My designer/artist/maker of choice for this post is Zoe Arnold, who is a British artist jeweller, but also a sculptor, a poet and a book maker, because for me she really epitomizes in her pieces and through her methods the very nature of contemporary craft at its best, with all the qualities that have been identified in original, innovative hand-made objects in Project 2:
her work is risk-taking, individual and original
her work is masterfully crafted and of outstanding quality
her work builds stories people can connect to
In this short video produced by The Light Surgeons and commissioned for ‘Added Value?’, a British Crafts Council touring exhibition, she talks about her vision, her use of materials and way of working after a short introduction by Bruce Montgomery, Professor of Design and Craftsmanship at Northumbria University:
Zoe Arnold makes her jewellery pieces and automata both from found and precious materials that she chooses because of their evocative value and meaning in the context of her wearable and non wearable sculptures – silver and gold, but also old prints, memorabilia, fragments, precious and non precious stones, old lenses or whatever captures her imagination. She produces only one-off pieces, little elaborate treasures that illustrate stories often inspired by her own poems or other writings and framed together with the objects in made-to-measure boxes or otherwise carefully presented. When not worn, her jewels create complex artworks or installations on their own, which can be admired as a whole.
The materials used are artfully and skillfully combined, transformed or altered by means of whatever technique she deems suitable for the piece she has in mind. In her interview with Diana Woolf on The Making website, she explains that all her work ‘is amalgamated into one creative process’ and that she already knows what she wants to make before starting on a new piece.
For this artist not only designing but also making things with her own hands is an absolute need: ‘I really enjoy sitting there and being able to produce something and do it all myself. I love the sense of achievement and being able to look down at something and think that I’ve made this myself … I would never want to become a designer and get someone else to do my jewellery because my work is so personal and the making is what I really enjoy.’
The whole process is totally inclusive, there is no separation between designing and making. For her what matters ‘is the story behind the piece, rather than the material worth’. Her customers are usually people who appreciate and wish to explore in detail the stories her objects tell, but she concedes that ‘the poetry is also a useful marketing device as I am the only person who works with it and it’s nice to be a bit individual.’
Thinking in terms of Slow Design, I would say that Zoe Arnold is not interested in Slow Design per se or as a conceptual frame for her work – for example she does not speak about ‘sustainability’ or being ‘slow’ in a programmatic way – but she certainly practices the six Slow Design basic principles as stated by Strauss and Fuad-Luke in 2008.
As an artist Arnold 1) ‘reveals’ non precious or discarded materials that would be otherwise overlooked, 2) ‘expands’ her pieces beyond their perceived value as functional jewels into complex and evocative sculptural installations, 3) ‘reflects’ over their meanings inducing contemplation and encouraging a thoughtful use, 4) ‘engages’ her customers and viewers with the stories behind her pieces and the details of their making, 5) ‘participates’ with people encouraging them to actively share her vision and design process and 6) ‘evolves’ her own findings, materials and pieces in slow design processes and transformations. So I would say that Zoe Arnold is naturally and intrinsically a ‘slow designer’ in her vision, methods, processes and outcomes.
Through her pieces she tells the stories that matter to her in significant and thoughtful ways, she takes position on what is important to her as an artist and as a person and masterfully translates and transforms these stories into beautifully crafted pieces.
To me Zoe Arnold is a great example of what contemporary hand-made can achieve today if designed and created with a clear vision in mind, expressing the authentic values of the maker and realized with great skill and passion. The result can be a crafted work that inspires, invites to a ‘slower’ and more meditative use of products and is an antidote to mass consumption and hasty replacement.
I had the same thoughts on a recent visit to the Museum of Fabergé eggs in Saint Petersbourg while admiring those masterful objects: viewed from close they are not only incredibly precious and perfect miniaturized jewels and automata but also an exceptional celebration of the very special world in which they were created.
Bay-Tree Egg, 1911. The egg, presented by Emperor Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, is inspired by a French 18th century singing bird automaton. According to the Fabergé invoice, the bay tree comprises “325 nephrite leaves, 110 opalescent white enamel flowers, 25 diamonds, 20 rubies, 53 pearls, 219 rose-cut diamonds and one large rose-cut diamond”. When the clockwork automation is wound up and set in motion, a feathered bird appears, flaps its wings, turns its head, opens its beak and sings. From: https://www.faberge.com/the-world-of-faberge/the-imperial-eggs
https://zoearnold.com/ (Accessed 29/07/2017)
http://www.themaking.org.uk/content/makers/2009/09/zoe_arnold.html (Accessed 29/07/2017)
https://www.faberge.com/the-world-of-faberge/the-imperial-eggs (Accessed 29/07/2017)