Report of Lectures Day 1


‘This library has stood for over 200 years, through two revolutions and the Mexican Civil War’- a man with orange tinted aviator sunglasses announces to a packed auditorium. Thus I imagine we are in safe hands for the moment.

The opening ceremony of the Area Gris International Jewellers Conference has been blessed with a buzzing sense of anticipation and fervour, as if there was a revolution of another kind brewing within Aztec style masonry. Waking up to Mexico City’s petroleum laced air is seldom a refreshing experience, but 10 AM at the Biblioteca de Mexico played host to a carnival of enthusiastic introductions, greetings and a few ecstatic reconciliations. The organisers who are among friends and colleagues appear to have devoted themselves religiously to the smooth running of this symposium.

Once the room is filled, we are welcomed and thanked by Valeria who appears to be steering this ocean liner of cultural co-operation ‘We want to establish links between developing areas’ she tells us. Her associate honours the guests by announcing this event ‘the most ambitious project yet’.


We begin a series of informative talks revolving around the open theme ‘What does it mean to us? Jewellery, Identity and Communication’. Manon van Kouswijk of the Rietvald Academy, Amsterdam starts with a lecture entitled ‘Grey Matter: No Brain No Gain’. She speaks seriously of childhood streaked with grey of all kinds. As head of the Jewellery department for three years, she poses many questions to the international audience. ‘What can Europe contribute to the world of contemporary jewellery?’ strikes at the heart of her concern that jewellers seems to be content with satisfaction and safety inside their own ‘bubble’. With this, she reminds us that jewellery is often more like ‘The Hunt for Treasures’ and asks us if a wider audience can be reached without a compromise of any kind. With suitable aplomb, Van Kouswijk closes the presentation with a poetic gesture- ‘Jewellery can fly all over the world’


As Caroline Broadhead of Central St. Martins College, London steps to the stage, one wonders how many Latin American delegates would have expected a presentation of such a British calibre. Yet we are offered a truly tropical display of images. Jewellery, technology, visual and performance art all point towards profoundly philosophical question; one of visual interaction. Briefly reminding us of children’s games that refine our ways of seeing the world and showing a simple piece of magenta optical art which once viewed, creates a green ‘jewel’ on another’s body, we are invited to expand our current ways of perception, beyond obvious aesthetics. Broadhead makes an ambitious link between Jewellery and sight in the etymology of the word ‘mask’, from the Greek meaning an amulet to protect against evil. In a city where the blind appear on the streets more frequently than in many European countries, she offers us a bold discourse on the value of looking from many points of view.

Dr. Clemencia Plazas of Colombia National University informs us on the geography and history of metallurgy in Latin America, with a special emphasis on precious metals. Not surprising as a former director of the Gold Museum, Bogotá, she offers us a wealth of information on silver but mainly gold. This, she tells us was prized by pre-Colombian civilisations because of its likeness to the sun, which they worshipped as a prime example of balance and cycle. Their gold medallions are described by historians as an ‘expression of vacuum’ and portrayed vibration in the metalwork of the pieces. With a nod to the previous speaker, she shows us examples of Optical Art dating to the 8th century AD, perhaps hinting that many contemporary attempts at such art are echoes of the achievements of conquered civilisations. Ending on a light note and reminding of alternative locations for jewellery, Plazas has saved the best for last. Golden ornamental coverings, like abstract drinking horns, for male genitals once served to symbolise hierarchy and social position. Similar looking breast coverings appear to be property of Madonna, except they were found in the Sinu region of North Colombia, from 300AD. However, as the pieces appear closer thematically to notions of childbirth, we are reminded of the immortal significance of life and death in jewellery.

Ramón Puig Cuyas, head of the jewellery department at the Escola Massana, opens his talk on the use and meaning of Materials for Different Cultures by quoting Sophocles on the purity of the material. He describes jewellery as a cultural phenomenon, the language of which is loaded with magical symbolic properties- and a link to survival. He further suggests that as far back as 70,000 years ago, Jewellery would not have stood just as a symbol of power; an artist makes an investigation into the order of the world, conveying discoveries the viewer. Finally he mentions that the modern jeweller breaks so many rules in their creative practice that identity in the work is hard to find, yet it is often composed of different emotions.

Clemencia Plazas’ second talk was centred on more spiritual aspects of the Pre-Colombian passion for gold. The nature of opposites and cycles, she tells us, contributes to their sense of universal balance. We are shown images where gold and silver are placed together equally, where gold is plated by silver and of the metals’ use to secure a route to the afterlife. Revealing to us that they worked in also in platinum and red gold, she closes by making a marked distinction between two regions of Latin America: one which worked with the metals in solid state, and one which worked with them in molten form. Plazas has supplied us with an important grounding in the ancient history of Latin American jewellery with hint of insight into its stylistic relevance today.

The final talk is given by Dr. Damien Skinner, art historian and freelance curator from New Zealand. His presentation concerns a single piece of highly significant jewellery by Warwick Freeman- the ‘Tiki Face’, a brooch that has obvious tribal links but with a simultaneous sense of contemporariety. He explains with clarity of international intent the history behind the culture of the native Mali people of New Zealand. Their ‘Hei Tiki’ figurines which, like some of the Aztec idols, come with significant spiritual power are made of jade, a material of a ‘problematic’ nature because of the historic colonial conflicts behind it. Skinner goes on to relate a part of 20th century NZ jewellery history when pieces were made entirely out of bone, stone and shell as part of a rejection of European jewellery standards. Nonetheless, we are left with a sense that Skinner is an ambassador from a country where old and new, visitor and host are continually learning to cohabit. Perhaps his approach will become a hallmark of future contemporary jewellery, where collaboration across cultural and national boundaries will become standard practice.


Gray Area Inaugural Event

Ex Teresa Arte Actual





Images of the exhibitions Ultrabarroco (Benjamin Lignel & Alex Burke, Estela Saez & Eugenia Martinez, Cristina Filipe &Heleno Bernardi) and DesCubierta (Raquel Paiewonsky & Catherine Broadhead)

Report of Lectures Day 2

Tuesdays proceedings begin with the first of 6 artist presentations. Ruudt Peters, the man who holds a sceptre of contemporary jewellery, begins with his personal artistic history. Born on the family ‘beauty farm’, he hints at religious upbringing being linked to a deep interest in alchemy. The legend of turning lead into gold, he proposed, is a metaphor for personal, spiritual transformation and development. Taking this further, Peters’ artistic curiosity holds a consistently personal progressive nature that has led him to Bangkok, a suitably named city for work on fertility symbols, and to knotted prayer flags in Tibet, he describes as ‘beautiful’. His most recent displayed work is the silver castings of water cooled wax, stemming from his attempts at blind drawing through meditation. A mindfully abstract result exhibiting natural beauty appears to have been his motive, whether conscious or not. His playful yet passionate practice is summed up in a final quotation he has found from Augustin of Hippo, the Roman Scholar- ‘If you grasp at things too seriously, then the beauty retreats’ Ending his presentation to genuinely enthusiastic whistles and applause, it is clear to see Peters boisterous persona has established a connection and understanding with members of the Latin American audience.


Following that, the videoconference by Monica Gaspar of Gaspar went as smoothly as modern technology would allow. She praises the efforts and aims of the symposium, modestly stating that the European world of jewellery sometimes doesn’t know enough about the work of Latin America but earnestly describes it as a ‘sphere of shared interests’. Also, she is keen to share her knowledge of European exhibitions, especially ‘Schmuck’, with the audience. In comparing the profession to a shaman or mystic, Gaspar also touches on a theme that seems to be reappearing within the walls of the symposium and that the work of a jeweller points toward ‘an impossible type of jewel’.


In her Artist Presentation, Manon Von Kauswijk gives us a brief overview of the progress she has made so far in contemporary jewellery. In having trained at a traditional silversmithing school in Roothoven, The Netherlands, Von Kauswijk quickly tells us she only took the technical aspects away from that particular institution. However during a visit to Kathmandu, she describes the discovery of a tradition that fitted with her interest in beads: a painted bird with beads in beak on the walls of houses to serve as a reminder of hospitality and trust. Later work with pearls shows a continuation of this interest and a move towards themes of classification and collection, comparing childrens shell collections with that of a natural science museum. Her exploration of the relationship between people and objects is apparent in this work. She ends her presentation with words of inspiration for true collectors- ‘Objects are there, it’s up to you whether you discover them or not’.

Jorge Manilla and Martha Hryc perform their dual presentation with equal passion to the previous speaker. To begin with, Hryc paints a fascinatingly depressing picture of life in Poland, prompting equally moving philosophical statements. She compares the artist to a prostitute and quotes Jean Paul Sartre on humans only living through the perceptions of others. This appears to explain the interpersonal nature of her work. She has made a migration of identity, overcoming boundaries of nation and culture, stating that our similarities predominate our differences. Jorge Manilla finds juxtaposition between his art practice and the notions of therapy, as if his passion for jewellery is a ‘fixation or addiction’. Born in Mexico City, he speaks of the tragedy of seeing children sleeping on the street, linking the suffering of the population to religious themes, the churches icon of the ‘blind boy’ and of body cleansing rituals. Manilla takes us back to the 70s and 80’s, a time of youth disillusionment with the state of Mexico and describes himself as a child of the ‘X’ generation, many of whom adopted the punk style in an attempt to find a non-mexican identity. With spiked hair and metal clad jackets, one wonders if he is drawing a subtle comparison to the outfits of the Ancient Aztecs. After having been a successful jeweller for many years, Manilla’s migration to Europe yielded a discovery of contemporary work, changing his perspective on jewellery and forging international aspects in his practice. He ends by voicing a humorous frustration- that for him jewellery is a constant search, but you find more questions than answers.


‘The Labyrinth of Synchrony’ presented by Beate Eismann is an exploration of her Mexican-German identity through working in Europe but maintaining a consistently strong link with her Mexican culture through literature. This influence can be clearly seen in her previous work; pieces made from interpretations of quotes by Mexican authors and more recently, of brooches made of paper, perhaps a more direct materialisation of her link across cultures. She champions the ‘impulsive’ nature of Mexican literature and also cites inspiration from the performance of Carlos Santana.

Mirla Fernandes of Brazil has come a long way in her artistic odyssey. Starting out as a biochemistry student, Fernandes soon found a deeper interest in Fine Art, painting large pieces and praising Matisse for creating technique out of necessity. However, after discovering the joy of melting silver, Fernandes’ practice migrated to jewellery, where she says the scale felt more comfortable and preferred using ‘fire as a brush, silver as paint’. She appears to be primarily concerned with themes of inner self and body consciousness, no doubt with a link to her previous scientific studies. Further to this, as a practitioner of martial arts, she sums up her presentation philosophically by telling the audience that nothing is more precious than to be alive and to ‘evolve the soul’. And as a visitor to Schmuck, Fernandes is clearly among leaders within integration Latin American- European jewellery.

Having already made an impact on the world of contemporary jewellery in Germany, Japanese-born Jiro Kamata shares a presentation of his work to a Latin American audience. Gasps, laughter and bursts of applause ring out as we are taken on a graphical journey that begins with rings of sellotape with self-applied lipstick between layers, to brooches and rings made from the tinted lenses of sunglasses and then to a fascinating exhibition of aluminium spheres in patterned cages. But Kamata really shows his maturation as a jeweller with his final pieces. Brooches and pendants with gem or jewel-like properties turn out to be made from camera lenses. ‘Jewellery opens your heart and shows it to others’ he tells us. Seeing this in the intensity of colour and technically sound design has allowed the work to speak for itself. After showing a video of a successful exhibition in his hometown of Hirosaki, Kamata ends the presentation to an explosion of applause that represents mutual appreciation of this crossing of East and West cultures.


Dr. Xavier Andrade of Ecuador presents a dialogue between anthropology and contemporary art. As an anthropologist, we are given a fascinating insight into the world of Latin American jewellery from an academic point of view. Referring to Dr. Clemencia Plazas, he brings our attention to ways in which it is possible to translate issues of identity in contemporary art. One method suggested is that jewellery can convey stories or legends that refer to a particular culture or history. Ending with a particularly cogent example, he shows us a homage to the most popular singer in Ecuadorian history, Julio Jaramillo and how this certain piece communicates this Latin American legacy.


Opening of exhibitions Encuentros y Desencuentros (Estela Saez Vilanova & Francisca Kweitel)

and On the Other Hand (PIN) Galeria Medellin 174


The end of the second day lectures came with a reward for those daring enough to seek out the traditional ‘Salon de Baile’ of Mexico City. When the sun set behind suburb clad mountains, an authentic Latin music band took to the stage and set the scene for a truly international integration. Mexican couples of 70 or older looked on in bemusement as a host of contemporary artists and academics took to the floor, everyone eager to show off, or learn from scratch. It soon became apparent there were a handful of native experts, willing to teach the less confident. With the bar serving the best tequila and lemon that this author has ever tasted, it would not be an overstatement to say that Area Gris organised a night to remember. If all lectures were this enjoyable, I imagine the symposium would never end.


Valeria Hes Danzom

Report of Lectures Day 3

The third day of the symposium begins with a joint artist presentation by Claudia Betancourt and Ricardo Pulgar. With such different backgrounds, it is clear to see this co-operation has yielded outstanding results. The most significant aspect appears to be their involvement in the ‘South Project’, to link art projects in the southern hemisphere to Australia. A migration from Chile to Melbourne resulted in a residency working with children making their own contemporary jewellery and ‘Cradle to Cradle’, the sprinkling of fertiliser on grass in the shape of a ring. Pedestrians were then free take a handful of the white powder home to fertilise their garden. This socially engaged practice is an example to the world of contemporary jewellery that a gallery is not necessarily the best place where work can be exhibited. Referring to the theme of communication across boundaries, Pulgar finishes by stating that for them, the ‘migration was also a transformation’.

Dr. Sarah O’Hana of Manchester University, England begins by proclaiming that she will always ‘use what is unexpected’ in her practice. The use of laser technology in her latest work is the central example of this philosophy. Having obtained her doctorate from the Department of Aerospace and Civil Engineering, it is clear to see the scientific nature of her work. Pendants of titanium identification cards, medals with laser marked symbols of her life experience and a bangle with microscopic images of cells all point towards the bridging of cultures between art and science. Having co-organised the Ars Ornata Europeana 2007 exhibition amongst others in Manchester, O’Hana offers a perspective and experience that many Latin American delegates will find valuable for future opportunities.

Felieke Van De Lest is a graduate of the Rietvald Academy with an impressive showcase of crocheted pieces ranging from small but well thought out brooches to ‘Ryan the Lion’ whose arrogance achieved a front page appearance in national press. She then transferred her skills to the use of fibre optics, making a chandelier inspired by an image of a water flea. Felieke also has a successful collaboration to exhibit in Mexico in a local sweet shop- the ‘Dulceria’ just off Avenida 5 de Mayo.

Next, Nuria Carulla, of the eponymous academy, treats us to a wealth of Colombian contemporary jewellery by students. She introduces her presentation by emphasising the job creating values of the jewellery industry, from teachers to miners. The works by her students appear of international quality with a huge variety techniques and results achieved. This includes use of CAD/CAM, with inspiration ranging from flowers to baroque architecture. The impression given is one of high aiming seriousness, a testament that Colombia stands proud of its ability to cultivate world class artists. One outstanding piece, ‘Ecce Homo’ is pendant consisting of a traditional portrait of Christ and a separately cast machine gun in dark metal, offering a mature and deep exploration of the religious aspects of Nicolas Estada’s culture.

Nanna Melland’s ‘11,687 years’ is a mysterious title for a necklace that looks significantly like a random collection of scrap metal. For only a few viewers have immediately identified the sole material used- discarded intraurethral devices; the sum of the ages of the original owners is what constitutes the title. A visit to Tibet, she tells us, brought her attention to notions of wearability in ritual and of the almost magical skills of the most basic Tibetan jewellery workshops. During this time she produced a Memento Mori in the form of a bracelet, hanging off it, a real animal heart. This reflects one of the many lessons she has learnt and shares with a Latin American audience today- you will enjoy life more in the remembrance of mortality. Further work leading up to ‘11,687 years’ includes a ‘seductively beautiful’ orchid cast in lead and a necklace of fingernails in gold accompanying a statement that gold is many things including ‘madness’. That the contraceptive IUD was a random find, it is interesting to note how an artist manages to turn obscurity into an almost sacred relevance for humankind today. Let us hope that this profound understanding perpetuates into the world of Latin American jewellery.

Ximena Briceno of Peru gives us detailed history on the filigree technique. It’s many origins leads her to compare techniques and styles from China, India, Italy, Ancient Mesopotamia and of course Latin America. The pieces shown have a range of uses, incense burners, religious icons, decorative models and often serving as gifts for aristocrats. Her personal practice includes a pair of silver filigree slippers, offering a relevance for today’s artists.Filigree’s appearance is often predictable, but one Victorian piece has an striking resemblance to sculptor Anish Kapoors latest work, the London 2012 Olympics Design, the ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’
Miguel Luciano, a visual artist born in Puerto Rico and working in the US, carries out his presentation with bright-eyed enthusiasm that is apparent in his work. His earlier pieces have engaged the viewer in the ‘La Mano Poderosa Racetrack’ and ‘Pimp My Paragua’, taking stagnant social function and renewing its concept, aesthetics and relevance. ‘Pure Plantainum’, is title which speaks for itself and refers to the plantain as a symbol of Puerto Rican Identity. ‘Platano Pride’, a photo of a Puerto Rican boy wearing the piece was used as the main image for a recent exhibition in Paris. This, Luciano tells us is a source of personal pride for him seeing how far the image travelled, as it contains concerns themes of identity, race, culture and PR culture. Luciano’s Piece will go on display in the Palacio Bellas Artes in Autumn 2010 as part of an exhibition of Latin American Art- 1910 to 2010.

The third day ended with a joint presentation by Fran Kweitel from Argentina and Estela Saez Vilanova from Catalunya, but living in the Netherlands. A large portion of time was devoted to describing the many contrasts between the two countries; however both artists appear to have flourished from the partnership. An exhibition in the Red Light District demonstrates this and gallery work with Ruudt Peters cements the quality and profile of the undertaking. The couple seem to have bonded extremely well and the results obtained from their co-operation set a benchmark for future transatlantic collaborations. Kweitel and Saez Vilanova end by thanking the Grey Area Organisers for enabling them to put their work out to a wider audience.

Report of Lectures Day 4

Jurgen Eickhoff, co-founder of gallery Spektrum, Munich, starts day 4 of the symposium with The Jewellery, The Gallery, The Future, a presentation highlighting the shortage of young curators for the next generation of galleries. This loss, he tells us, is breaking important communication between the artist and the consumer, with the internet being no adequate replacement due to its current impersonal nature. He criticises galleries that host only a few exhibitions a year, stating that their aim is propagandist than a more honest attempt to lead a gallery, present the artist, support them and eventually sell their work. Reminding us that galleries are an important measure of culture, it is clear that Eickhoff has a lot of pride in his field of work as jeweller, curator and exhibitor. And rightly so, with Gallery Spektrum having moved location four times since its birth in 1981, survival and success in this area appears to be an art in itself. Such a story leads us to view Eickhoff as a veteran of the exhibiting world. More than that, his experience is an example to European and Latin American audiences alike of the true migratory nature of contemporary jewellery, where his work places him among the chieftains, elders and mystics of this 21st century tribe.

Following that, there is a tumultuous standing ovation for the organisers Valeria Vallarta Siemelink and Carolina Rojo of the Otro Diseño Foundation who conveys the success of the blog- thousands of logins by the users and over 12,000 visitors from almost every country on earth. She includes a passionate email from a dentist in Uzbekistan, praising everything that has gone on and requesting that the exhibitions be brought to their country. Describing her choice to become a migrant as a privilege, Vallarta Siemelink goes on to tell how it provided her with ‘a freedom that is essential’ and points out that the artists paired for the Grey Area embarked upon a migration of their own. She then reinforces the frequently advocated belief that jewellery is a common language between delegates and highlights the success of this type of communication on the blog. With regard to the artists involved, Vallarta Siemelink gives a special mention to the Cuban artists, who make beauty out of the most constrained resources. As Nanna Melland previously mentioned in her artists presentation, one should not let money restrict ones work, and this is most clearly demonstrated here. Truly, the Gray Area Symposium has crossed boundaries of political and economic significance with the addition of such work.

Cristina Felipe of The Portuguese Association of Contemporary Jewellery (PIN) narrates the successes of her recent work, from the founding of PIN with 2 colleagues, to the 2005 Ars Ornata Europeana Exhibition, which she states temporarily made Lisbon the centre of the often ‘nomadic’ world of European contemporary jewellery. With many exhibitions it was a huge success and from there 2006 saw ‘Four Points of Contact with Lisbon and Rome’, showing the development from original traditional culture to contemporary jewellery and an attempt to establish links between the two nations and their jewellery. In 2007, ‘Impressions on Portuguese Contemporary Jewellery’ saw an expose of the vast variety of techniques used in 21st century approaches. Later that year and with the celebrations spilling into 2008, Felipe shows us the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family in Brazil. This event was a true bridge in cultures between Europe and Latin America; an authentic template for the future of transatlantic relations. Finally, 2009 rolled out the red carpet for PIN’s 5th birthday, a party and conference that formed a potent melting pot of knowledge, understanding and wisdom within contemporary jewellery. Felipe ends her presentation with the words of Onno Boekhoudt: ‘Jewellery is just like people, it needs an environment and it can be interesting by itself but basically it is dependant

Liesbeth Den Besten, in her talk ‘The Art of Collecting Wearable Art’ begins with some gorgeous images of the Duchess of Windsor’s private collection whose sale set a world record at Sotheby’s auction house. The pieces we are shown clearly exemplify jewellery as a status symbol but also the constrictive nature of the conventional styles. Den Besten moves on to broaden our horizons on collecting in a 21st century environment, disagreeing with Jorgen Eickhoff and painting a bright future for young collectors, based on the emergence of internet guides to collecting art and the practical attraction of jewellery in particular. She also mentions the existing numbers of jewellery collectors including Damien Skinner’s of purely New Zealand based work and others of a certain style. As president of the Francoise van den Bosch Foundation, we are given an update on the recent developments, awards and the construction of a new building. In extending her contribution and support within the world of jewellery to Latin America, Den Besten’s international reputation is further cemented in this clear and concise lecture.

Finally, the fourth day of the symposium yielded a talk with unique content. Ricardo Domingo of the AL-Invest Program begins by differentiating between the artist and the salesperson, giving us his personal history as a one man jewellery business, his bankruptcy and subsequent conversion to the philosophies of commercialisation. We are taken on a whirlwind tour of marketed products and styles including the Agatha Ruiz de la Prada range and some of Domingo’s own products that are heavily branded and targeted at specific consumer groups. “People are buying iPhones, not rings” he tells us, in what appears to be an attempt to spur the new generation of jewellers into making work that is seen by the majority as ‘cool’ or some other facet of a design that for the sake of selling, these artists must adopt or risk dying out. In a last grab at connecting with an audience dominated by already-successful jewellers and academics, Domingo makes the daring comparison of Ruudt Peters to the model salesman. It is a fascinating revelation to observe a man knee-deep in profit-taking, earnestly making his pitch to the Grey Area Symposium delegates. Perhaps the emerging generation of contemporary jewellers the world over will adopt these precepts of quantity over quality and profit over profundity labelling it ‘success’, for his presentation was hailed loudly with applause and whistles that rank him among the more popular speakers of the conference.

The Main Exhibition

The main Gray Area exhibition was set in a well-lit showroom a number of miles outside the city centre. Exhibiting many pieces by the participating artists as well as some of Latin America’s finest, there was a bustling sense of interest in the air as many jewellers made deals with future exhibitors, selling pieces, too. National press made an appearance, with the organisers making a statement to the cameras, expressing their delight at the smooth running and success of the symposium. It was impressive to see such a wide variety of visitors present- not just jewellers but individuals with interest in the burgeoning scene including curators, students, collectors and also wide appreciation from family and friends. This night was clearly a landmark for international relations within the world of contemporary jewellery but it was also evidence of a distinct maturation of the exhibiting world.