This isn’t too much to do with my art practice, but it’s been something I’ve been thinking about. I’ve written and researched a great deal about the male relatives on my dad’s side of the family due to their eccentric characters and connections to the esoteric. After a death in my partner’s family I started thinking a lot about the women on my mum’s side. My mum’s matriarchal line have had to be very strong and resilient going back many generations due to the fact that they all lost their husbands at a young age and were left to support their families and bring up the children on their own. Often other women in the family were that most shameful of things – spinsters – so households were entirely female led and supported. My mum’s family are all from Forfar, near Dundee in eastern Scotland. When my Great Grandfather died I believe my Great Grandmother ended up working in the Forfar jute mill which was a huge employer for the town.
Great, great grandfather David Falconer the blacksmith and Great great grandmother Margaret Falconer
The Falconer sisters: Jean, my great grandmother Majorie and Nell
When I hear some extolling the virtues of the ‘traditional family’ where the women stay home, uneducated, to care for the children I wonder what world they are living in. This has never been a practical model, bread-winning men have always died leaving women to support their families, and in the past they have usually fallen into poverty at some level due to having little in the way of vocational skills.
I wear three rings on my left ring finger; my wedding ring (in the centre), my grandmother’s ring and my great grandmother’s ring. On the left is me as a little ginger with my granny Margaret. On the right is my granny as a girl, one of her brothers (David) and my great grandmother Majorie Cowie (nee Falconer).
Comparing the photo of Majorie with her sisters before her marriage and then after her husbands death it’s pretty obvious how much less well-off she is. Her clothing and that of the kids is worn and patched even though it must be their ‘best’, her hair isn’t styled and the only jewelry she has is her ring.
I’ve found it difficult to find out information about the women in my family due to the fact that women were very rarely recorded as being of any worth except as mothers to the next generation of sons. In respect to my mum’s family this is particularly frustrating as it was the women who held the families together.
Anita and I visited the Auckland Art Gallery this afternoon to view the Wunderruma jewellery show. It was more exciting than I expected as the curators had chosen to explore the concept of jewellery in many interesting ways. Not only did we see many decorative, wearable pieces but they also provided examples of jewellery in and as image, jewellery as sculpture, as installation and as artefact.
I was particularly thrilled to see one of Mikala Dwyer’s necklace installations as I had been looking at pictures of them today in relation to the language of things. Mikala Dwyer, Methylated Spiritual (2012) photo taken at Auckland City Art Gallery
Speaking of heterogeneous object collections there were several I saw in the exhibition. This one is a collection from the Randell Family cottage, discovered in a small hole behind the chimney.
Obviously someones little stash of magical objects!
Hany Armanious, Turns in Arabba (2005) Photo taken at Auckland City Art Gallery
This Hany Armanious work has a fascinating collection of objects presented on an altar-like shelf and in various stages of creation and transformation. This work had me pondering around how it expressed the jewellery theme of the exhibition. Was it the casting of the objects? Their decorative shapes and method of display? The way they ornament their altar/shelves? The sound added an extra dimension to the work by seeming to fill the negative space around and between the objects.
Another thing of note was the very unusual display strategy of stacked perspex cubes for the smaller pieces. At some points I felt it didn’t work as the small items on the lower cubes got a bit lost and I don’t think it works to force a viewer to bend over uncomfortably when the intent is display rather than as a function of the artwork. But overall I found the display strategy engaging and interesting, it also allowed for the viewing of many small objects without breaking up the gallery spaces with standardised, waist level display tables.
This exhibition appealed to me in particular because of my own interest in jewellery. I found that it opened up my ideas around jewellery and it’s possibilities in my art practice. The wide variety of objects and images allowed me to see the concept of ‘jewellery’ in more than just decorative of wearable terms, but also objects that can be brought into installation or sculptural conversations.