Wednesday, 9 March 2011


If you go to SCHMUCK in Munich this year don’t miss the Dialogue Collective exhibition (for those who are not familiar with SCHMUCK, it is the oldest exhibition of contemporary jewellery work in the world and it takes place since 1959 every year during the Munich International Trade Fair in March).

The exhibition is called DIALOGUE X and will be housed in a working foundry.

Photos from the Dialogue Collective blog

The press release states that Dialogue Collective is “a group of artists with a passion for Jewellery and Silversmithing in the broadest sense of these two disciplines. The Dialogue Collective consists of makers with a direct connection to London Metropolitan University aka The Cass, and invited guests. The remit is to develop new ways to create and show Jewellery and Silversmithing through making and discussion, bringing contemporary jewellery to new audiences”. (Dialogue Collective Blog)

It sounded promising but I wanted to know more: I had the opportunity to take part in one of their meetings and asked some basic questions: why a collective? How do they function? How do they develop new ways of making, thinking, showing?

I was greeted with a glass of wine and some nibbles and the first thing I noticed was that those artists seem to have a genuine pleasure to work together. They insist on the fact they like to be in a group where people mix socially and where everybody knows each other’s work quite intimately. “It is like carrying on the excitement we had in college” says one of them. The connection is the London Metropolitan University though everyone can bring friends. But a condition is to be like-minded and “not too commercial” as this group aims to be innovative and to support artists that are stepping out of the usual jewellery and silversmithing’s comfort zone. They usually meet every week and one of them noticed, “Working on a bench on your own can be very solitary. Every time I go to a Dialogue meeting I come out feeling very positive”. What I found very refreshing with this collective is that they don’t take themselves too seriously: they are aware that Dialogue won’t bring them immediate fame and money but there is real group dynamics in the way they support each other’s projects and in the way they try to develop new ways to create and show their work.

Dialogue Collective at work. Photo Isabelle Busnel

They usually work with set briefs. One of their previous exhibitions has been inspired by Delia Smith’s classic book “Complete Cookery Course”, and last year each member received a different secret present in the post as a starting point for their inspiration. For Munich 2011, each artist was given a brown bag of ten random directions. Their starting point on the map was Charing Cross and they all arrived at ten different locations in central London individually following their own ten directions. The final location for each was the starting point for the members’ own interpretation of their finished pieces for this show.
I then asked some of the group’s members how this “Treasure Hunt” did inspire their work. Interestingly, they all responded in very different ways. Two of them focussed on the feelings they had throughout their journey. One felt paranoid as he had the impression that he behaved strangely and that everybody was staring at him: his work includes CCTV features, hidden people… Another one felt uncomfortable during the journey and was happy to end by the river: her work is about the pleasure to end up in a pleasant environment. Some artists of the collective are storytellers and their work is about their journey. One of them ended up where she started and felt like “Hansel and Gretel” lost in the forest: her work will deal with the “circle as life” metaphor and will feature lamps, shades and bulbs going on and off. The other artist noticed everything that happened during her journey and her imaginative character “The Flying Fish Commando” will tell this story thanks to objects created for the exhibition. Another artist ended up in front of a free mason building and the outcome is a “range of exotically weird, bizarre creatures that move with articulated precision constructed with Masonic exactitude”. The last interviewed member collected discarded objects she found on her way and transformed them into pieces of jewellery, giving them another life.
Obviously this “treasure hunt” was a very efficient way of arousing the members’ creativity and I was wondering how important those briefs are for the group. It appeared that they all like working with them as they feel certain nostalgia for the briefs they had to follow when they were in college. In real life, you are on your own and you have to set your own brief and it might be sometimes frustrating. And as their works are all very different, briefs are also a way of connecting them and making things more interesting by responding to a common theme in many different ways.

Works inspired by the Treasure Hunt. Photos Isabelle Busnel

I was convinced that group dynamics and set briefs are very interesting and challenging ways to stimulate creativity but I was then curious to learn on how the collective Dialogue actually tries to develop new ways “to show jewellery and silversmithing […] and to bring them to new audience”.
One of their favourite themes seems to be the over-discussed / never-answered debate about: is it Craft or is it Art? But again they don’t take it too seriously. They are convinced there is no wall between the two but if acknowledged, things will become boring, as everything will be “grey”. As one needs black and white, they prefer to think there is a wall that they can climb or jump over…. I felt again a certain kind of nostalgia in this argument reminding me my time as a student when you could debate all night in the hope to change the world…
What seems to interest them is not to formulate answers but to debate about this “wall” and to test its limits. Therefore they seem to use different strategies: in their previous project Dialogue 9, they set a Pop Up jewellery shop showcasing “jewellery by members of the collective alongside an invited group of London based designers, all set the challenge to design and produce pieces of jewellery to retail for £20. Timed to coincide with London Jewellery Week, the event showed work by established makers alongside that of new designers and was focused on introducing contemporary jewellery to a wider audience”.  (Pop Up Shop Webpage)

Pop Up Shop June 2010. Photo Julia Patterson from the Dialogue Collective Website.

The experiment was a great success and Dialogue was very pleased with people’s reactions: set in Columbia Road, the shop attracted a varied audience, interesting feedbacks and they sold many pieces.

In Munich, they will display their work in a working foundry. They have already used this space for their 2010 SCHMUCK exhibition Dialogue 9. I have been there once in 2009 and I must confess the place is amazing and unique: the place is full of tools, dust and is lit with some spare bulbs coming from a very high ceiling.

SCHMUCK 2010. The Foundry. Photos from the Dialogue Collective Website

Dialogue Collective will separate this intangible environment in 3 different spaces: “Shoppery”, “Xhibition” and a space for games. Shoppery is a contraction of “shop” and “gallery” and has been thought as a hybrid space to play with the differences between a shop and a gallery. Each artist will display 2 collections: one for the Shoppery and one for the Xhibition. The first will feature repetition, price tags and less space where the second one will bear the usual codes of a gallery space. Is it Art or is it Craft? What is a shop and what is a gallery? Those are amongst the questions the collective wants to address to the public through those displays and people’s reactions will be invaluable clues.
The third space will be dedicated to games and this raised my scepticism: why games? Do they need games to attract people? Are games related to the exhibited pieces? Won’t it be confusing?
According to the Collective, for Art to work, it needs 3 components: the makers, the audience and the facilitators (shop, gallery, critics etc). And they consider games as a way of engaging the audience, of “facilitating” the contact between visitors and artworks. People will come to the foundry, maybe slightly intimidated, they will play simple games (like throwing paper planes in a bucket) and they will then feel at ease, ready to wander again through the different displays. And maybe they will see things they didn’t see the first time. That’s the whole idea. Again, it is not pretentious, just fun, easy and down to earth.

I am really interested to see how people will react to the three different spaces in Munich. I have asked Dialogue Collective to gather as much information as possible: pictures, people’s reactions, audience feedback and we have agreed to meet again soon to debrief. Rendezvous in a few weeks…

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