Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Jerwood 2005: Metal


Jerwood Applied Arts Prize 2005: Metal
Crafts Council Gallery, London
8 September – 20 November, 2005
& touring the UK

Now in its eleventh year, the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize is open to makers from six craft disciplines: Metal, Jewellery, Ceramics, Glass, Textiles and Furniture. Competitions are held in a six-year cycle, with 2005 being the first year to see metal included in the rota. With £30,000 of prize money on offer (double the 2004 prize), the competition now represents one of the most significant for the visuals arts in Britain. Organised each year by the British Crafts Council, it is funded by the Jerwood Charity and opens each year at the Craft Council Gallery in London before touring the UK. Close to eighty applicants applied for the 2005 competition for metal, from which a shortlist of eight makers was selected: Frances Brennan, Ane Christensen, David Clarke, Chris Knight, Junko Mori, Hans Stofer, Hiroshi Suzuki and Simone ten Hompel. Exhibition organisers explained that the introduction of metal to the Jerwood cycle “reflects the increasing importance of the discipline.” Without question, this first competition struck off on an excellent foot, with a breadth of innovative work on display that will undoubtedly contribute to the education of the general public by exhibiting the thoroughly unexpected ways metal is approached today.

For a discipline that may, from the outside, look to be rife with restrictions, variations seemed to abound in this exhibition. For those, like myself, perhaps less familiar with the burden of tradition that surrounds working with metal, it was a great lesson to be reminded that the expense of precious metals traditionally have determined a quite regimented and controlled approach to design. Many of the shortlist seemed to work against this conservative approach, even when continuing to work with valuable materials. Some, such as David Clarke, work directly with their materials from the first step of the design process, while others turn to paper or CAD to develop early ideas. Ane Christensen imposes her own rules on the creative process in order to focus her investigations, while David Clarke seeks serendipity rather than precise control. Scale too varied enormously, from Chris Knight’s public art to Junko Mori’s delicate “organisms.” Makers were drawn to metal as young A level students. Apparently Knight took such a liking to the material that he was banned from using it for an entire term. Others came to metal after devoting time to other visual arts disciplines, painting in the case of Frances Brennan, and even other careers. Hans Stofer trained and worked as a turbine engineer and Junko Mori worked as an assistant welder in a steel factory after graduating from her degree studies at the Musashino University, Tokyo. Curiously, for Stofer, his early connection with metal was not as a material, but rather a smell when his father, also a turbine engineer, “brought the smell of steel home on his clothes.”

The majority of the work on display felt less concerned with the innate qualities of metal than with the unexpected ones. Brennan’s engagingly poetic work is a prime example of this, making metal look like something else. “Threads” of metal coil and unfurl with the fluidity of fabric and her materials veer towards the domestic, if such a thing can be said of metal. Rather than precious metals, it is the mundane that Brennan so capably transforms: tacks, nails and strands of wire appear regularly throughout her work. In contrast, Ane Christensen’s self-imposed restrictions give an air of precise control to her work. Christensen has set herself the challenge of working with a single piece of metal, not allowing any material to be added or removed in the process. Here metal is not allowed to simply respond in whatever way it wants, but is crafted with great precision into forms that do not feel the least bit accidental.

Clarke’s conceptually driven work “explores the mistakes and accidents that happen along the way.” Perhaps one of the most overt to challenge the traditions of this discipline, he explores not only the positive attributes of metal, but also those that many would deem to be negative. Silver is combined with salt or lead to encourage corrosion and create studies in material ageing.  In contrast, the image rather than the physical reality of organic growth is evident in Junko Mori’s work, with references to the interlocking segments of a pinecone, or the tentacles of sea anemone, all whilst retaining the distinctive colours range of metals from matt blacks to brilliant silvers.

But conventions were not thrown aside by everyone. Hiroshi Suzuki’s vessels do not overturn the role of function for metal but do, like so many others on display, treat metal in a surprising manner. The surfaces of these vessels are covered in channels; something akin to what one could etch by pulling their thumb through wet clay. But it is Simone ten Hompel’s work that tries the least of all to alter the attributes of metal. Instead, ten Hompel seems to celebrate metal by contrasting it with other materials, such as felt, which heighten metal’s natural properties. “Empathy” is what this maker uses to describe her relationship with metal and explains that it is something she has not found working with other materials.

The winner of the 2005 Jerwood Prize for Metal, announced on the 26th of September was Simone ten Hompel. While the calibre of this competition was high, it is interesting to see that it was perhaps the artist who amplified the natural attributes of metal through juxtaposition with other materials, which the judges selected. Five of the eight short listed artists were, or are, associated with the Camberwell College of Art’s Silversmithing and Metalwork Department, either as former students or current lecturers. This concentration of talent within a single department does beg the question of the quality, and even availability, other metal programmes around the country. One hopes that as the discipline grows – and this exhibition is sure to inspire many – talent may disperse slightly further a field and by the time the next Jerwood Prize for Metal arrives in six years time a broader grouping will have moved into its ranks.

The 2005 competition was judged by a panel chaired by Martin Ellis, Principle Curator and Head of Collection Research at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and included curator and writer Helen Clifford, broadcaster and design and applied art critic Corinne Julius, maker and visiting professor at the Royal College of Art, Professor Allan Scharff and the designer, collector and Co-Founder of The Sorrell Foundation, Frances Sorrell. The 2006 Jerwood Applied Arts Prize will be for jewellery.

Craft Arts International (No. 66, 2006: 106-107)