What is contemporary jewellery?

 

Next month Vittoria Street Gallery hosts 20:20 Visions, an exhibition showcasing the best contemporary jewellery from the last 20 years.

20:20 Visions, a touring exhibition curated by the Association for Contemporary Jewellery (ACJ), celebrates the organisation’s 20th anniversary.

Some of the best contemporary jewellery from the last twenty years will be exhibited alongside work by the most promising upcoming contemporary jewellers.

But what is contemporary jewellery? And what makes it different to other types of jewellery design?

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Rajesh Gogna ‘Architect #1’ 2013

Contemporary jewellery is an artistic practice

Contemporary jewellery, like any other form of art termed ‘contemporary,’ is very hard to define.

Unlike most movements of art and design throughout history, contemporary jewellery cannot be categorised based on appearance or the materials used. As shown by 20:20 Visions, pieces of contemporary jewellery range greatly in their appearance.

Instead, it seems more applicable to describe contemporary jewellery as a practice, or a specific approach to making jewellery.

This approach takes into consideration more than just the appearance of the final product. A whole range of other concerns, such as social context and materiality, all inform the development of a piece.

A design is the result of many factors coming together including aesthetic considerations, relevant themes and suitable materials. These concerns all contribute to the variety present in contemporary jewellery.

Contemporary jewellery and materials

Materiality is an important aspect of contemporary jewellery. No longer are jewellers confined to use precious metals and stones but are encouraged to use other materials. These materials reflect the wider concerns of the jeweller and the desired outcome.

The flexible approach to materials reflects a trend that has occurred in all branches of contemporary art. Contemporary artists, jewellers, designers, musicians and actors are no longer restricted to a certain medium but use an array of materials.

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Libby Ward, ‘Made in the Middle’ exhibition photo

Contemporary jewellery and the contemporary arts

The joy of the contemporary arts is that the boundaries between the different branches of art are blurred – many of the pieces on show at Vittoria Street Gallery could as easily be part of a sculpture exhibition, a fashion show or performance as they could an exhibition of jewellery.

However, there are a few distinct characteristics that separate the work in 20:20 Visions from other forms of contemporary practice.

Though it does not need to appeal to a consumer audience, a piece of contemporary jewellery should be wearable (in some way) and take account of the human body.

Also, contemporary jewellery is part of a long history of jewellery making and has to consider its place in this lineage. Many contemporary jewellers are inspired by the history of jewellery making and design.

The development of a piece of contemporary jewellery is the result of a contemporary approach to making. It considers the appearance of a work, its material and style, in relation to broader themes and the world in which we live.

A Year in Review

 

As the 16-17 season draws to a close we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to look back at some of the highlights from the past year.

Parkside Gallery’s fourth season was a celebration of culture and design in the midlands as exhibitions explored the region’s central role in British culture.

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Michael Balcon: Birmingham’s Film Knight

The season started with Sir Michael Balcon: Birmingham’s Film Knight, curated by Roger Shannon, which celebrated one of the city’s biggest contributions to British cinema. Through black and white photos and posters from cinema’s golden era, the exhibition took the audience on a journey through Balcon’s life and his outstanding contribution to film making.

Richard Snell’s Midlands Modern followed, showcasing some of the most striking modern products designed and manufactured in the region.

This was beautifully complimented by Craftspace’s Made in the Middle which came to Parkside Gallery in March. Made in the Middle showcased the best contemporary craft being produced in the Midlands and introduced audiences to a whole spectrum of craft-based art.

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Cabinets of Costume

Cabinets of Costume continued our Midland craft theme. One of our most ambitious projects to date, Cabinets of Costume immersed audiences into a world of theatre and costume.

All Because of You bought some Northern Soul to the gallery as curator Sarah Raine explored the relationship between the pop movement and Birmingham through photographs and iconic memorabilia.

Later in the season, curator Theodora Pangos intrigued audiences with her archival exhibition, Cold Type: Paste-Up Graphics, which gave narrative to the decline of manual printing processes.

While Parkside Gallery was celebrating craft, art and culture from the last century, over at the School of Jewellery they were looking towards the future.

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Vittoria Street Gallery

Vittoria Street Gallery opened in November 2016: a space at the School of Jewellery dedicated to exhibiting the best of contemporary jewellery. Its first exhibition, In the Loupe, was recognised nationally and Vittoria Street Gallery has become one of the most recognisable contemporary jewellery galleries in the UK.

With increasingly ambitious exhibitions, the 16-17 season has been one of our most successful years to date.

The 17-18 season promises to be busy and challenging as we host seven unique exhibitions. With a packed programme of exhibitions, events, talks, performances and screenings we are excited for our biggest year yet.

Brummagem: Lost City Found

Work placement student Isabella Shannon from Swanshurst School takes a look at Brummagem and Birmingham’s modernist heritage.

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Birmingham is known to be an industrial, well-built city. With the fast decline of modernist architecture, Birmingham’s landscape is always changing. Brummagem: Lost City Found provides a personal reflection of Birmingham’s architecture over 20 years. The show, exploring the significance of Birmingham’s distinct and abundant architectural landscape, will take place at Birmingham City University’s Parkside Gallery between September 18 and October 27.

A reflection on modern day styles and architectural trends

Professor Andrew Kulman and Sara Kulman provide an insightful look into the way that Birmingham briskly reinvents and adapts itself to modern day styles and architectural trends. Professor Kulman’s work shows key parts of the inner ring road, such as Masshouse Circus, Holloway Circus and Paradise Circus through illustration.

Well-known structures in Birmingham, such as the New Street Signal Box, the Gravelly Hill Interchange and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, will be presented through Sara Kulman’s engineering of paper outcomes. The exhibition encourages the city’s visitors and West Midlands citizens to question how Birmingham has evolved with the abatement of modernism.

Matching current trends through reinvention or demolition

Throughout the 1960s and 70s the architecture in Birmingham changed with the arrival of modernism and the pioneering architect John Madin. He introduced, what many considered as the “ugly” style of buildings to the city. Madin designed the old central library, which was described by Prince Charles as “looking more like a place for burning books, than keeping them“. In more recent years, there have been campaigns by champions of modernism to get the building recognised as an important component that defines the city, however this was to no avail and the library has since been demolished. This is representative of a pattern whereby modernist buildings are being reinvented or demolished to match the current architectural trends of big cities around the nation and the world.

Should we be protecting our modernist heritage? We look at Birmingham’s modernist buildings past and present:

Birmingham Conservatoire/ Adrian Bolt Hall

AdriAN Bolt Hall edit

Birmingham Conservatoire was part of the complex in Paradise Circus. It contains the Adrian Bolt Hall, which has an auditorium seating 525 people.

New Street signal box (existing)

News Street Signal Box edit

This building housed all rail operations for the station. The corrugated concrete is not everyone’s favourite design, but was home of one of the city’s most vital infrastructure systems, operating the busiest rail interchange in the UK.

Pebble Mill Studios

Pebble Mill Studios edit

Pebble Mill opened in 1971, and was eventually closed when the BBC moved to the city centre.

Post and Mail building

Post and Mail Building edit

The building was designed by John Madin in 1960, and had newspaper production and printing facilities.

The Central Library

The Central Library edit

The library was originally going to be finished off with marble, but the funds fell through and it had to be finish it with concrete. The architect John Madin was commissioned to design it.

The Chamber of Commerce (existing)

The Chamber of Commerce Building edit

The Chamber of Commerce was the first tall office built in Birmingham. John Madin was comissioned to design it.

The Old Natwest Building (Existing)

The Old Natwest Building edit

103 Colmore Row was designed by John Madin. The building has been vacant since 2003 and will be demolished soon.

The original Bullring

The original Bullring edit

The Bullring was completed in 1964, it was a striking modernist building, with a concrete façade and complex pedestrian access routes. The Bullring, along with other buildings, gave Birmingham the image of a “grey concrete jungle”.

The Rotunda (existing)

The Rotunda edit

The Rotunda was supposed to have a cinema and restaurant but the plans didn’t go through. It was opened in 1965. It is now occupied with a series of apartments.

 

Cold Type: The Years of Paste-up Graphics

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In today’s age, many graphic designs are made via computer software, like Photoshop, but before we had all of our fast and forward thinking programs, designs were made by hand and machine. Cold Type: the Years of Paste-Up Graphics is an exhibition that highlights the ways that graphic designs were created before our modern-day technologies. Theodora Pangos hopes to bring the knowledge of the craftsmanship to the public by presenting original objects that are now only seen represented virtually on a digital desktop.

The exhibition will explore printing techniques from the 1960s through to the 1980s. It will showcase a collection of cold type tools that were used to make a comprehensive design (initial page layout) and mechanicals. There is also a selection of artefacts to represent the designs made, including pre-computer graphic communication books and manuals, posters and original paste-ups. These examples show the artistry and expertise that is needed to develop prints, as well as the craftsmanship that went into creating them.

This exhibition aims to share academic and practical knowledge of production processes with the public to show the advancement of the graphic field. By delving into the tools of the trade from the mid-twentieth century, the show highlights the evolution from traditional to contemporary tools.

Get an insight into the development of the show directly from curator Theodora Pangos:

Q&A

  • Can you tell me a little about your background?

I am originally from Cyprus, I moved to England 6 years ago and did a BA in VisCom. After my BA I worked as a project manager at the agency with university. Now I am doing my MA in Arts and Design disciplinary practices at Margaret Street. The exhibition is part of my final project.

  • What interests you about the old style of printing?

Whilst researching for my BA dissertation I came across an article that was about the old style of printing and their tools. I was fascinated by the idea of making the prints by hand, because I didn’t really think about how there weren’t computers in the past.

  • What inspired you to make this exhibition?

I was intrigued about how graphic designers were working before computers and the article I found interested me about the different techniques. Graphic designers were actually doing one layout, rather than like 3 or 4 to show their clients. It’s easier now.

  • What can visitors of the gallery expect from your exhibition?

They can expect to gain information, to learn what graphic designers were working with before modern technologies. It is also for the older generations to feel nostalgic about the old ways of printing.

  • How has your time at BCU been? Is it a good place to work as a graphic designer?

I have met loads of people here, through the agency and the MA, I have also collaborated with loads of people. The facilities here are great and it is a good working environment. I have printed most things for the exhibition in the university. I really like being here, because of all the people and facilities.

  • What are your plans after the exhibition has finished? Are you thinking of moving it to another city?

I would like to combine graphic design and exhibition design. I’m planning on applying for Museum jobs, ones that involve setting up visuals for exhibitions.

  • Is there a certain collectors market for the artefacts and machines you have collected?

There are some blogs around these types of tools, so I spoke to some people that are part of the community of graphic designers, I have befriended some of the sellers as well, they helped me get the content for the exhibition. They have also given me more of a background for the exhibition. The tutors that work at BCU have helped as well. The artefacts are usually cheap because no one wants them and they’re vintage.

  • How has the old style of printing affected your own work?

Before, I was doing things by hand still, but I have realised the potential of the work I can do as I can use the objects I have bought. In the future I want to try and be craftier and design less on the computers.

  • How would you describe your exhibition in three words?

Nostalgic, creative and educational.

Written by Isabella Shannon, student at Swanshurst School.

A look back: ADM One Year On

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‘ADM One Year On’ formed part of Birmingham City University’s annual Inspired Festival celebrations. The exhibition complemented this by highlighting the achievements of graduates from Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Arts Design and Media class of 2016.

Diversity and innovation within the arts

Set against a backdrop of current cohort Graduate Shows spanning across a number of University sites between Monday 12 and Saturday 24 June, the Parkside Gallery exhibition celebrated diversity and innovation within the arts.

Showcasing professional outcomes

The artefacts reflected a small selection of alumni work showcasing professional outcomes throughout the past year in areas such as media, architecture, fashion, textiles, acting and more.

Upcoming costume exhibition to place Birmingham ‘on an international stage’

Cabinets of Costume

Cabinets of Costume

‘Cabinets of Costume’ has been curated by Louise Chapman, Pathway Leader and Lecturer in BA (Hons) Design for Performance, who has been supported by co-curator and BA (Hons) Jewellery and Objects Course Director Zoe Robertson.

The exhibition, running from May 9 until June 2, will showcase the BIAD Archive focusing on costumes within the institution since the 1880s, featuring work form alumni over the last 90 years.

Combining fashion and theatre

Fashion and theatre design will be combined to introduce the historical and contemporary context of costume to audiences including students, staff across the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, the wider University research community and the general public.

The exhibition also includes the ‘Culture of Costume Conference’, which is scheduled to take place between May 10 and 14.

Exhibition themes

The overarching theme of the conference is costume as it relates, responds to and influences culture. This will include themes exploring areas such as costume and material culture, costume adornment and costume archiving, as well as many more. Louise Chapman said:

“With costume as an emerging area of research, the exhibition offers the opportunity to place Birmingham as a significant contributor on an international stage. In contrast to the preconceived ways of exhibition costume, we propose to offer a fun, interactive approach to encourage greater engagement from a broader audience.”

Keep up to date with Parkside Gallery’s social media accounts and official blog for more information.

A look back at ‘All Because of You: Northern Soul Portraits’

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Parkside Gallery hosted ‘All Because of You: Northern Soul Portraits’ between 27 January and 24 February.

The exhibition explored and documented young ‘Northern Soulies’ in Birmingham and the Midlands through the work of Birmingham-based independent photographer Bethany Kane and Sarah Raine, Researcher for the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research.

MAC Birmingham

Having enjoyed a successful stay at Parkside Gallery, documenting Birmingham and the West Midlands’s underground Northern Soul scene through what Raine describes as a “curated collection of photographs, audio, memorabilia and scene insider accounts.”, the show is now scheduled to be exhibited at MAC Birmingham. This comes as a result of the Geoff Sims inaugural bursary being awarded to Bethany Kane.

Social media snapshot

Take a look at some of the key moments throughout ‘All Because of You: Northern Soul Portraits’ at Parkside Gallery:

Brum Notes Magazine (@BrumNotesMag)

“We’re at the launch for All Because of You ‪@ParksideGallery, a superb new exhibition documenting young Northern Soulies ‪#allbecauseofns

Night Owl (@nightowlbham)

“Fantastic turn out at ‪#allbecauseofns exhibition big congrats to Sarah & Beth & thanks for ‪#nightowl shoutouts ‪#northernsoul ‪#subcultures

MAC Birmingham (@mac_birmingham)

“Great exh at Parkside Gallery & great soul soundtrack ‪#allbecauseofNS –  well done Bethany! MSp”

Jenny Wilkes (@BillyQuiet)

Mingling with the in crowd ‪@AllBecauseOfNS launch. ‪@SarahRaineBCU #allbecauseofns

All Because of NS (@AllBecauseOfNS)

“We are loving ‪@ParksideGallery countdown for ‪#allbecauseofns ‪#northernsoul ‪#Soul ‪#soulmusic

Jacqueline Taylor (@JaxterT)

Exciting to see ‪#allbecauseofns by ‪@SarahRaineBCU and ‪@bethany_kane coming together ‪@ParksideGallery. Opens on 27th Jan!

Visit Bethany Kane’s official website to find out more about ‘All Because of You: Northern Soul Portraits’.