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No false foreign paradise

An exclusive extract from Damian Skinner and Kevin Murray’s forthcoming <EM>Place and Adornment</EM>


<P data-associrn="43012"></P> <P>Place and adornment took on a distinct trajectory in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1980s. Jewellers absorbed the lessons from international jewellery but used them to articulate a regionalism that sought to downplay connections to Europe and emphasise distinctive jewellery practices grounded in the idea of Aotearoa, a set of islands in the South Pacific.</P><P>Moving dramatically away from the diamonds and gold of conventional jewellery, makers associated with the Fingers jewellery co-operative in Auckland, for example, began to work in a variety of ‘new’ materials that better allowed them to address the issues and values of what was beginning to be called contemporary Pacific adornment. These jewellers sought to move beyond the ‘safety net’ of traditional jewellery skills, looking to Pacific adornment for techniques and materials that could better serve their purposes, and achieving in the process a jewellery that is nicely described by the terms aggressive and risk-taking. </P> <P data-associrn="1410838"></P> <P><STRONG>Materials and their meanings</STRONG></P> <P>The exhibitions <EM>Bone</EM> and <EM>Paua Dreams</EM> were both held at Fingers in 1981. <EM>Bone</EM> featured a variety of approaches to the material. Reviewer Dugald Page noted the use of bone’s innate structure in the work of Roy Mason and Ruth Baird, while ‘The theatrically resplendent costume jewellery of Alan Preston &#8211; impudently using hen feathers with bone sections accented by onyx and carnelian &#8211; are magnificent and a challenge to wear.’ Page admired the references to M&#257;ori bone carving traditions in the work of Dave Hegglun, which was satisfyingly leavened by ‘fantasy characters’ with ‘an original charm’, but overall the point was how intelligently and unexpectedly bone as a material could be incorporated into contemporary jewellery. ‘Sculptural forms &#8211; and critic’s choice &#8211; would be Warwick Freeman’s necklaces’, wrote Page. ‘Executed in bone, dyed ivory and silver supports, they have a subtle yet dramatic quality.’ He also noted ‘A charming brooch by Pauline Bern has simple yet effective design aspects using ivory, silver and copper.’<SUP><FONT size=2>1</FONT></SUP></P> <P>The second theme show, <EM>Paua Dreams</EM>, was proposed by Fingers co-operative member Roy Mason as an opportunity to explore the statement that ‘Paua has not had a good deal from the tourist industry.’<SUP><FONT size=2>2</FONT></SUP> A contemporary review by Rosemary Hemmings noted that ‘The Paua Exhibition, though perhaps uneven in content and expression, illustrated many ways in which the paua shell can be used and appreciated as a precious material &#8211; in contrast to the “airport art” definition so familiar to us in the antipodes.’<SUP><FONT size=2>3</FONT></SUP></P> <P>Along with members of the Fingers co-operative, <EM>Paua Dreams</EM> featured work by eight invited craftspeople, ‘their combined talents making up a bold, original and sometimes stunning celebration of paua shell as a creative medium’, as Jacqueline Amoamo put it. In her view, the material was used in two basic ways: ‘Some used it in large expanses such as necklets and sculpture, others as subtle additions to necklaces, as ear studs, buttons, or inlay into bigger pieces.’ Freeman’s ‘powerful necklets’ had ‘a more notable ethnic influence’, and she quoted him saying that ‘The exhibition was meant to show how material found &#8211; like shell &#8211; can be made into intentional forms. That we have a South Pacific influence which we should reflect in jewellery, as opposed to the European influence.’ Alan Preston’s contribution included the <EM>Flying banana</EM> necklace, ‘with shell body attached to fluted silver wings, looking as though it had not quite completed its metamorphosis’, as well as p&#257;ua shell forms in brightly coloured enamel.<SUP><FONT size=2>4</FONT></SUP></P> <P><STRONG>The critique of preciousness</STRONG></P> <P>In 1983 Preston stated that ‘I see Fingers developing a style of jewellery relating to New Zealand and the Pacific rather than to some false foreign paradise.’<SUP><FONT size=2>5</FONT></SUP> By the mid 1980s this was the default position when writing about Preston’s jewellery and the work of Fingers. Sandra Peacocke, for example, wrote of Fingers jewellery that:</P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P>A developing awareness of South Pacific influences in the use of material such as shell, bone, coconut shell and the colours they provide, combined with European influences and precious metals led to the distinctive style of today. This work has a definite sense of belonging to New Zealand.</P> <P>There is strong appreciation of this by local people but not so much by overseas visitors. Surprisingly most of it is bought by New Zealanders with tourists preferring to collect up hordes of cheap, tacky paua shell kiwis and plastic tikis. Work sent to an exhibition in London received a very positive response from ex-patriot New Zealanders, aware of Pacific mythology and the ethnic origins which inspired the pieces.<SUP><FONT size=2>6</FONT></SUP></FONT></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>Peacocke makes much of the audience engagement with contemporary jewellery, and this is key to understanding what jewellery of the kind made by Preston and others meant during this period. The jeweller and his or her audience were involved in a complex relationship, in which the jewellery was being tested and refined through the relationship with those who bought and wore it. By 1983 it had become local people &#8211; not tourists &#8211; who responded to the particular presentation of identity that Preston and others were constructing in their work. It was, as Warwick Freeman wrote in 1987, a situation in which adornment was the most fitting way of restoring the credibility of p&#257;ua and building its preciousness, ‘because it asked people to embrace it in perhaps the most intimate of forms &#8211; jewellery. Not only did you have to admit liking it, but you had to wear it.’<SUP><FONT size=2>7</FONT></SUP> We can imagine that this feedback loop worked for both audience and maker. The jewellery brought into being complex structures of identity, while the audience continued to push the jeweller to make adornment that spoke directly to how they saw themselves &#8211; and how they wanted others to see them.</P> <P data-associrn="1410837"></P> <P>In Aotearoa New Zealand, unlike Australia or Europe, the critique of preciousness didn’t lead to an embrace of the commonplace, or the found, for example. Where European contemporary jewellers might have looked at fine arts practices, New Zealand jewellers looked at a highly symbolic and coded practice of adornment. As Alan Preston put it, ‘Taonga become ceremonial, give power, and become powerful depending on when they are worn, where they are worn, who wears them, who gives them, and the spirit in which they are worn, given, and made.’<SUP><FONT size=2>8</FONT></SUP> Ironically, the critique of preciousness allowed New Zealand jewellers the space to make such issues the subject of their jewellery. In this context, preciousness didn’t have any reason, or the opportunity, to disappear.</P> <P data-associrn="43429"></P><P data-associrn="39586"></P><P data-associrn="40140"></P><P><STRONG><EM>Bone Stone Shell</EM></STRONG></P> <P>In retrospect, much of the understanding of New Zealand contemporary jewellery in the 1980s has been set by <EM>Bone Stone Shell: New Jewellery New Zealand</EM>, an exhibition funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and co-ordinated by the Crafts Council of New Zealand. Opening in 1988 and touring locally as well as in Asia and Australia, <EM>Bone Stone Shell </EM>was curated by John Edgar, and featured work by jewellers Michael Couper, Warwick Freeman, El&#233;na Gee, Roy Mason, Jenny Pattrick and Alan Preston, as well as stone and bone carvers.<SUP><FONT size=2>9</FONT></SUP> Featuring new work using the materials of the title, it was accompanied by a lavish catalogue in which the makers and the work itself were photographed against the textures and varieties of New Zealand nature.</P> <P>Looking at the archives associated with the exhibition, it is possible to draw a quite specific picture of how the exhibition came about. Minutes from a meeting held at Edgar’s Auckland residence in January 1987 noted that:</P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P>it was agreed to drop Body Adornment from the title (as its inclusion requires all work to be adornment) although this is in no way excludes Body Adornment from the exhibition.</P> <P>It was agreed that the exhibition should make a strong and powerful New Zealand statement of the state of New Zealand jewellery. This should be made through the predominance of, though not exclusively, material of New Zealand and of the Pacific.</P> <P>It was acknowledged that the work should stand up to examination by an international audience in an international setting as well as communicate our uniqueness and New Zealandness.<SUP><FONT size=2>10</FONT></SUP></FONT></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>The first newsletter about the exhibition, one of a series of bulletins advising submitters and then selected makers of progress, indicated that there would be a selection panel of Edith Ryan (craft programmes manager, QE II Arts Council), James Mack (gallery director, Dowse Art Museum), and Kobi Bosshard (jeweller) responsible for choosing the jewellers and the stone and bone carvers who would take part, advised by Edgar, Freeman, and Neil McLeod from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.<SUP><FONT size=2>11</FONT></SUP> Thirty-seven people submitted applications to take part in the exhibition, and fourteen individuals were finally chosen. </P> <P>Other documents reveal how prescriptive the brief was: ‘The materials, Bone (ivory, beef, whale), Stone (argillite, greywacke, nephrite, jade) and Shell will predominate, although not exclusively. Other complementary materials will be silver, wood, plastic, fibre etc.’<SUP><FONT size=2>12</FONT></SUP> To ensure the work was appropriate for the intentions of the exhibition, there was even a workshop for participating makers held at Alan Preston’s house in Auckland, in which artist Dante Botica taught the participants how to prepare fibre cords for their objects.</P> <P><STRONG>A new culture of New Zealand</STRONG></P><P>Then there was the catalogue, with its essay by Edgar, which not only laid out the case for contemporary Pacific adornment but argued a very specific line in the relationship between New Zealand contemporary jewellery and the rest of the world. One of the things <EM>Bone Stone Shell</EM> did was refocus the strong connections with Pacific adornment into an encounter with M&#257;ori materials and cultural forms. Stone, bone and shell were not to be generic materials of the Pacific, but tied to the discoveries of Pacific peoples when they arrived in this country and became M&#257;ori . Stone was equated to pounamu specifically, with its toughness and translucence ‘highly-prized for weapons, tools and amulets, and it became the expression of the new culture of New Zealand’; bone was moa, or whalebone; and shell was paua, ‘prized as decorative elements in woodcarving and adornment’.<SUP><FONT size=2>13</FONT></SUP></P> <P>Transformed into indicators of M&#257;ori cultural practice, these materials became available for use by contemporary jewellers as a strong indication of a bicultural identity. And even when these materials weren’t used &#8211; when beef bone was substituted for moa bone or whalebone, and argillite or basalt for greenstone &#8211; the argument was that craftspeople were acting ethically to preserve the mana (and reserves) of restricted and limited resources &#8211; behaving, in other words, in a way that is entirely in the spirit of contemporary Pacific adornment. As Edgar put it:</P> <BLOCKQUOTE style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px" dir=ltr> <P>This exhibition is about awareness &#8211; of our heritage of Western civilisation and our cultural environment in the South Pacific; of our place in the twentieth century and the values necessary to survive the nuclear age; of the delicate fragility of our ecology and our relationship to the natural materials and the non-renewable resources of our region; of the celebration of the forces that formed these materials and the life within them; and, of the ability to communicate in objects of beauty, spirit and power.<SUP><FONT size=2>14</FONT></SUP></FONT></P></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>The values of contemporary Pacific adornment were codified in this exhibition &#8211; transformed into a movement with a house style, ethics, and conceptual framework.</P> <P><STRONG>‘Jewellery comes first’</STRONG></P><P>While the <EM>Bone Stone Shell</EM> exhibition was the most comprehensive presentation of the major development in New Zealand contemporary jewellery in the 1980s, it was also in some ways a marker of the end of the bone stone shell movement &#8211; the moment when it lost potency. Certainly it marked the zenith of the relationship between contemporary jewellers and stone and bone carvers. Brought together by the supremacy of specific materials, this allegiance began to dissolve in the late 1980s. As Freeman put it in 1989, <EM>Bone Stone Shell</EM> captured the spirit of the period, but not its future. ‘Already jewellers were moving away from these materials. For stone and bone carvers the material remains the reason. For jewellers the concept of jewellery comes first.’<SUP><FONT size=2>15</FONT></SUP></P> <P><EM>Place and Adornment</EM> will be published by <A href="http://www.batemanpublishing.co.nz">Bateman </A>in April 2014.</P> <P><STRONG><FONT size=2>Endnotes</FONT></STRONG></P><STRONG></STRONG> <OL> <LI><FONT size=2>Dugald Page, ‘Bone basis of invention’, <EM>New Zealand Herald</EM>, Tuesday 14 April 1981, p. 13.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Jacqueline Amoamo, ‘Pauaful Dreams of Artistry’, <EM>New Zealand Listener</EM>, 31 October 1981, p. 36.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Rosemary Hemmings, ‘Fingers: The Apotheosis of Paua’, <EM>Art New Zealand</EM> 22, p. 46.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Amoamo, p. 36.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Hemmings, p. 19.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Sandra Peacocke, ‘Working Fingers to the bone’, <EM>ChaCha</EM>, November 1983, p. 6.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Warwick Freeman, ‘Paua Dreams: Souveniring the souvenir’, unpublished manuscript, 1984, Warwick Freeman Archive, Auckland.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Alan Preston, untitled statement, 1984. Alan Preston Archive, Auckland.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>The others featured in the exhibition were Paul Annear, Hamish Campbell, John Edgar, Dave Hegglun, Paul Mason and Inia Taylor.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>‘Minutes of Meeting Held at John Edgar’s &#8211; 20 January 1987’, unpublished text, John Edgar Archive, Auckland.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>‘Newsletter No. 1 Body Adornment: Bone Stone &amp; Shell (Working Title)’, unpublished text, John Edgar Archive, Auckland.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2><EM>Body Adornment &#8211; Bone Stone Shell</EM>, Exhibition Concept Document, John Edgar Archive, Auckland.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>John Edgar, <EM>Bone Stone Shell: New Jewellery New Zealand.</EM> Wellington: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1988, unpaginated.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Edgar,<EM> Bone Stone Shell</EM>, unpaginated.</FONT> <LI><FONT size=2>Warwick Freeman, ‘A relevant jewellery’, <EM>Designz</EM> n. 4, September 1989, p. 6.</FONT></LI></OL>
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Paul Mason, Ceremonial bracelet, 1987, Giallo sienna marble, sodalite, mother of pearl and silver,
Gift of the Friends of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 1993.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Jenny Pattrick, Flight of birdsrings, 1987, paua shell and sterling silver,
Gift of the Friends of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 1993.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Michael Couper, Necklace, 1987, argillite, jade, stainless steel, nylon, silver,
Gift of the Friends of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 1993.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

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Roy Mason, Sun of man neckpiece, sun of man bangle, sun of man brooch, 1987, Gold lipped mother of pearl, mercury, silver alloy,
Gift of the Friends of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 1993.
Full object info is available on collections.tepapa.govt.nz

Ruth Baird, &lt;EM&gt;Necklace&lt;/EM&gt;, 1984, paua, silk, 440 x 22 x 9 mm, Auckland Museum M2460

Ruth Baird, Necklace, 1984, paua, silk, 440 x 22 x 9 mm, Auckland Museum M2460

Michael Couper, &lt;EM&gt;Necklace&lt;/EM&gt;, mid-1980s, paua, nylon fishing line, sterling silver, 170 mm diameter, Artist Collection

Michael Couper, Necklace, mid-1980s, paua, nylon fishing line, sterling silver, 170 mm diameter, Artist Collection