Elements: Metal

10 February to 19 March 2011

Eugenie Keefer Bell, Sean Booth, Robert Foster, Johannes Kuhnen, Rohan Nichol, Sabine Pagan, Gilbert Riedelbauch, and Oliver Smith

Elements: metal by Emeritus Professor David Williams AM

Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre's exhibition series Elements celebrates the organisations 40 year anniversary. Elements: metal is the first in the series.

Elements: metal showcases the outstanding work of artists Eugene Keefer Bell, Sean Booth, Robert Foster, Johannes Kuhnen, Rohan Nichol, Sabine Pagan, Gilbert Riedelbauch and Oliver Smith. The selection of the artists for the exhibition has been guided by their active involvement and the various roles they continue to play with Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre.

The artists in the exhibition Elements: metal are leaders in the field of metal work. They all have a very active involvement in education and training through the various workshops and universities with which they are associated. This in turn links to the Centre, especially with current trainees, students and graduates. As emerging artists, designer/designer makers and craftspeople, they benefit by accessing mentor and support programs initiated by the Centre and also by participating in exhibition opportunities, work experience and invitations to display and sell work in the Centre's Shop.

The Elements: metal exhibitors themselves are directly involved with the Centre as Board or Committee members, Accredited Professional Members, or participate as roving ambassadors. This kind of support for Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre is a notable aspect of the connections the artist/designer makers have with the organisation. They are an influential group in the cultural life of Canberra.

The Elements: metal exhibitors have also enjoyed an association with the Australian National University (ANU) School of Art Gold and Silversmithing Workshop either as a graduate, visiting artist, guest lecturer or staff member. 35 years ago, the Canberra School of Art was established. In 1992, the School amalgamated with the Australian National University to become the ANU School of Art. It is now 30 years since the School's Gold and Silversmithing Workshop was established and the metalwork program introduced. Since that time, staff members of the School's craft workshops have played an important role in the activities of the Crafts ACT: Craft & Design Centre.

The 1970s were exciting times. In 1971, the ACT Crafts Council of the A.C.T. was formed with all states following the lead from the Crafts Council of Australia which was established in 1968. The organisation is now known as Craft Australia. From the outset, the Crafts Council of Australia was developing resources, advocacy strategies and forming international networks through the World Crafts Council. In 1972 the Crafts Board of the Australia Council was established providing funding support for traineeships, workshop development, exhibitions, artists in residence and crafts organisations. Higher education reforms in the late 1970s facilitated opportunities for university degree level visual arts, crafts and design studies. In 1975 the newly independent Canberra School of Art developed its own visual arts degree courses with a unique emphasis on the crafts. A new philosophy established for the School derived from the Bauhaus atelier model of art and design education based on studio practice as central to the teaching, providing access to specialised facilities and organisational arrangements. The blue print for the Canberra School of Art established ten dedicated visual arts and craft workshops under the leadership of experienced professional artists. Each workshop focussed on the traditions in its own discipline as a context for developing contemporary concepts and mastering relevant skills. The idea was to provide a teaching environment closely related to day-to-day professional artist studio practice. The teaching program was supported by visiting artists in residence, guest lecturers and exhibitions. Many of the School's visitors brought an international perspective as their contribution to the student experience. The School of Art's Gold and Silversmithing Workshop continues to be part of this dynamic learning environment.

During the 1970s and 1980s there was worldwide interest in experimentation and innovation with the emergence of a new visual arts and craft aesthetic. The availability of alternative low cost materials including metal alloys, acrylics, paper, textile, glass and ceramic presented opportunities for a more contemporary approach to design and making. The use of specialised tools and technologies opened up completely fresh possibilities. Diminishing interest in traditional gold and silversmithing and metalwork applications such as hollow-ware coincided with the emergence of a new generation's interest in home ownership, individual preferences for unique pieces and an embrace of the fashion world, clothing design and body ornament. This paved the way for the creation of innovative object designs, wearables and unique jewellery creations. Interest and patronage from collectors, specialist galleries and art museums validated these new approaches to design and the making process and helped to create a market for this kind of work.

In Europe and the USA, the contemporary crafts movement brought a renewed appreciation of the hand made and high quality craft making skills. It also raised aesthetic aspirations and advocated appreciation of good design and innovation. Stereotypical concepts and methods were liberated with this thinking. Computer aided design and availability of new materials enhanced design possibilities. Through the World Crafts Council network, Australia was well connected with this movement and in the 1960s and 70s, a number of leading European and American silversmiths, jewellers and craftspeople migrated to Australia. They established studios and took up lecturing positions in the major cities. Their influence and contribution to developments in Australia has been very significant. In 1980, Norwegian Ragnar Hanson who was already in Australia, was appointed to establish the Gold and Silversmithing Workshop at the Canberra School of Art. Initially the teaching focussed on traditional metals and hollow-ware, but following worldwide trends with new interests and expectations, opportunities opened up for jewellery and design related object making. This approach was soon an integral part of course work in other art and design schools. In Canberra with Hanson's retirement in 2003, German trained Johannes Kuhnen was appointed Head of the Gold and Silversmithing Workshop. Kuhnen was among the first to recognise the potential of new technologies such as selected laser sintering, rapid prototyping, laser and TIG welding. He also encouraged the use of titanium, monel, aluminium, brass and stainless steel as less inexpensive alternatives to gold and fine/sterling silver traditionally used in metalwork. Acrylics, various forms of plastic, resins, rubber, wood, leather and recycled materials were possibilities to be used in various combinations and with all kinds of metals. Processes such as anodising, laser cutting and welding, fusing, and induction casting were other options made available in the process of creating new designs. While there is no real substitute for traditional hammering, saw piercing and silver soldering, the availability of new materials, technologies and techniques opened up exciting potential for contemporary metal working.

The exhibition Elements: metal exemplifies these developments. All the exhibitors are mature, experienced and trained artists. Their work is represented in significant exhibitions and major public collections. They enjoy a high standing in the visual arts world. The work in the exhibition demonstrates a sophisticated, high quality refined approach to design and it makes use of traditional and alternative materials. The country of origin of the artists reflects Australia's international cultural profile. Each draws on diverse personal experience and expertise to realise their design ideas which focus on metal. The exhibiting artists are connected with Canberra and the region and all are or have been professional members of Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre. The quality of the jewellery, flatware, cutlery and metal objects in the exhibition represents a high point in contemporary metal work. It reaffirms Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre's important role in showcasing Canberra's and Australia's outstanding achievements in work using the Elements: metal.

Emeritus Professor David Williams AM, Australian National University Research School of Humanities and the Arts