Unveiling – a review by Chumeng Weng

Unveiled was an exhibition organized by the second year BFA students of Alchimia. The end result of this endeavour was very Alchimish, a term that has grown to describe the multicultural environment the institution is so distinctly famous for. In essence, you could see the personal development of each student branching out from the Alchimia tree, a strong correlation between their practices, like interlocking roots underneath the rainforest. The students categorized themselves into 4 sections based on material research, social commentary, narrative and emotional voyage. This illustrated the many creative possibilities contemporary jewellery offers, and how individuality can shine through a community.

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Ziji Zhang, Do You Feel the Power?, brooches, 2016, wood, silver, steel. Photo by Diana Pantea

Upon entering the visitors were greeted by Zac Zhang’s countless blue and red wooden brooches puzzling together in a squared frame. The combination of these two colors reminded me of the two extremities of a magnet. The forces of repulsion and attraction between the magnetic poles were strong enough to cause all the color blocks to jiggle in a chaotic yet rhythmic way. Zac dressed himself in a black skin-tight costume while pinning the brooches on one side of his suit. Like one of those American superheroes coming alive from comic books, his powers didn’t allow him to be placed alongside the common beings. Hence he had to stand alone, with freedom and solitude.

After passing through this one-man show, visitors were flanked by two rows of artists’ statements on the corridor wall. I wonder if the other students could have borrowed some of Zac’s superpowers given they seemed to be almost afraid of misunderstanding, as they decided to release long explanations about their work before presenting it. I think that it would have been more intriguing if the students wrote shorter introductory texts, since most people, including myself, are usually eager to see the real thing first (and of course to get their wine, positioned only at the far end of the exhibition space).

I felt a surge of quietness flowing into me while walking through the white fabrics that fell freely over the many benches-turned-tables. My eyes could follow the curves of the white valleys converging into each series of work. It was as if I was walking through an archive room that only opens once in a while. Somehow the setting established an oppressed and remote atmosphere that resonated with most of the works presented, giving the visitors some clues of what to expect next.

Ziwei Yi created a bag of secrets to be filled by visitors, an interactive tool that became a way to speak about the core aspect of her work, dealing with hidden personal stories. In an accompanying book, Yi showed respect to the many people that trusted her with their secrets by binding the page containing content inward, making it readable only through an active gesture of incision. It was a beautiful symbolic act, inviting people to take a distance from their personal traumas, naughty memories and whatsoever. To her right, Margaret Muncheimer presented a series of miniature Wunderkammer filled with found objects stripped from their primal functions and meanings. With the same respect Yi has given to people, Muncheimer created a moment of recognition for the many objects that we often overlook.

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Ziwei Yi, The Memoir of Tata, pendants and interactive bag for secrets, 2016, mixed materials. Photo by Chumeng Weng

 
 On the other side of the white drapery hill was Vanessa Karla and her research on dyed rice paper. She was the only student revealing the secret of her ingredients by displaying some pieces in progress, forming a never ending circle of experimentation and evolution. To the left of her pieces one could detect another kind of devotion, one very different from Karla’s. Eleonora Natali realized pieces entirely focused on only one form and its many meanings, that of the labyrinth. There was not much variation, both material and style wise. I tried to follow the paths of her labyrinths visually, which led me to nowhere since reaching a valid exit is not the point of her works. Her pieces favour no one, nor herself. They exist for no answer, nor question. The rigid lines that formed the paths through the maze continuously reminded me of how much she struggled in a journey of her own. But she persisted to walk through, maybe circling around but never stopping, and I felt a huge respect for her extremely focused approach and discipline.
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Vanessa Karla, (Un)controlled, material experiment, 2016, rice paper, sepia ink. Photo by Chumeng Weng

Proceeding to the mid section of the exhibition, here three collections with great simplicity were topped off with Clara Nguyen’s complex reinterpretation of the wilderness. All collections in this section were producing a sound, name it a whisper or just noise. They also shared a kind of nostalgia towards interaction. Bonnie Hsu utilized the softness of cotton cloth and the brittleness of maple wood to play a childhood melody. The smooth wires of Anna Hui seemed to be so effortlessly bended with the fingers of God, they were evoking a longing for intimacy in human relationships. Similarly, Lina Gorbach used pictures that highlighted the function and the purpose of each piece in relation to the other. I particularly appreciated the quietness of the pictures and the slight hint of humor in her accompanying book. Without the images, the pieces would have been so minimal and out of context that they might have only resembled well designed objects. However, I would have loved to see the pieces coming out of their beautifully executed box as it was too intimidating to pick them up and try them on.
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 Lina Gorbach, The Space between the Two, Objects, 2016, mixed material. Photo by Kawin Leenutaphong

Amongst many weighty topics, Marisa Leenutaphong managed to break through by juxtaposing her seriousness in craftsmanship with the absurdity in combining recognizable human forms with other creatures. Her work evoked in me a curiosity that I hadn’t felt since childhood, yet if I were a child I would definitely not have understood her sarcastic charm that only stings the so called grown-ups.

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Marisa Leenutaphong, Snake snake fish fish, pendant and brooch, 2016, silver, ribbon, toy doll parts. Photo by Kawin Leenutaphong

 In a total pastel pink setting that evoked the stereotypical female characteristics, Daria Olejniczak reflected on the idea of the female body perfection. Her seemingly aynonmous fashion-magazine-styled book achieved a strong criticality by posing sharp rhetorical questions. However, there was something missing in her pieces, the bitterness was lost in their beautiful appearence, with too smooth edges and soft elements. Differently, Irene Belfi took on a rather neutral standpoint by exploring the purity of materials and the sensory reactions corresponding to them. Her work proofed the importance of collaboration amongst different disciplines. I admire the flexibility of her approach and would love to be as courageous as she is when approaching others.
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Irene Belfi, Con-tatto, bracelet, 2016, mixed materials. Photo by Kawin Leenutaphong

Finally, at the far end of the exhibition space, a row of iron plates and compressed copper bracelets strangely showed how a man can endure to be cut and torn without crying out loud. The sensibility behind Yanis Turcarelli’s pieces has a strong feminine touch that many great male jewellers possess, think for example of Ruudt Peters, Alexander Blank, or Kiko Gianocca. It seemed to be a fit choice to have him concluding the exhibition since his work is extremely emotional and personal, which guided the visitor’s back to the exhibition’s beginning and general thematic framework. Turcarelli has certainly put a plug into a bathtub full of whatever emotion the visitors have been accumulating thus far, leaving it floating and then sinking into the bottom of their hearts.

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Yanis Turcarelli, Chrysalis, bracelet, 2016, copper. Photo by Chumeng Weng

As a whole all the works were carefully thought through and well executed. As a student myself, I feel for them, struggling between technique and conceptual development, while being in a process of learning to master both aspects. Like all effective antidotes, the distinctive Alchimish language brought to the experience its own side effects. Most of the works were very solemn, sometimes even emotionally too heavy. Fortunately those pieces were counteracted by some lighter or less melodramatic moods. All in all, the show was conceptually rigorous, its own title acting as a real keyword through it. The process of unveiling, whatever the motivation and the subject being undressed, and whether or not one liked this nudeness, was an honest presentation of their two years experience.

In a separate room, the first year BFA students were showcasing their body of works created in homage to other artists. Their exhibition, titled Echo, was a fairly standard set up where students laid out their creations on one side and accompanying books on another. These students are still quite new with jewellery making, but you could notice their enthusiasm and professionalism in the metal working, their love and care for details, despite tiny mistakes.

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Echo, exhibition view.  Photo by Chumeng Weng

Chumeng Weng lived and studied in Shenyang, China for 18 years before studying fine art in Canada. Still looking for a better self, she spent one year in technical jewellery making until attending Alchimia where not only her perception of jewellery has been altered greatly but also her philosophy towards ways of living has been reinterpreted.

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