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Narrative & Abstraction

The Danish Arts Foundation’s jewellery collection consists of works whose style ranges from narrative, natural, and figurative motifs to abstract modernist compositions.

At the one end of the spectrum, we find jewellery artist Irene Griegst, who takes inspiration from Middle Eastern jewellery tradition. Her pieces tell stories that take form as poetic snapshots, for example a little bee buzzing around a flowerbed on a hot summer day.

Her choice of materials and techniques clearly refers to Minoan jewellery art. We are instantly transported to another time and place – far away from the cold north. Irene Griegst is the Scheherazade of Danish jewellery art, and her jewellery emerges from a feminist and poetic universe.

At the other end of the spectrum, we find the couple Karen Ihle and Jens Eliasen, who have created a number of pieces in the Danish Arts Foundation’s collection. Their minimalist, abstract compositions are inspired by the flat marshland surrounding Tønder and by the ever-changing light in this region. This is where the couple live and work. Their jewellery transmits the pulse of the resting body, repetitions in light and shadow, open and closed. Together, these otherwise geometric elements create gentle organic shapes that follow the soft curves of the body. The curved arch of the breast is mirrored in the brooch, making them a perfect pair. The bridge of the teardrop-shaped ring harmonises perfectly with the curve of the back of the hand. The body provides the landscape for the jewellery of these two artists.

Decoration & Concept

A small ornament, a sparkling precious stone in a beautiful colour, a decorative object that is worn on the body containing a whole world of ideas and interpretations: each form of decoration is based on a concept.

Throughout her entire career as a jewellery artist, Mikala Naur has questioned the traditional use of materials, and, in so doing, she helps us to reflect on the traditional expectations linked to jewellery as valuable, functional and body-related objects made of precious materials. Instead of gold, polished silver surfaces and precious stones, which are otherwise so popular in Danish jewellery art, she uses everyday materials, such as rubber, Perspex and brass. In a self-confident manner she creates compositions with a straightforward aesthetic, using humour and irony to highlight the value of those brief moments of happiness in our everyday lives. In her series of brooches entitled ”Den japanske suite” (The Japanese Suite), which is characterised by a stringent and typically Nordic design approach, Mikala Naur sets small objects on a black, oxidised metal sheet, for example the symbol ”&”, a bronze keyhole, or a Chinese coin, thus offering the eye a place to dwell. Repetition and variation – the notion of value is reinterpreted and unfolds in way that is accessible. Neither does it interfere with the body’s freedom of movement nor does it demand to be worn in a specific position on the body. A small ornament that asks big questions.

Humour & Sarcasm

Humour and sarcasm really came into play in Danish jewellery art in the early 1980’s. Ole Bent Petersen, for example, used precious materials in unorthodox ways, creating jewellery that was obviously inspired by Pop Art. Peder Musse, on the other hand, focused on playfulness and movement. These characteristics are still important elements in the work of many Danish jewellery artists.

One of the younger and most significant representatives of this genre is Marie-Louise Kristensen, who, in addition to humour and playfulness, has a keen sense of satire and of the absurd aspects of the Danish identity. However, she does not comment on the latter, not with sharp words, but figuratively, with pointed jewellery narratives.

The brooch ”How to get thin quick?” and the piece ”Enhance Your Male Power” are from the series ”I’m Sitting in a Room”, where Marie-Louise Kristensen works with references to industrial design combined with more surreal elements, with titles taken from the email subjects in the spam folder of her inbox. The works and titles leave you in a state of absurd realisation, in a bubbling pink universe, and with a smile on your face. Marie-Louise Kristensen’s pieces are not in the slightest sense self-righteous, after all it is more fun to laugh than it is to cry about the big and small problems in life. This is further proof that black humour and biting sarcasm are deeply rooted in Danish culture.

Ritual & Fetish

In a broad sense, jewellery can have many functions. A brooch fastens your scarf; a hair comb keeps your hair tidy. But jewellery can also be associated with more abstract functions. The belief that jewellery can possess magical powers or can act as an amulet protecting us against evil is as old as humanity: a little charm, a golden four-leaf clover, a horseshoe, or a family good-luck ring that is passed between family members when they have an exam or embark on a dangerous journey.

It is also common to associate jewellery with rituals. A classic example is the wedding ring that marks the transition from single life to marriage and symbolises the bond between two people.

Life and death are recurring themes in Torben Hardenberg’s work. One of his earlier works, ”Gloria of Columbia”, is reminiscent of a tiara, a ceremonial piece of jewellery, like those worn by Chibcha or Muisca priests when performing rituals and creating a magical connection between life and death. This skull is a memento mori that reminds us that highly developed cultures come and go.

One of the young and talented Danish jewellery artists invited to take part in the exhibition is Christine Bukkehave. She interprets the aesthetic expressions of ethnic cultures and combines them with a typical Nordic design language, resulting in jewellery that exudes great energy. The pieces unify nature and culture. You get the feeling that you are standing with an amulet in your hand that safeguards the passage between modern city life and the primordial forces of nature.

Status & Power

Traditionally, jewellery mirrors both the wearer’s social status and position of power in society. A classic example in a jewellery context is the engagement ring, where the size of the diamond reflects how much money the future husband has to ‘invest’ in his fiancée. Simultaneously the ring represents the woman’s ‘trophy’: her future husband and his economic prowess. On the other hand, the engagement ring also indicates how desirable and valued the woman is, whereby she also becomes the man’s ‘trophy’.

A number of Danish jewellery artists are concerned with gender equality in a social context. They examine the status quo in relation to traditionally gender-defined tasks and the corresponding attribution of values, and they look into the ways in which we perceive our fellow humans.

Helle Bjerrum, for example, concerns herself with these issues. She has investigated the various interpretations of what status means in terms of creating values, in relation to the sentimental values we attribute to specific places, and hence as something that is actively reproduced in culture. She also considers the fact that, traditionally, there is a difference in how the sexes achieve status.

With her medals and lockets, Helle Bjerrum focuses on how we, in the context of jewellery, differentiate between men and women. She shows how we honour men and women differently for their achievements with either medals or lockets and how we thereby define the rules regarding how men and women should behave and what they should strive for: A medal for men, for their honourable, brave and bold deeds. A locket for women, for creating a safe family space. A locket to keep, for example, locks of hair and pictures of their husband and children. 

Form & Function

The link between form and function is a popular theme in Danish jewellery art. Kim Buck does not settle for practical or established functional solutions for his jewellery, instead he often finds a new way of creating things. When he reinvents the principles of functionality in a solitaire ring, it seems very effortless and at the same time almost like the result of a magic formula for the potential of a form that he invented in his alchemistic workshop. One is often left wondering how he managed to set a diamond in a certain way or how he managed to make a ring look ‘inflated’ like a beach ball.

At first glance, many of Karina Noyons’ pieces look classical with a graphic accent, but they may also seem flat and lifeless until the moment they are worn on the body: they are instantly brought to life and this clearly emphasises the relationship between the shape and the function of the jewellery on the one hand and between the shape and the movement of the body on the other. The tension of the metal or the elasticity of the rubber creates the illusion that Karina Noyons’ pieces float around the wrist, finger or head. She reinterprets the usual principles of functionality, as can be seen in the case of her cufflinks ”Loop de loop”, where the front face and the fastening mechanism are connected by a long red piece of elastic. Traditionally a cufflink’s fastening mechanism is hidden between the shirt cuffs. Karina Noyons, however, incorporates the functional elements into her jewellery, thus turning them into visible ornamentation set against an otherwise plain white background.

Alternative Materials

In the 1960s, Danish jewellery artists began to abandon the concept that value was the primary parameter in relation to jewellery. Alternative materials such as acrylic, rubber and paper began to gain ground, having their major breakthrough in Denmark in the 1980s. Anette Kræn, for example, uses horsehair as her signature material. She often dyed it and combined it in her designs with elements of oxidised silver, gold leaf and varnish. The flexibility of horsehair works beautifully with the movement of the body. Her jewellery is perfect for being worn around the neck or wrist.

Helle Løvig Espersen shares this understanding of how the soft, pliable body can work together with the flexible and organic shapes of jewellery. The jewellery’s shape and the part of the body on which it is worn are considered as a whole. Helle Løvig Espersen works like a sculptor and carves her way to creating the final form. For her ”Hjertering” (Heart Ring), she has replaced cold marble with a colourful pool ball. This ring s ows how she takes full advantage of the ball’s dimensions and colour. The heart appears at the top of the ring like a signet, a powerful symbol, and the lower part of the ring is soft and organic, evoking the feeling of the sensuous aspects of love.

Malene Kastalje has developed her own jewellery material, which she has experimented with for several years, resulting in intense and evocative jewellery narratives. The creative process between the artist, the work and the world is symbiotic. Malene Kastalje perceives the world through her senses, using an intuitive process to create her jewellery pieces, which in turn form a whole that merges with the world.

Tradition & Innovation

Danish jewellery art is founded on a tradition of superb craftsmanship, on the love of a simple and understated design vocabulary and on the clear and elegant forms and surfaces of silver. (V2/5) However, in contemporary Danish jewellery, we see a much more experimental approach in terms of techniques, design and choice of materials. The younger jewellery artists challenge convention. Why does silk beading thread have to be white and discreet instead of constituting a visible and decorative part of a classic pearl necklace? Does a rosette ring have to be made exclusively of precious stones?

Is less more or just a bore, is too much okay? With the ring ”MORE OR LESS|perfect # 11”, Annette Dam encourages us to reflect on our own individual preferences, instead of just choosing the same as everybody else and thereby trying to establish a consensus about what is good taste and what is not. Can’t the one thing be just as good as the other?

With the jewellery from this series, Annette Dam ironises both the qualities of classic jewellery and the notion of what jewellery is and can be. She challenges traditional values and ridicules both the snobbish demands made on design and the conventions relating to the use of precious materials. She replaces brooch pins with brace fasteners. Instead of adhering to stringent designs she comes up with unexpected compositions: the stone has been set in the ring in such a way that it is almost invisible. ’Too much’ thus opens up a whole new way of thinking.

Body & Jewellery

Jewellery is designed to interact with the body. This direct contact enables a better understanding of the jewellery while simultaneously stimulating our senses. We feel the cold and hard metal or the warm and soft materials against the skin. We may also experience limitations in our body’s freedom of movement or a piece of jewellery may cause memories to suddenly resurface in our consciousness. It may be difficult to sense and appreciate these qualities when jewellery is exhibited behind glass in a display case. This is why we have decided, within the scope of this exhibition, to portray some citizens of Cologne wearing jewellery from the Danish Arts Foundation’s collection.

For jewellery artists Margaret Bridgwater and Mette Saabye, the movement of the body has become a significant focal point, where body and jewellery form a symbiotic relationship. Light as feathers, the chiffon discs in Margaret Bridgwater’s piece “OOOIII…“ (2002) vibrate and dance when the body is set in motion.

Similarly, Mette Saabye alludes with the necklace “Dråber af dug“ (“Drops of dew“, 1996) to the sensation of a body in motion and of a body moving in the surrounding space. The oval mother-of-pearl discs act as lenses, partially hiding and distorting the underlying form, while simultaneously accentuating the shape of the body, accompanied by the crisp symphony of the moving discs. The more the body moves, the more beautiful the experience becomes.

Author: Mette Saabye, jewellery artist and curator, Copenhagen