Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

International Jewellery Collaborations: Cultural Diversity and Cultural Interaction through the Medium of Contemporary Jewellery (Part One)

Essay by Annelisse Pfeifer




(Fig1) FH Dusseldorf entrance

Fig.1: Fachhochschule Düsseldorf – Design department entrance (no date)


(Fig2)FH Dusseldorf J. Workshop and Hall

Fig.2: Fachhochschule Düsseldorf – Jewellery students’ studio and Design department corridor (2012)



I have always held a personal interest in cultures and cultural interaction through the medium of contemporary jewellery. The meaning of cultural interaction throughout this essay is referring to the opportunity to communicate with people from diverse nationalities, understand and perceive the society and world we live in from the eyes of another individual; share personal experiences, exchange knowledge, and discuss concerns. Cultural interaction throughout this essay is focused on international interaction. Whilst this can occur regionally within one country, when this happens on an international level it is of greater significance. Having travelled, lived and studied in different countries has given me the background to speak from personal experience about the importance of understanding other cultures, and the relationship this has to contemporary jewellery. This experience has had a substantial impact on my own studio practice. It has awakened an eagerness to connect with the unfamiliar, to explore and discover other people’s interests, values and the way in which they work. One recent personal encounter that certainly heightened this interest and instilled the fascination with other cultures was the study exchange to the Fachhochschule Düsseldorf, University of Applied Science in Germany. (Figs.1,2)

This essay will examine four different international collaborations to investigate how cultural diversity and interaction were promoted through the medium of contemporary jewellery: what were the nature of the contributions, the benefits and how collaborations enhanced global understanding. The four international collaborations were selected from personal preferences with consideration to how these might expand horizons of contemporary jewellery through celebrating the existing differences in the field, and since they had provided me with a first-hand perspective and rewarding new opportunities to discover innovative approaches in this field.

Dividing the essay into four main parts, each section considers one international collaboration: provides background information on each proposal, aims and objectives, and the way each was implemented.  It then goes on to explore the issues that arose during the process of the collaborations, what discoveries and reflections were made when collaborating with artists from different cultures, and what we can learn and acknowledge from these various experiences for the future. Reflections and conclusions arise from personal observations and experience of interacting with other cultures through the medium of contemporary jewellery.

Books, blogs, and catalogues were read to gather information and provide background knowledge on each collaboration. However, because these were selected from personal preferences, the need to have a closer approach to the subject was inevitable. Therefore I decided to interview the curators and some of the participants from each collaboration in their respective languages. Interviews were performed in person, others via Skype and email. The questions asked differed depending on each collaboration. Throughout this essay, I translated most of the interview texts into English as some were in Spanish and German.


First collaboration: PARADIGMA exhibition

This exhibition was a presentation of the work produced by staff members from the School of Jewellery in Birmingham and the Escola Massana in Barcelona. Professor Jack Cunningham from the School of Jewellery and Professor Ramon Puig Cuyas from Escola Massana were in charge of curating the exhibition. In total the work of 15 staff members from each institution was showcased. The exhibition took place at the School of Jewellery in Birmingham from the 16thNovember – 11thDecember 2009, and at the Escola Massana in Barcelona from the 26thFebruary – 16thMarch 2010. Later the exhibition was presented in Beijing with the title Paradigma 2.

(Fig3) E. Massana building

Fig. 3: Escola Massana building – Barcelona (no date)


(Fig4) E. Massana Worshops

Fig. 4: Jewellery workshop, Escola Massana, -Barcelona (no date)


Paradigma had a profound interest in the subject of Internationalisation, interaction across cultures, and discussion on diverse methods of education. It was also an excellent opportunity to strengthen existing links between both institutions, and for the staff to build personal connections with other artists. International exhibitions as such enhance one’s profile and career, and with some institutions there is pressure to do so to help raise their profiles. As mentioned in the Paradigma Catalogue by Game (2009, p.9):

“ ‘Internationalism; interdisciplinarity; major trends in creative education; global currents; international reputation’ are the key words found on the websites of both Escola Massana, Barcelona and the Jewellery School [sic] of the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design.”

Notable from the above statement, for both institutions is the idea that developing international collaborations and encouraging exchange of ideas across cultures for both students and academic staff is vital. Both see these collaborations as an advantage, which contributes to the evolution of teaching methods and new approaches to jewellery.

The benefits from this exhibition proved to be many. Staff were able to enrich their skills, by being involved at all stages of the exhibition, and to add this experience to their research portfolio. Hunt (2012), a participant member from Birmingham, states from his experience: “I appreciated taking part at all stages of the exhibition, rather than just producing work and sending it somewhere else to be set up.” He believes that “it was good to see how the staff from Massana exhibit and how they go about their exhibitions. Seeing the building of Massana (Fig.3) was terrific, seeing where they actually teach, and the different environment (Fig.4) in Massana compared to the one from the school.” For him “making more friends with the staff over there and talking in depth about their teaching was very useful” (ibid).


(Fig5) Karen Bartlett Brooch

Fig. 5: Brooch 1, Brooch, Karen Bartlett – School of jewellery (2009)


Another positive aspect was that students were exposed to the work produced by staff members of two equally renowned institutions, and had the opportunity to consider a study exchange. For instance the son of one of the staff members from Barcelona wanted to study in Birmingham. Another student from Birmingham also spent an exchange term in Barcelona. Paradigma also had an impact on me; exposure to the work of both institutions every day inspired a fascination to discover the different interests of the artists behind each piece, to understand the diverse processes artists follow to create jewellery, and look for the unfamiliar element that awakes the desire to explore beyond what is allowed.

Following responses to the interviews of the curators and participants, there was a consensus that cultural interaction and diversity is extremely important. The research highlighted that exchanging ideas and working across cultures is far more interesting; it brings new perspectives, expands possibilities, enriches knowledge, and provides a framework for increasing understanding in the field of contemporary jewellery. The concept of undertaking international collaborations and interacting across cultures is something that has been evolving over the years as technology facilitates connections with people around the world, and we become more open to new experiences. One of the interviewees (Hunt, ibid) states:

“40 or 45 years ago there was no perception of the possibility for two cultures, for instance Germany and England could benefit from joint collaborative projects. It seemed then that they were two different artistic countries/communities. However, I am pleased to see the development on joint collaboration with other countries changed.”

Presenting the exhibition in both Schools and not a gallery space was important, because as Puig Cuyas (2012) states, “presenting the exhibition in the Schools gave it a more academic and pedagogical character.” Relevantly, he further adds:

“In the case of exhibiting at the school, the work was exposed each day to a constant look and analysis, students and other teachers pass across the exhibition hall several times a day, exposure thus became, not an isolated incident of a day, but it was integrated into daily academic life.”

I believe that not every day the opportunity to see work presented in this context is given to students. Being able to explore one object several times enables improved analysis, different approaches can be found to connect with and understand it. The exhibition presented a variety of approaches to jewellery as the work (Figs.5,6) created by the staff of both institutions displays a variety of interests, techniques, materials, and processes. I think it is fundamental to acknowledge and to be aware of the variety of work that exists within the field of contemporary jewellery.


(Fig6) Ursula Viñolas Subirana Neckpiece

Fig. 6: BamendaNeckpieceUrsula Viñolas Subirana – Escola Massana (2009)


Besides the benefits it is also important to take difficulties into account. When exchanges between cultures are conducted, language skills can become a barrier, but this has been improved significantly over the years. Another aspect to consider, as Puig Cuyas states (ibid) is: “The problem arises when this approach between cultures occurs with an attitude of arrogance, superiority over the other, i.e. when there is no equal peer attitude. So the problem appears in the form of art categories, which tend to establish a hierarchy, top and bottom, or centre and periphery.” Therefore I believe it is important when approaching other cultures to be open and exclude existing prejudices. Differences should be contemplated from a positive perspective, as they bring variety and enrich the field of contemporary jewellery.

Around the exhibition other events were planned such as presentations of the work between the participants. This contributed to reinforce the relationship between the members of staff as they had the freedom to discuss their interests, the way they work, and talked about other topics. Something that could have been considered and acknowledged for future collaborations such as this one was: “A parallel program of activities such as lectures, classes, workshops, in which students and teacher would have been closer” (ibid). As Cunningham (2012) mentioned: “The catalogue is left for people and future research, the connections made continue in different ways, even if sometimes you are not completely sure how.” Events of this nature can always be organised and sums up the benefits: “The exhibition captured a moment in time, when it was possible to see what’s [sic] going on in Contemporary Jewellery in Europe at that moment. The exhibition was in some way celebrating diversity of materials, ideas, processes, and ways of thinking” (ibid).



Second collaboration: CONNECTING IDENTITIES project

Paradigma involved the staff of two important institutions followed by a formal exhibition at the Schools, and presentation of work amongst the participants the collaboration in Connecting Identities was vastly different. This was in the way the project was performed, and the fact that in this case the participants were students. Connecting Identites was a project generated by Herman Hermsen, Professor of Jewellery and Product Design at the Fachhochschule Düsseldorf-Universtity of Applied Sciences and was implemented during the winter term of 2011. The aims were to network and communicate with artists of different nationalities, exchanging ideas, methods, techniques, materials, and views. From observations it appears that the interest in working with students from different nationalities was focusing on the interaction between the variety of personalities, approaches, and individual ways of thinking. If a variety of personalities can be identified within a group of people of the same nationality, then the differences in personalities is even wider when encompassing people of other nationalities. 


(Fig7) Maisa Malila Tryptich

Fig. 7: Triptych, photographs, Maisa Maila- Finland (2011)


Six international universities took part: Central St.Martins College of Art and Design (U.K.), MAD-Faculty of Object & Jewellery Hasselt (Belgium), Saimaa University of Applied Sciences (Finland), University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf (Germany), Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava (Slovakia), Konstfack University College of Arts Crafts and Design Stockholm (Sweden). The idea was to have 6 groups with 6 students each; every nationality would be represented by one member of the group. For this project each student had to present 3 photographs in a triptych (Fig.7), these had to embody personal perceptions of the atmosphere and culture of the city where they were studying. The triptychs had to be uploaded to a private blog, where only members of that particular group could have access.

The project was aimed at BA students from levels 5 and 6, however the universities in Stockholm and Bratislava had MA students participating instead. A few BA students found it difficult to work with MA students which was noticeable by the differences in the work, technical skills, and experience. Communication between the participants was operated via the blog where they could discuss different interpretations of the triptychs, give personal opinions and keep each other motivated. I find the concept of this project exceptionally appealing and stimulating; finding the right shots to represent as much of the culture of the city, as well as their own personality, must have been a challenging task. Tutors from each university had to lead their own workshops with the students, where they could review the concepts, approaches, ideas, and discuss any difficulties. To facilitate communication the language agreed was English.


(Fig8) Ricarda Wolf Tryptich

Fig. 8: Triptych, photographs, Ricarda Wolf- Germany (2011)


Expressing their thoughts and exchanging ideas helped students built a deeper relationship and connect with each other’s identity, the key element of the project. According to Hermsen (2011) “Confronting the identity of others simultaneously triggers a reflective process on one’s own identity.” For Hermsen (ibid) “the project required the participants to reflect on the identity of the person behind each of the photo triptychs, to find ways to approach the photographic works, and to explore the extent they were willing to engage with this other identity.” To be able to engage with other identities an open-minded approach needs to be taken and from my experience, finding the clues to uncover the identity of someone else’s leads us to discover more about our own identity, and stimulate new-found reflections.


(Fig9) Anneleen Swillen Neckpiece

Fig. 9: Cups, Neckpiece (Inspired by Fig. 8), Anneleen Swillen- Belgium (2011)


(Fig10) Maisa Malila Neckpiece

Fig. 10: Whitefence, Neckpiece (Inspired by Fig. 8), Maisa Malila- Finland (2011)


After identifying elements of identity inherent to each triptych, each student had to produce a piece of jewellery or object (Figs.8,9,10) thus creating a total of 5 pieces to represent the different identities in the group. The outcome was 180 jewellery pieces/objects that were presented in the Jewellery Symposium in Bratislava, October 2012. Later the pieces are to be showcased in a travelling exhibition at various Schools and galleries during 2013. A catalogue has also been produced.

The aim of Connecting Identities was to promote exchange between nationalities and encourage students to look beyond and build networks for the future. They would be improving their skills and this was also an excellent opportunity for them to promote themselves elsewhere via the exhibitions and the catalogue. Universities would also make new international connections with partner institutions for future exchanges and joint programmes. Hermsen (ibid) believes “that not only the attempt to visualize the personal but also the attempt to immerse oneself into something foreign to us is a very important and valuable challenge that student designers [sic] should undertake. And they should also learn to explore the wide scope of our design profession and be aware of the ‘serving’ aspect of design.”


(Fig11) Anneleen Swillen Brooch


(Fig12) Anneleen Swillen brooch

Figs.11,12: PMD, Brooches, Anneleen Swillen- Belgium (2011)


To assess the project, three students from the same group were interviewed about their experiences. For them it was exciting and interesting because they found new ways of working, approaches and different design processes. They learned to be open and flexible about ideas, materials, and concepts. From her learning experience Wolf (2012) states, “I enjoy emotional work. This project represented more of a response, and that was very broad. Normally for me, a concept is always very important. Here it was to react, this freed me somehow of the great concept. I thought that was nice.” An observation is that very often artists become immersed in one way of working, following a constant process and not exploring beyond the barrier. With this project students were pushed to discover the unknown and the unfamiliar, learning as much with their own experiences as from the others’. Swillen’s (2012) views on the project were:

“As a young designer I think it was successful that we could not choose our sources of inspiration to work with (by which I mean: We all got pictures from other students. What we were making was based on an image we had not make/choose ourselves). That is how I came to the fact of working with materials I dislike, because in one of the pictures there was a blue garbage bag, and it made the whole image so ugly and I felt it was not on it’s place there, and I hated it to be there, so I said to myself: ‘why should I not try to work with that blue plastic bag as a material and make it for myself into something I like?’ Those pieces (Figs.11,12) eventually became my favourites [sic].”

I think that for any artist it is important to work and collaborate with other artists, because it is never certain where this might lead. Other aspects of the project that motivated the students were the catalogue and the exhibitions because, as in Paradigma, these became a platform for recognition elsewhere. A less successful aspect was the communication through the blog, students seemed to agree that not everyone had the same commitment to interact, share, and discuss views. Whilst some universities spent significant time on this project, for others it was a side project. The blog was created as an aid to connect with one another, to support and help discover as much from each person as possible. Exchange of thoughts and views brought a better understanding of the triptychs and helped students develop their concepts and choice of materials. Language was seen as a good challenge, it did not hinder the collaboration. The students acknowledged the benefits of this project and responses were positive. However, as with Paradigma, the participants believed that perhaps parallel activities such as workshops would have facilitated personal contact, bringing the groups closer and making the experience more intense. My opinion is that this project was successful because it challenged the participants to work in a completely different way, and made them interact with another’s interests in order to create their own piece. 


Annelisse Pfeifer is an student on the last year at  Jewelry School in Birmingham, where she studies the in Jewellery and Silversmithing.



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