Vanessa Arthur — Common Era

23 Aug 2017

Vanessa speaks with Kay Bazzard from Hawke’s Bay Today of her exhibition Common Era, here you will find the unabridged version.

What does the exhibition title ‘Common Era’ refer to?

Common Era (CE) is the year-numbering system widely used to date objects from AD1 — present day. In archaeology it is often the everyday or ‘common’ object that is the most eloquent in terms of representing a specific time and place. I see my work as a type of excavation, digging out ideas from often overlooked and quite mundane spaces. ‘Common Era’ also followed on nicely from my last exhibition ‘unmonumental fever’.

As an artist, how do you want to be known?

I admire artists, makers and creatives who let their work do most of the talking. Who constantly hone their craft, push their practice into fresh territory and allow me to see things from a completely new angle.

If I could embody some of these attributes I’d be happy.

You work across several media - What lead you into your choices of medium and style?

Aside from precious metals, I aim to use materials that are immediately available to me. The objects and wall hung pieces have naturally evolved as my practice has developed.

I find the immediacy of painting and mark making a nice balance to the often more laborious and precise construction of making jewellery pieces. Concrete, scrap metal and paint all lend themselves to my aesthetic, which is a direct reflection of the streetscape spaces I survey.

Would you describe your work in terms of imagery — if so, where does this come from?

Work starts with my documentation and excavation of the built urban environment.

Exploring small moments in time, spaces in transition and spaces between planning. Anonymous mark making, unintended collaborations and uneasy colour combinations. Layers of material. Painted, erased and re-painted compositions. Wet cement scrawls, objects and fragments left behind in the rush.

This environment is in a constant state of change - a never ending resource to draw from.

My work is also influenced by the presentation of hoards and treasure troves. I can see parallels between these and the groupings of fragments or objects found in the streetscape which influences much of my work.

What resources does your work or medium require? (e.g. time, materials, tools, photographs, site visits, etc.)

I have a young baby, so time is very precious. I’ve had to adjust my working style to accommodate her. I divide my various work to suit; photographing, mould making, painting and writing when she’s around during the day and soldering, grinding, sanding and hammering in the workshop, when she’s asleep at night.

I also have another day job as a cycle postie - to fund jewellery resources such as precious metals & tools.

I improvise techniques to fit the tools and materials I have at hand.

Some of my pieces take shape over a few weeks (if there are a lot of steps in the process, for example the ‘Pompeii to Parkvale’ charm bracelet in ‘common era’) Others are finished in a day.

Vessels, trays, and objects are assembled using everyday materials - concrete/concrete oxide, scrap metal, copper, brass and aluminium.

Pieces are formed using improvised smithing techniques - soldered and riveted. Then sanded, scratched, stamped and painted with immediacy.

Jewellery is constructed with thin sheet metals (including pure silver), made to evolve with wear, marks of use adding to the works ever changing story.

How do you like to work? Do you start a new work with a plan or does it evolve — what leads you to develop new ideas/ways of working?

At the moment my work is an on-going project, so each work informs the next. Sometimes I have a very specific plan and idea for a piece of work. For example the wall piece ‘waiting space’ or my ‘dent collector bracelet’, I knew exactly how I wanted both to be right from the outset. Mostly though I start from two ends - material and idea and meet in the middle somewhere.

I’ll have a framework or question to guide me, currently this is ‘How can I express the idea of transience in a solid form?’ I find the generation of new ideas goes into overdrive during the process of making work for exhibition. I then jot these ideas down for future reference.

As I’m making, all the pieces are in conversation with each other, the individual pieces creating one big composition. Even when not making towards an exhibition I work this way.

Nearing the end of the making process, I then step back and see what needs adding or editing to finish that conversation…

I also find presenting work in a fresh environment like SPA_CE and working alongside gallerists always leads to leaps forward in work.

How do you feel when you’re working? What thoughts drive your finished image?

At the moment when I’m working I feel chilly, due to my 1960’s built, slightly-alfresco workshop! Ha!

But seriously, usually a mix of arggggh where is this heading and excitement when things start to fall into place. If I’m stuck i’ll do some ‘productive procrastination’, usually something repetitive like making silver chain or sanding and filing… or I’ll just pack up for an hour and take my dogs to the beach.

In terms of finishing work, i’m constantly re-evaluating as I go and referring back to my self imposed framework. Asking myself if the object or piece of jewellery; is fresh and lively? or a bit stale and flat? If it doesn’t meet the first criteria, I aim to revive it, otherwise it gets the chop.

What are your influences? Give an example of your favourite artist’s work?

The anonymous maker is a huge influence, both past; in the form of historical objects/artifacts and in the present day; the anonymous mark maker and collaborator in the street.

Other influences include the presentation of hoards and museum object repair/display, Ernesto Oroza & his curation of everyday Cuban ‘Technological Disobedience’ and ‘Architecture/objects of necessity’, Peter Menzels material world images, 80’s/90’s hip hop jewels, ancient roman glass vessels, Japanese tea ceremony objects, to name a few…the list goes on!

In terms of a favorite artists work: any of Karl Fritsch objects, His salt and pepper shakers, candelabras, bowls and spoons (as seen in his book ninkern). Also his presentation of work always makes for exciting viewing, in particular his exhibition Love and Technique and his collaboration with Martino Gamper and Fancis Upritchard in ‘Gesamtkunsthandwerk‘ at the Govett-Brewster.

Actually that’s another favourite work, Martino Gamper’s 100 chairs in 100 days! They remind me of Michael Wolf’s ‘Bastard Chairs of China’ Images.