Generally, ‘jewellery’ carries connotations of shops – bespoke jewellery of ultra-glossy boutique shops, where items are held under glass to protect from the grubby fingers of unworthy customers, or maybe of workshops, perhaps. Necklaces, earrings and chunky bangles do not usually call to mind the art gallery space. Even when artists do use precious stones, it can conjure more of a Claire’s Accessories vibe than they perhaps desired (Damien Hirst and your diamante skull, I’m looking at you).
So the current exhibition at Dovecot studios is a little bit different from usual gallery fare. Here, the standard notion of jewellery work as ‘craft’, as opposed to ‘proper art’ is muddled. Is this an art show at all? Is it a glorified shop? It seems to fit more closely into the realms of museums, with the dark wood display cabinets, glass covered draws and brass plates showing ‘highlighted techniques’. On one wall single stones are held up as examples. This is part art, part educational tool.
The wooden containers are themselves striking – the wood, like the gemstones, is sourced from Afghanistan and each cabinet on the wall is slightly asymmetrical, with glass spheres attached to their shelves, to display a single item from every angle. There is clearly a huge amount of thought behind every exhibit. And the exhibits themselves are beautiful. Perhaps the displays help guide your attention, but the stones do most of the work. Each is completely unique, each cut and polished to show off it’s own pattern and design.
This is an exhibition that refuses to be a single thing. It purposely blurs the lines between art and craft and between design and commerce. All pieces are for sale, so in some ways this really is a glorified shop. Yet, this is not central to the space or the pieces. They are primarily artefacts that represent a lack of boundaries. Each is evidence of a unity between Britain and Afghanistan – each a product of an exchange of ideas between UK artists and Afghan craftswomen and men. Designs are inspired by Afghan traditional patterns or architecture and techniques are drawn from traditional manufacturing processes. They are more than merely pretty pieces.
It is hard to judge this exhibition against any other current show, as it is hard to define it in itself. However, this must surely be a positive thing, given the project of the young artisans and The British Council is a broadening of connections and techniques. This is entrepreneurship, educational piece, and exhibition space. It certainly transcends normal notions of jewellery showcases.