feel comfortable rapidly in the little community here. This exhibition was my first chance for exposure without any school supervision. I’m very grateful for that opportunity and it has given me the confidence to pursue that way”.

Kim Paquet
Reconstruction (2018)
Silver, copper, enamel, rubber

Kim Paquet
Trust the Process (2018)
Silver, copper, enamel, steel

Co-Adorn Art Jewellery Society certainly met its objectives through a successful showing with Studio 21 Fine Art. The conversation surrounding art jewellery in the Maritimes has certainly been sparked by this group’s efforts and hopefully will continue to grow over time with more projects to come. The robust national response to the exhibition call also reveals the strength of the Canadian art jewellery scene: small but mighty, and with a lot to say. May the conversation continue.