Opening: Tuesday 13th January 2009
“I never work with the intention to decorate things or to make them look prettier. I try to discover the soul of an object or the essence of a photograph – I want to shape something new which appeals to me and to other people far beyond the optical appearance.”
Bettina Speckner opening crowd at Gallery Funaki, Melbourne
A very social crowd was in attendance for the opening of an exhibition by German jeweller Bettina Speckner at Gallery Funaki in Melbourne. The jewellery was certainly ravishingly made: refined, beautiful and with an elegance to most of the pieces. Interspersed between the jewellery were colour photographs of about A4 size that featured empty chairs, red benches, huts in the landscape and plants. These photographs seemed to have a very loose association to the form and imagery of the jewellery and were very minor photographs. I was not sure of their actual relevance to the pieces themselves.
Speckner uses a lot of imagery in her jewellery – tintype portraits from the Victorian era, grey etched images of gardens and vases studded with jewels and crystalline forms that have an almost solarized graphite feel to them and flowers, statues, pillars and cows etched into enamel. In these sites of intervention she seeks to make new worlds – inner/outer worlds that e-merge out of the material / worlds that are present and have ‘presence’.
The best work combines enamel, intaglio, jewels and photographic processes together. The art transcends the materials of each and coalesces in objects that transport the viewer - forming other associations, new insights into the condition of the object.
As the artist sees, this is not so much about the memories, cultural significance and semiotics embedded in the photograph but about making something new. For me this is where the problems lies.
Is it inevitable that there is a history and association present with these images or is the viewer culturally able to see them as new objects – in a postmodern sense?
It is almost as though Speckner does want these associations present between the jewellery and the images, why else put the colour photographs between the jewellery – or is this another example of her dissociative technique coming into play. Speckner seems to have purchased the memory of the object (which it still holds) but then wants to completely overwrite it – is this possible?
Personally I don’t think this is fully possible. While no ‘grand narrative’ is present in some of these images (some images seem to be so removed from their context that we will never be able to place them again) in other pieces the images overpower the art. The ‘trace’ of memory and identity, an entity for a split second before a camera, their unique state in this singular tintype, their actual presence and life not so easily destroyed!
When an artist seeks to justify work without fully understanding the cultural implications of the use of such images, even saying she seeks to find the soul of an object when the soul may already exist in another form, then in my eyes the work is unresolved, the vision uneven. Despite the beauty of the art, its refinement and great craftmanship there is something lacking at the heart of these works – perhaps a deeper understanding that the soul can reside in optical appearance, that less may be more and that transcendence is more than skin deep.
Exhibition dates: January 13 to February 7, 2009
4 Crossley St.,
03 9662 9446
Opening hours: Tues – Friday, 11 – 5pm, Sat 11 – 4pm