GemGenève presents 'The Designer Vivarium' curated by Vivienne Becker

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GemGenève presents 'The Designer Vivarium' curated by Vivienne Becker
For this edition of GemGenčve, explains Vivienne Becker, the Designer Vivarium demonstrates the immense creative freedom of today’s jewellery world.



GENEVA.- This May, the Designer Vivarium returns to GemGenčve, with five international contemporary designers, four of whom are entirely new to the Vivarium, showcasing their work here at GemGenčve for the first time. As always, the Designer Vivarium is curated by jewellery historian, Vivienne Becker, who scours the globe for fresh, creative talent, searching for independent, individual under-the-radar designer jewellers, artists and goldsmiths, with something original to say in their jewellery. As ever, she looks for a strong, singular creative vision, for intense individuality, and sophistication of craftsmanship.

For this edition of GemGenčve, explains Vivienne Becker, the Designer Vivarium demonstrates the immense creative freedom of today’s jewellery world, the variety and versatility, depth and breadth of themes, inspirations and expressions, and ingenuity of materials and craftsmanship: styles range from dreamy romantic storytelling visions of the natural world, paying subtle homage to the past, through to graphic modernism and striking a re-invention of today’s indispensable technology, with sustainability in mind.

Natasha Wightman unveils her first NVW collection here at the Designer Vivarium at GemGenčve. A British artist-jeweller, she has turned to jewellery to tell stories that enthral her: stories of the unexpected, depicting British wildlife, especially the mystical raven, as well as wilderness, folklore, and ancient lands. Central to her work is her impassioned commitment to seeking out, re-invigorating and preserving traditional craft skills. All her work is intricately, meticulous hand-made by highly specialised British craftspeople. For her inaugural collection, she has focused on the art of hand-carving: on aeons-old organic materials, including jet and wild moorland boxwood, and on romantic, beautifully detailed and emotive depictions of her beloved ravens. She tells how the raven has held a special place in her heart since she was given the opportunity to rear and rewild two of these powerful, majestic birds on her land in Sussex. (See separate artist statement). Each of the jewels is a miniature sculptural masterwork of exquisitely refined details of the bird’s feathers and features, mounted into elegant, one-of-a- kind jewels by skilled goldsmiths, working in precious metals and gemstones, often antique gems or old-cuts. As Natasha will reveal at GemGenčve for the first time, the collection comprises necklaces, including a multi-layered collar alive with birds in flight, a brooch conjured around an antique enamel flower brooch, and a hair ornament, mounted en tremblant. Each NVW is layered with tales, myths, meanings and messages, all intricately interwoven with her choice of materials and their provenance, with age-old hand-skills. The final layer, Natasha explains, comes from the stories of the strong, independent, creative women who wear her jewels.

“The precious moments I spent with these uniquely masterful birds had a profound influence on me and they now form the central expression of my debut collection, their untameable wildness feeding into each finely crafted art piece.” Natasha Wightman

Leen Heyne is a Dutch goldsmith and jeweller whose conceptual jewels, as he explains, unlock the natural forces embedded in the precious materials that are his guiding inspiration. Both minimal and sensual, serene and strong, powerful and elegant, his work is defined by the dynamic, flowing movement of these natural forces, suggestive of continual growth, the earth’s electromagnetic energy, inherent in precious metals, and gems. A graduate of the Academy for Gold and Silversmithing in Schoonhaven, Leen works in his studio in Tilburg, north of Eindhoven, in the province of Brabant. He starts with a single strip of metal, pre-sanded, which he hand-models, shapes, twists, bends, and loops, allowing the metal to dictate its design, using manual dexterity to turn force and strength into silky fluidity. Once shaped, the ring is left untouched, retaining the integrity, authenticity and earthiness of the metal. Diamonds are introduced as the metal is shaped, never afterwards, and are never set with claws or prongs but instead held in place, as if by magic, or as he describes it, caught in a metallurgic dance of tension. While not directly influenced by the natural world, through their abstraction, Leen Heyne jewels harness the power and complexity of organic forms. Most of all they stimulate the imagination, conjuring images and suggesting associations, such as exposed tree roots tangled around a rock, always encapsulating the unstoppable forces of nature, the life force. At GemGenčve, Leen unveils a series of new creations, centred on his experimental work in steel and showcased here for the first time. He explains how he was drawn to the oxidised darkness of the metal, and after some exploration and experimentation found that steel allowed him to make smaller, more precise twists and turns, and to taper the metal thread which, he says, produced an animal-like impression. Added to this, the hardness of steel enabled and strengthened the tension setting of the stones.




“I draw my inspiration from the character of the material, paying careful attention to the form it wants to take, following its nature. I consider myself more of a conductor than a designer. I merely guide the material and help to finalise its own shape.” Leen Heyne

Designer-jeweller Lia Lam launched her brand just over a year ago with four carefully-considered collections, Beam, Lagom, Unity and Passepartout, each based on a concept, story, and emotional experience, distilled to pure, powerful form. Now London-based, Lia has lived all around the world, and studied law and innovation in the UK and Netherlands before embarking on a career in the legal tech industry. She explains how she had long been captivated by jewellery and for some three years, from 2016, taught herself as much as possible, learning at the bench at the Goldsmiths’ Centre in London, training in goldsmithing and wax modelling in Rome, and studying jewellery history and savoir faire in Paris. Lia’s style is resolutely modernist, graphic and architectural, influenced by Bauhaus, Brutalism and Modernism, yet this rigorous minimalism is underpinned by emotional depth and meaning; Lia is on a mission to redefine and contemporise traditional messages of love, commitment and celebration. A keen dancer, she also infuses her jewels with a rhythmic sense of togetherness and synchronicity and a harmony of partnership, also drawing on dance in her details and composition. As she explains, behind the effortless ease and grace of dance lies discipline, dedication and sharp focus, each minute movement of the body executed with precision and purpose. Lia works predominantly in 18 carat gold and diamonds, with some platinum, revelling in the weight and tactility of gold, elevating the metal from a supporting role to a vital, integral element of the design and concept. All the jewels are hand-made in London. The first design in her Beam collection, the 100% ring, has already attracted huge attention. A reinterpretation of the classic Toi et Moi ring, its modern message is “Go all-in on life” and make a 100% commitment to following your dreams – as Lia Lam has done.

“A desire to forge my own path drives everything I do. Every piece in my collection has a reason for being, a message expressed in the simplest and most poetic form. The spirit of my work lies in reducing my concepts to their very essence. Because in that essence is its power.” Lia Lam

Oushaba was launched earlier this year, the brainchild of a trio of friends, art lovers and collectors including Gillian Carr who is now Managing Director. They describe their brand as a sustainable art and design house that breathes new life into forgotten materials, and their jewellery as wearable art showcasing artisanal craft skills and techniques. Their founding concept of sustainability and circularity is encompassed in their innovative debut collection, Connection Salvaged. The collection explores the connectivity of today’s technology and its relationship with the precious resources that are its vital components and yet discarded as part of technology’s built-in obsolescence. The jewels are composed of fragments of electronic waste – mobile phone circuit boards, charging cables, USB sticks and plugs – set in recycled 22 carat gold, 18 carat white gold and silver, and accented with sustainably sourced diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires. The rings, necklaces, earrings, cuffs and cufflinks, each one- of-a-kind, made to order as limited editions, have the look of found treasure; objets trouvés; wondrous unearthed antiquities; futuristic fragments of the past. The name Oushaba comes from the Arabic word for ‘alloy’, symbolising a cultural melting pot of ideas and influences. It references the fusion of past, present and future, modernity and antiquity, technology and age-old hand-craftsmanship, the mix of materials and global inspirations. The jewels are all hand-crafted by goldsmiths in Sicily, using techniques such as lost-wax casting that have been handed down and refined through generations. The goldwork, with its brushed and textured surface, has a rich, luscious, hand-hammered finish, showing the hand of the artisan. The pieces are purposefully reminiscent of ancient jewels to contrast with the humble, mundane, modern technological materials and e-waste. This in turn is meant to challenge our preconceptions of preciousness. Every jewel is packaged in a bespoke box crafted from sustainable or reclaimed timber and lined with recycled fabric and cork made in collaboration with London-based furniture maker Jan Hendzel Studio. A percentage of the profits from each sale will be donated to a charitable cause.

“One of our driving principles is to see the extraordinary with the ordinary. During the 2020 lockdown, when Oushaba was being envisaged, we relied on technology to keep us connected to our loved ones. There are many beautiful elements found within electronics, including gold, but also jewel-like colours and interesting details of circuitry and electrical components. We wanted to challenge people’s ideas about a material that is considered as waste.”

Born in St. Petersburg but now living and working in Moscow, Elena Okutova studied Artistic Metalworking at Moscow’s State University and established her own brand together with her mother Irina in 2009. Her work is deeply rooted in Russian traditions of artistry and craftsmanship and the use of enamels and coloured gemstones, as well as in Russian folktales and fables. She thus taps into the Russian ritual of elaborate oral storytelling, so often linked to the forces of nature and handed down through generations. She creates both one-of-a-kind, bespoke jewels and limited series of designs, in different colourways of enamel. Each creation revolves around a complex narrative inspired by medievalism, stories of knights and chivalry, fairy tales and fantastical mythology, matched by the complexity of technique and intricacy of ornamentation. Each jewel is hand modelled in wax and crafted using multiple processes including engraving, enamelling and gem-setting. Alongside Elena’s favourite medieval and Renaissance richness the storytelling themes are drawn from a wide, eclectic range of sources: Byzantine, Orientalist, and modern European, from Chinese lacquer art to the African savannah, from the poignant beauty of ephemeral, fading nature to twentieth-century architecture and the flamboyant, jewel- and art-adoring personality of Peggy Guggenheim. This May, Elena will showcase her newest creations, including a two-finger peony ring, lusciously modelled and gem-set, and – adding a new reference to her repertoire – a ‘flip’ ring inspired by Murano glass beads.

“Each artist has his or her own style, a cast of impressions about the world. It is very subjective and, as a rule, has roots - it is collected right from early childhood. Then at some period it is compacted, corrected, and overgrown with new details. This vision, and the characteristic construction of objects will show through all the decoration and recall the origin and maker of the memory. I create space for a miracle.” Elena Okutova










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