Contemporary Swedish Jewellery Venice Biennale 2017

contemporary Swedish jewellery

Jewellery has performed many roles throughout the centuries. Tribal talismans were worn to ward off evils spirits; rosary necklaces are a reminder of religious devotion (as well as old-school fidget toys); timepieces in the 18th were often disguised as brooches or bracelets, lest a lady should embarrass herself by being caught looking at the time. Jewellery can be a love token, a memory trigger or even a symbol of belonging, be it to a faith or a community or indeed to a spouse. In western society, high jewellery is still in many ways a sign of stature and wealth. But one question remains unanswered: can jewellery be art as well as craft? Can its value as a conceptual object sit comfortably alongside the notion of wearability and decoration?

Jewellery is often referred to as an ‘objet d’art’ but this is not a literal translation for ‘art piece’, it simply means it is an item of great artistic merit. Concept or rather ‘art jewellery’ is still finding its patch in the academic landscape. But where, in real terms, does it sit? On the skin or in the art gallery. More importantly, can it do both?

These questions are raised and confronted by six contemporary Swedish jewellery designers at the Venice Biennale this year who use jewellery was means of expression and even political conviction.

Contemporary Swedish jewellery at the Venice Biennale

Tobias Alm, Sara Borgegård Älgå, Hanna Hedman, Catarina Hällzon, Agnes Larsson and Märta Mattsson, have contributed a total of 57 works to an exhibition currently held at the Palazzo Mocenigo Museum, part of the Venice City Museum.

Don’t expect rubies and diamonds: over half these artists use everyday materials – and even waste products- to create intricate and imposing jewellery pieces that are intended to be worn whilst conveying a potent artistic message.

Catarina Hällzon uses leatherised fish scales to raise awareness about the importance of recyclables; Agnes Larsson creates primitive, sculptural  necklaces out of horse hair to ring to life the imagined vestiges of a lost fantasy civilization.

Tobias Alm crafts leather tool belts (above) and ‘chatelaines’ – key holders worn by 19th century housekeepers – out of gilded silver, leather and steel, as a means of questioning traditional gender roles whilst playfully glorifying the prosaic objects that surround us with Duchampian panache. Märta Mattsson forces us to reassess our reaction to death and decay with her collection of delicate ‘copper electroformed beetle’ necklaces and resin spider brooches.

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The exhibition may not be a main attraction for the throngs of modern art lovers at the Venice Biennale,  but the artists – all represented by the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm – are giving jewellery a new space in which to evolve. That can only be a good thing.

The exhibition “Transformations – Six Artists from Sweden” is displayed at Museo Palazzo Mocenigo until October 1 2017.

Contemporary Swedish jewellery

Contemporary Swedish jewellery
Resin, gemstone and Beetle brooch by Märta Mattsson