Jewellery and clothes occupy a unique position in the arts: as three-dimensional sculptures designed to be seen in motion, on the human body, as well as objects of beauty and artistry in themselves. Even when displayed in a more conventional art context, behind glass, or hanging on a wall, they provide a reminder of the human figure for which, and around which, they were designed.
These adornments are sophisticated versions of the beautification found in the animal kingdom – the bright feathers and strutting stuff appropriated by primitive and modern peoples alike. Any jewellery or clothes designer must be tempted to concentrate on theatricality at the expense of wearability. What is extraordinary about the eight creators in this exhibition is that, using quite different materials and techniques, they have all produced work of originality, desirability and practically without sacrificing an iota of operative effect.
Of the four jewellery makers, two – Maria Hanson and Ana Gordon – work mainly with metal, creating pieces of spare and balanced elegance, while Angela O’Kelly and Kate Wilkinson use more ‘workaday’ materials such as paper, twine, feathers and beads, constructing cut-out fabric necklaces or whirling ruffs and headdresses. The end result in each case is startling, abstract and one-off.
The four clothes designers have a thrillingly experimental approach to their materials. Carole Waller’s devoré and organza garments and Kumi Middleton’s combinations of such stuffs as silk, copper wire and fishing line both explore transparency. Jennifer Shellard’s monochrome bags and textiles mix leather and woven wool, while Asta Barrington embroiders layers of felted wool and silk.
These wearable works are just one step away from the catwalk. They are also pieces to stand back from and admire.
Annabel Freyberg, 1999
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