Material and structure

24 July to 30 August 2014

Phoebe Porter

Phoebe Porter, Necklaces (detail): Hidden Line 2012, Racetrack 2007, Centre Line 2014, anodised aluminium, titanium, stainless steel, glass. Image: Andrew Sikorski

Material and structure by Jess Oliver

Phoebe Porter's current exhibition, Material and Structure, presents a series of works spanning from 2007-2014. Showing in Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre's Crucible Showcase, the exhibition is Porter's first solo show in Canberra since she moved to Melbourne seven years ago. Now based in Canberra, Porter sees the exhibition as an opportunity to re-introduce her practice to viewers in the ACT. The works presented in Material and Structure are representative of various bodies of exhibition work and are what Porter refers to as her most successful pieces, reflecting the outcomes of each investigation with a greater level of refinement.

Since graduating from the Australian National University School of Art in 2001, Porter has firmly placed herself at the forefront of contemporary Australian jewellery design and has exhibited extensively in Australia and overseas. Her practice showcases her commitment to the structural elements of jewellery and her interest in highlighting the inherent beauty in her chosen materials- aluminium, stainless steel and titanium. Inspired by Constructivism and the Bauhaus, Porter's work displays a process-driven approach to design, a deep understanding of the innate properties of her materials and a sophisticated use of structure to create form.

An underlying aspect of Porter's practice is her commitment to industrial processes. Although all her initial proto-types are made by hand, many of Porter's pieces are designed to be created using processes such as Wire Electrical Discharge Machining (wire-cutting) - a process for the precision cutting of metal that involves running an electrical current through a thin wire to cut conductive metals. This process is employed in Porter's Folded earrings (2007) to cut a single piece of aluminium which is then manually folded over to create the form.

Since undertaking an Emerging Artist Mentorship, facilitated by Craft ACT and supported by the Australia Council for the Arts, with acclaimed contemporary jeweller, Blanche Tilden in 2005, Porter's practice has evolved to focus on the simplest expression of an object – rejecting superfluous decoration to allow the natural beauty of the materials to shine. Investigating traditional structural elements of jewellery, the artist exploits the natural properties of her materials to inform structural components and this is exemplified by Hidden Line necklace (2014). Originally designed for Chained exhibition at Bilk Gallery in 2013, the necklace rethinks the structural elements of the traditional chain form. Drawing inspiration from the hidden lines in construction drawings, Porter presents the chain as titanium bars sleeved with anodised aluminium, linked together with overlapping stainless steel wire. The stainless steel has a hard, spring-like quality that negates the need for soldered joins and allows the Porter to use the material simply yet effectively. Hidden Line is a beautiful and highly effective piece whose simplicity of form belies its complex construction. The stainless steel links contrast with the aluminium bars, providing an interesting visual inversion and subtle suggestion of negative space. Designed for wearability, the light-weight work smoothly mirrors the wearer's movements which enhances the worn experience.

Representing an older body of work, the Transit necklace (2011) harks back to a 2008 exhibition, Location Devices, at e.g.etal gallery in Melbourne. Inspired by maps of the Melbourne train network and the artist's experiences of relocating from Canberra to Melbourne, the necklace features a specially devised linking mechanism utilizing ball bearings captured between cleverly designed threaded components. This ingenious mechanism forms a key part of the work's structure and creates a series of unique focal points within the piece. As with Hidden Line, each component of the Transit necklace is enabled to move freely with the wearer's body. Both necklaces share Porter's commitment to structure and material however presenting them together highlights the artist's interest in continuous simplification and refinement.

The unforgiving nature of Porter's chosen materials combined with her highly simplified design aesthetic leaves no room for error, emphasising the artist's technical abilities. Centre Line (2014) is the most recent work presented in Material and Structureand has not previously been exhibited. A beautifully refined necklace of anodised aluminium rods connected by stainless steel jump rings, the piece showcases Porter's skill as both a craftsperson and designer. This is exemplified by her creation of the perfectly uniform jump rings, which requires skill and precision when working with spring hard stainless steel. Deceptively simple, each component has been carefully designed and planned to create the balanced and strikingly graphic overall structure and allow for fluid mobility on the body. The Centre Line necklace is an impressive example of Porter's use of colour to augment the form and create visual interest without unnecessary embellishment.

For Porter, jewellery is not just decoration, it is intensely personal – following the wearer in their most private moments. She has an acute awareness of the importance of jewellery in people's lives, both as part of the everyday experience and overall life narrative. In contrast to many aspects of contemporary culture that focus on the mass produced and short-lived, Porter creates jewellery designed to accompany the wearer through a lifetime before eventually being passed on. The artist loves the challenge of designing pieces that can stand alone as sculptural objects, before “coming alive when worn”.

Material and Structure presents a carefully selected cross-section of Phoebe Porters most successful works. Together, the pieces provide the viewer with a unique overview of the artist's practice, design sensibility and creative use of structural components to convey form. Porter has successfully combined industrialised and traditional processes of making into her practice and her clever use of materials, colour and structure will ensure she remains at the forefront of contemporary jewellery design in Australia.

Jess Oliver is the Art & Theatre Editor at Lip Magazine, independent writer and manages the retail communications at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre.