The UK’s National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford is 30km south of Lincoln, a cathedral town in the north of England. A show of contemporary jewellery there is an ambitious place to begin a touring exhibition, but the curator Professor Norman Cherry, inaugarated it’s opening with a deep and inspiring enthusiasm that has been long sought after for regional centres of contemporary culture. Transplantation has been launched in the top floor of this building, artist’s statements on plastic placards on the wall and the pieces laid out in glass topped cases, islands of jewellery in this whitewashed room.
What appears to be an important aspect is the temporary style of the exhibition, in which nothing is hung, sealed or installed. The foldable display cases and their wheeled chests, says Cherry, were purpose-built to echo 18th century British campaign furniture- portable, durable and internationally recognisable. This approach has allowed Transplantation to sew the thread of a global aesthetic wherever the exhibition tours.
The work that these cases carry are of a wide variety, but more importantly, it is a rich collage of artists work, giving voice to the personal content of their stories. Each jeweller has created work in accordance with his or her own narratives of transplantation, and the pieces come together in a show of distinct identity and statement. While the artists have a clear philosophical tie, that of the quest, migration and of cosmopolitanism, their work is vigourously independent, perhaps stemming from a twinned consideration of their geographic origins and of their distinctive creative practice.
The pieces are a challenge within the challenge of contemporary jewellery, which is that the particular experiment with the ‘narrative-object’, provokes us to depart from our understanding of both stories and the preciousness of the physical. Many of the pieces unfold with time and examination, instead of providing immediate impact. I left the exhibition a number of hours later with a sense of fondness for the obvious intimacy portrayed in the work. An important theme raised by Jivan Astfalck is that of Heimat, the rootedness and native location of your home. Her work, and that of others in the exhibition, displays the cultural origins of the artist, through the lens of a retrospective number of years. What is the view from these explorers? Each jeweller offers up a kind of lanscape seen from his or her destinations.
Yet these destinations from which they communicate their views are surprisingly nebulous. There is no fixed location from which each artist looks back at their origins; rather there are a number of flashpoints shown in the work that allow us to see the distance that they have travelled. Transplantation is not a show of nostalgic pessimism, or of the brutality of migration. Visitors to the exhibition will be relieved that the artists do not portray wistfulness or any partisan attachment to their past, in fact the immediacy and precision of their perception of the present day provokes a deeper understanding of nostalgia, a clarity and strength that shatters any idealism we are tempted to hold about our own past. The pieces are freshly assembled artefacts, pointing a new and powerful light on the shadowy history of migration, and re-calibrating the potential of the art-object to tell us a story that is truer and more believable than we have previously been exposed to in contemporary jewellery.