WRITINGS ∙ ARTICLES ∙ INTERVIEWS
Postcon Interviewed by Ozra S. Kallian PhDee, Mdf, Fda, VHS, Usb (2000)
Several years ago, in London, England, I got acquainted with Osborne E.
Smithson-Hyde. He was a young graduate, fresh out of art school, frantic
and full of energy, yet Britishly reserved and demure. I immediately fell
for his clean-cut attire and pose but above all for the way he waved his
cigarette around the room as if drawing some kind of sketch in thin air
with the blue smoke.
"On a cloudy afternoon"
Two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, lazy clouds in the sky.
On the marbled table, two bottles of mineral water, some cans of cold beer and an oversized mug filled with salty nuts and mixed Japanese crackers, the exquisitely-wrapped-in-seaweed kind. A pack of cigarettes, a plastic lighter and an ashtray. Around the table, the Postcon artists are gathered for this interview, which they agreed to give as an exclusive to me. To my left sits Osborne E. Smithson-Hyde and Manuel Vilhena. Raul Sousa is half lying on the couch to my right. I turn on my tape recorder and engage the record switch with a click.
OK ∙ First and foremost, I would like to thank you for this interview, and thank you for so kindly receiving me in your house. I understand you don't usually do this. Is there a spokesman for the group?
OES ∙ Officially it is I, but in an informal situation such as this, I believe we'll all drop in some comment at one point or another.
OK ∙ You are all jewellers. Although from quite different walks of life, let alone styles of work, you decided to get together... what factor or factors made you join?
MV ∙ The common belief that jewellery is an independent artistic language, much in the same way as painting or sculpture, and that, as such, it follows specific rules, with which we all agree upon and are trying to investigate, at present.
R ∙ Well, we like each other, that's it. And I like working in a group. It's a natural thing, for me. I believe that very few people are complete, we certainly aren't the illuminated kind. To be in and work as a group allows for a synergetic approach, in this case regarding jewellery making and thinking.
OK ∙ All the work you produce is shown underthe Postcon label. Are you not afraid to loose your artistic identities?
MV ∙ I don't feel it as a loss, I see it as an enhancement and I guess I can speak forall of us. We wouldn't be grouping otherwise. Furthermore, it is kind of selfish to think that, as little as it may be, there are no influences, inputs, from other people into our own individual work. Our world is also their world, it is the same world.
R ∙ One world!
OES ∙ Individuality is just the otherside of everythingness. They sit on the same directive vector. Everythingness expressed through a limited body, limited in time and space... and thinking, naturally.
OK ∙ How did you first meet?
MV ∙ Osborne called us on the phone and we met at his house, talked for hours about ourwork and ourexperiences, and realised we shared a common moral belief on jewellery and that it would be great to try the possibility of working together. Things blossomed quite naturally from there on.
R ∙ It is always nice to talk about projects over a table. It's the only way. We ate and drank till early morning and there was some good music... talked about work and life in general, from expensive cars to film directors, from pets to books... a friends meeting.
OES ∙ And then we started to think about what we could do. Since we had great and crazy ideas, should we leave them on the table or should we go ahead and tri-dimensionalise them? We chose 3D.
OK ∙ Tell me a little about yourselves. Osborne? I know we are quite intimate by now, but for the sake of the interview could you please tell us something about yourself?
OES ∙ Most certainly. British by blood, went to the finest schools, the whole lot. I first became interested in Jewellery since I pierced my ear, by myself, with a sewing needle and a bottle cork to impress my girlfriend. It really changed my vision of the world, then.
I don't consider myself a maker. I like the thinking challenges Jewellery proposes. After some years doing Art School, I fled to the continent. I love to travel, feel at home in London and would like to own a big studio flat in Camden Town, but prices are ridiculous, distasteful. The PhD in Comparative Physics and Cosmo-Anthropology came later, much later...
I like people who are on time and can be expected to deliver what they promise. I love to travel on the underground and to watch tourists rushing up and down Oxford Street.
OK ∙ Manuel?
MV ∙ I am Portuguese. Started to make jewellery in my late teens and immediately fell in love with the media. After some years of work and different schools, I applied to the Royal College of Art in London where I got my Master degree. It was in London I met Osborne. I've lived a bit here and there, not really having a place I can call "home", but there are some advantages to it. Passions? Besides jewellery? Teaching. The sea, of course. I would like to live in a boat, but am unable to sail one. Anyway, tools would rust. I also love cooking, for friends or for myself.
OK ∙ Raul?
R ∙ I am an artisan, man, since the age of fourteen. I like to sell my work to beautiful people. Used to sell hippy gear on markets and festivals and so on, groovy times. Now I do a different kind of work, but try to keep the original freewheeling touch to it.
I have no degrees or titles and just went to school because I was forced to, but soon left. I read a book or two sometimes, nothing too complicated, if you know what I mean. Beautiful things in my life... beauty itself, beautiful women - beautiful in all senses - beautiful friends, music, cold beer by the sea... and the planet, the animals, the trees, penguins, whales. As for a place to live, anywhere is fine, as long as there's good people around. I'm also fond of dolphins (unbuttons his shirt to show me a tattoo of a dolphin flying over a palm tree).
OK ∙ I presume from your accent that you are from South America.
R ∙ Right on! Land of beauty, yes, land of beauty.
OK ∙ Besides you, are there other people involved in this project?
OES ∙ Martine Montpelier does all the paperwork and takes care of legal matters and helps with structuring the academic part of our work, meaning seminars and so on. We also work with Jim and Steve from Citrus, two young gentlemen who regard graphic design with the same feeling as we regard jewellery. I met them a few years ago in London and we have been working together from the beginning of this venture. They helped us structure the postcon_cept idea and unveiled us a world that was out of our thinking boundaries, namely, the web interface reality. They're good!
OK ∙ Postcon sounds like a big corporation name. Where does it come from? What does it stand for?
OES ∙ Postcon stands for post-contemporary. "Post" meaning "after", "contemporary" meaning "of the present time". It is a paradoxical term, yes, but it has to be understood outside the realms of linear logic, through experience. In theory, a post-contemporary moment is inexistent. In reality, no. We want to take what is understood by "Jewellery" and elaborate on the concept, giving it new life, new meaning, new impact!
MV ∙ The stronger and more defined the concept is, the stronger and more defined the work will be. Our perceptions create our reality. Better still, our perceptions create the illusion of an individual reality.
R ∙ It sounds good, doesn't it? We think so...
OK ∙ Tell me how you behave as a group. Do you all do your work individually and then have a collective show?
MV ∙ Not really. We show the work as a unit. Sometimes Raul provides one or two pieces, sometimes Osborne shows no work at all. Mostly, I make most of the pieces, it doesn’t matter, really, for the end result is always the distilled spirit of all of us. Postcon is an entity!
R ∙ Copyright that one!
OES ∙ Also, we do other projects that do not culminate in actual pieces of jewellery - that too is the result of ourthinking together, it doesn't really matter who does what. The moment we agreed to work together, we discarded all ideas of ownership, all for one, one for all, like Mr. Dumas suggested.
OK ∙ You also state in some of your past publications that you do post-contemporary Jewellery. Will you care to explain the term in relation to your media? Isn't it just contemporary jewellery anyway?
R ∙ Ah!
OES ∙ We'll have to shift our attention to a fresh way of perceiving jewellery. A free approach to art for art's sake bounded, or should I venture, cored, by jewellery's traditional and contemporary parameters is something that, in ourpoint of view, is new. As such, it deserves another name. There is also the common error to mistake contemporary jewellery for conceptual jewellery, maybe a more exact term for it would be, then, post conceptual jewellery, maybe it would be easier to understand, logically I mean.
R ∙ A new name, a new reality, fine with me. Beer, anybody? I'll have one.
MV ∙ It's all in the mansions of the mind. That's why people outside the "contemporary jewellery field" still don't know what this is all about, or very few, for that matter. It is our problem - "our" meaning contemporary jewellers in general. We haven't yet negotiated an understandable concept with the outside world. Some of our fellow artists, alas, don't know what they're doing anyway. They don’t realise the power of the media and just go around making "nice" objects. Wasted time.
R ∙ Right on! Power to the media, yes!
OES ∙ We have had hard criticisms on this thinking: Why talk about it and not just make work? Why trying to give things another name when, in the end, it is Jewellery anyway? Why all the blabber? I can only and serenely reply that it is not the name we give to it, but the way we work from it that matters. In such a case, a new name would not go astray. As Raul mentioned: a new name, a new reality. A famous book starts as such: In the beginning it was the Word. Take your own conclusions. All in all, the name "Fine Arts" was coined in France just some hundred to hundred and fifty years ago, not before. Wasn't that a change of paradigm too? Is that to be condemned? Did Art, as we know it not exist before?
MV ∙ Post-contemporary means: from the future, looking sideways. It can be applied to any kind of art media, we use it for jewellery. We endeavour for Jewellery Pure.
OK ∙ Jewellery Pure?
OES ∙ Jewellery Pure!
OK ∙ What is Jewellery Pure?
OES ∙ First of all let me point out that we are trying to break new ground here; for that we need a new vocabulary to create landmarks of understanding. "Jewellery Pure" is one of those terms. Right, what is it? It is simply looking at the work from the affirmation "I am a jeweller", and to take the consequences of that. It means making work that emanates from that description of yourself as a jeweller. We are jewellers, so we make work accordingly, sometimes not just jewels.
OK ∙ What about jewellery design?
MV ∙ Design, as a concept, is concerned with the best solution for a particular problem or issue. It is not free in essence as art is. It works from a different platform of thought. That's why some schools are called "such and such" of art and design... It is time for jewellers not only to realise but to interiorize experimentally, that Jewellery is Jewellery. If you don't feel it, the results will fall in the usual context of the "art or crafts" dilemma.
OK ∙ You mentioned the academic part of your work, seminars, teaching and so on. Is that part of the Postcon Curriculum, so to speak?
MV ∙ Yes. We are presently investigating a new system for jewellery teaching. A supporting system that will nurture students' needs, and foster creativity in a wide scale. There is no need, nowadays, to give information away. It can be found everywhere, the internet, books are widely available, there are hundreds of schools worldwide providing jewellery technique learning and thinking. It is what you do with that information that really counts. We are drawing a learning map that will offer people enough tools to enable them to work with such information, much in the same way we use a hammer to strike a nail. We present Jewellery as an artistic language and try to structure a grammar for it.
OES ∙ Yes. A grammar, not the sentences, that's up to the individual.
OK ∙ That is teaching people the right way to work... somewhat dogmatic perhaps?
OES ∙ Far from it! Loook at the English or French language grammar. It is a functional and dynamic structure. A communication structure. In no way does it restrain the freedom of expression of, say, a Whitman, a Thomas, a Doyle, a Carlyle, a Simenon.
OES ∙ Hmmm. As I was mentioning, a structure that holds all possible ways of working. We are not in the least interested in fostering righteousness or anything of the sort. This is about making good quality jewellery, not about "life, the universe and everything", be I allowed to paraphrase Mr. Adams, the Douglas.
OES ∙ This is not about being jewellery gurus, like some people we know... it is about the creation of a platform of thought as a safe ground from where to reach higher objectives and to create an opening of possibility. It is our thinking, yes, but that can change at any moment, be used by others, or just ignored. We hold no copyrights. Educationally, all copyright should be abolished anyway.
MV ∙ We are on the early stages of development. We still need a lot of feedback from students, good teachers and people engaged in the field to vim up the material. But I’m pretty sure that soon we will have something ready.
OK ∙ Osborne, you have tought in many schools worldwide. How do you feel about that? What is teaching for you?
OES ∙ First of all, I feel good! It is wonderful to be asked to come and do some work with people knowing that both our lives will change. I have had wonderful teachers and I always look back to what they managed to give, both academically and personally, to this young person that was myself, so I wish to bring that with me wherever I go. And I have had wonderful students who showed me possibilities I had never dreamed of.
OES ∙ The only thing a teacher can do is to offer possibilities. That’s all. That comes from the experience of years, that the students do not possess yet, but mostly from the honest discussion of issues that are relevant to the present time and present thinking of the students themselves. In the end, there is no teacher, no students, there is a dialogue going on that will, in some way forward, energise, and consolidate the artistic path of any given person. The teacher's included.
OES ∙ It is not about giving away information on how things should be. Information, yes. How things should be, no. Never in the art field. Of course, if one is teaching the basics of electric systems and home safety, there are things that should or should not be done! Let us keep that in mind. Health and safety is one thing, self expression through an art media is something completely different.
OK ∙ You told me you shared a common morale on Jewellery. In what way?
MV ∙ It may sound unsophisticated but we all agree that jewellery is an independent language and that it is for people...
R ∙ (interrupting) Clean!
MV ∙ ...it is to be worn by people and not to sit behind vitrines, it should add to and not just complement a given person's universe. Pieces should speak for themselves without any extra explanation. Jewellery starts to live once it is worn, it is the result of individual maker's self expression up to the point of creation, and the result of the owner's self expression as she/he wears it. It is great fun to make too.
OK ∙ But isn't that a common idea for all jewellers in general?
MV ∙ Is it? Well, I don't know about that. Theoretically...it could be. Practically it can degenerate into a self-centered game where what is being shown is the artist's point of view. This is not about points of view, it's about self expression. Points of view are but a small part of that whole. If one uses them fully they are no more than a facade. Ego trip. Besides interviews and parties, points of view tend to obfuscate the essence of creation.
OK ∙ The essence of creation... are you being a bit of a philosopher Mr. Vilhena?
MV ∙ Not at all. I think... It is part of our constructed selves, thinking, I mean. Creation means that you make something which was not there before. By using opinions and concepts, this process is not free in itself, it comes from the past... still...
OK ∙ Don't you think all things are rooted in the past?
MV ∙ Ah! Now you're being philosophical. No, I don't think so.
OK ∙ So what? You believe that things come from the future?
R ∙ Not all. Some, definitely! Take love, for instance. It is not based on any logical background - although some scientists try to explain it. It's the not-knowing-what-you-don't-know thing... it will take ages to explain. Manuel could draw you one of his sketches on the board to explain this, though... (sneering) give him a pen and a paper and he can explain everything. Ah, ah!
OK ∙ I'll lookforward to that. I'd take a short break here, what do you say?
R ∙ Cool with me, I'll grab a beer.
A short pause for a lazy cigarette was needed. I had to sort out some papers and reorganise the questions I still had in mind. Manuel showed me his mathematical views on the above subject but I have to admit, I'm no further in understanding any of it. He is now talking to Osborne near the verandah. Raul, back from the refrigerator, is leafing through some sort of glossy local news magazine. Outside, clouds loom.
New tape in the tape recorder.
OK ∙ The contemporary jewellery field... one of the questions that seems to come up frequently is : Art or Craft?
R ∙ Oh, no, not AGAIN...
OES ∙ Indeed, this is a question that keeps repeating itself, for obvious reasons. Nobody has yet given a congruent answer to it.
To, at least, try to answer it, I'll have to take you on a mind tour in what I call "transreality". One cannot compare oranges with pears - never. If we say that this orange is bigger than that pear, we have shifted our perception point, our reality so to say, to the realms of size. So we are comparing things within a fixed and very precisely delimited boundary. In this case, size. This apple is bigger than that pear. OK. If you enter the sour taste reality, this strawberry is less sour than that lemon, etc...
The problem with art and craft is that they present us with two different realities. The mistake is to try to behave as if of one we are talking about. Apples and pears.
So, a Cellini salt dispenser can be viewed as a beautifully produced craft object, if we take into account the parameters of the craft reality and at the same time, but not from the same perception point, we can regard it as an art object if we take into account the mindset that created it and how and at what point in History. These realities can intertwine but not marry. So, I invite people to discuss things within each frame of reference at a time. Mingling comes later, but for socializing reasons alone, at parties, perhaps, not as scientific truths.
Within the reality of door-stoppers, some jewellery pieces fit as excellent examples, within the reality of art, some pieces of jewellery have no standing. As simple as that. Some do fit both at the same time.
If one day, in the future, these realities bind to become one, then we will have a new reality from where to discuss and place matters.
Transreality means that one is able to address matters simultaneously from different platforms of thought, but keeping a firm ground on each of them. They do not mingle.
So, this arts/crafts dilemma serves three purposes: to build brain muscle, to serve as a social glue, or to actually create distinctions that will help to forward the media into higher quality standards.
OK ∙ At this point I would risk the question, "what is art?"
OES ∙ Yes, what is? From our point of view, art should rather be spelled A.R.T., standing for "absolute reality transmission". I do not agree with Plato when he says that all art is a re-representation of reality, nor do I agree with Matisse who stated that art is a new reality. Once again, we stand on borderless land. But maybe I didn't answer your question, we'll leave it open. Perhaps we should leave it open...
R ∙ Wow, man, that is confusing...
OK ∙ I confess that, as a scholar, it does not give me too firm a ground to stand upon. I did come here to get some answers...
MV ∙ Looking up "Art" in dictionaries, first thing we encounter is "n", for noun. Alas, this is the first generator of misunderstandings. Art is not a noun, it is an adjective. So, not Art, but things done Artfully. Art is the quality possessed by the doer of any action. Engaging in life full, expressing one's self fully without in any situation or in front of any audience, embracing changes with gratitude and a sense of continuum, that is Artful.
So, Art as a noun is a business. The business of selling work made by some to others who can afford it.
I like simple definitions: craft is making an object by handling materials with enough skill as to produce a sense of awe from the looker. Art is making an object by thinking with enough skill as to produce a sense of awe from the looker. Let me point out that not all thinking is conceptual (or intellectual) thinking, there are other kinds of thinking - emotional, physical, spiritual. In many ways and hues.
Some people are extremely good at doing all of them simultaneously. But they are rare.
OK ∙ So, is the past, for you, useless?
OES ∙ My lawyer would advise me to answer this with a degree of reservation, so here goes: the past is nothing but a construction of the mind. It is not real, it is not dimensionally present, no matter what people say to the contrary. It does affect our mind and state as any other thought does. Are we not sometimes afraid of the future? Is the future real or a construction of the mind also? The future also influences our present. We try to make the future as real as the past and work with that thought. The future is something you yet have to discover. But we still think about it, we plan it, we dream it. We produce work from that place.
MV ∙ We just try not to represent it in our work. You know, symbolisms, recognisable objects, hidden shared meanings, all those things are the past revisited. Even the most modern material becomes part of the past once it is used. The best metaphor is nothing but another way of saying what is already known. By relieving the conscious influence of the past and concentrating in the future moment, work becomes a reality of the future. Running in front of the train. Actually, flying in front of the wind... it is more poetical...
R ∙ The past is all we did, all the books we read, all the people we met, all the dreams we dreamed, all the food we ate, all the pain we suffered, all the times hands touched. It formed our personalities and the different hues of our characters. We tend not to show it directly in ourwork, I mean, we don't make it self referential, hell no! But, of course it's there! Or should I say, it was there...The future is more promising, full of things we don't know, it's beautiful because of that, it's an infinite palette of possibility.
OES ∙ There are so many fellow jewellers revisiting that past... always dwelling on subjects that have been previously addressed, even by themselves, in another fashion, but always the same. People say we keep repeating history and that what is done is always a repetition in some way of what has been done before. Then, I ask, what are we doing here? Did Edison repeat or create? Did Jules Verne repeat or foster? Who invented the wheel? OK, these are things on a planetary scale, known to everybody, but for that same reason should be taken as examples for the possibility of the presence of the future amongst us.
MV ∙ It is a personal choice.
OES ∙ It is not a question of making the same things in a different or better way, it is about making new things. Not about expressing one's self in new ways but getting that expression to create a new person.
R ∙ I need a beer.
OK ∙ Back to the work. How do you make your pieces? You say you're not conceptual, but isn't the whole Postcon thing a concept in itself?
MV ∙ Postcon is a conceptual exercise. Our work is a mingling of many realities.
OES ∙ I'd jettison the concept concept. I'd focus on ideas. A concept is a vague idea with undefined borders. We prefer sharp ideas to general concepts. Basically, we have an idea and then we make a piece. In the meantime, while making the piece, we're ready to change direction at any given time, the end piece being always a discovery, something we didn't know beforehand, something we didn't envisage, new. Of course, the Postcon idea is a conceptual play, we love that too. What I want to stress is that, although that kind of thinking is present at all times, when actually making a piece, it is put to the side. You can call it a Zen moment, if you will - actually, we prefer Nez, which is Zen written backwards. A Nez moment.
R Magic. Aesthetics, morals, ideas, it all swirls in a meta-cosmos and finds it's right place as one starts to actually work on the piece. Not before, not after. A piece is the crystallisation of a dream. Where from, I don't know, it beats me. But I'm not interested in knowing, either.
OK ∙ Do you ever make sketches, drawings and so on?
MV ∙ Jewellery is an independent language, right? By making sketches, drawings and so on and then making the piece, you are but translating from one language to another. You are not using the language to its fullest. We work straight in the material. Any material, the one available at the time...
OK ∙ All materials? Don't you use specific materials for specific tasks?
MV ∙ We like to use the material's inherent qualities, not it's history or symbolism. Again, that would be working from the past. Gold, for example is a beautiful material, but if we had to look back to its history with a humane eye, we would not be using it, right? Some materials we refuse to work with on moral grounds. But that is just a principle.
OK ∙ Well, I believe so, never thought of that before. You mean, like fur, elephant ivory or protected coral, is that it?
MV ∙ As artists, we should be free to use any material that seems fit to output a desired effect, but should also be free not to create suffering and destruction in the process. Make it clean... we do have a responsibility to mankind and this planet we live with. We are not just passengers, we are the ship itself.
OES ∙ Think gold. So, do we use it or not? Are there any options short of getting out there ourselves and pick it from nature? No, there aren't. Live with it. Use it or not, according to the expression of your work. Back in the day, a fellow jeweller, did a beautiful action of returning the gold back to the mountain. It was a sort of ritualistic performance that endowed both the material, the artist, and nature with power. Power for all and recognition of a fact. As thinking and intelligent and emotional beings, we should not doubt that our own decisions already must take into account the environment, both inside and outside of us. There is nothing to save but ourselves.
R ∙ Nowadays, ethical mining and sourcing becomes an issue in our awareness so we have to comply with moral and social postures. So, how do we do it? Gold, in and of itself, is a beautiful material, which self-named jeweller would go without it? However, gold comes tinted with blood, with soil erosion, with well-water pollution, with inhuman working conditions, to point just a few open scars. Even if the gold used by contemporary jewellers around the world is insignificant compared to just one production line from one collection from one year from one established Jewellery company, the pressure rests on the one individual, the conscientious artist that should recoil from material needs.
In the same line of thought, we would not be able to have money in the bank (used for all kinds of illegal financing), drink tap water (full of chemicals, antibiotics, run by indecent companies), take medicines (oh! Big pharma, we know all about that), wear most clothes (child labour, water pollution), and, last but not least, eat!
It is naive to think that while the production and mining of gold destroys the planet, the rest doesn't! Let’s not be bigots and basically accept that most things we do today harm the planet in some way. Balance being the solution.
Why not have a piece of organic meat once a week instead of dumping tons of uneaten beef from burger houses down the drain?
There is an unrestrained wish to overload the market for the short term profit of the very few that own or control big companies, pounding on our brains with slick publicity (which would anyway be useless against critical thinking and personal introspective observation) and stimulus overload.
Our work grants us the time, attention and, I dare say, a certain spiritual posture to counterbalance the dreadful effects of such modern ego rhythm. But for that we must be congruent.
If jewellery needs to be special and meaningful (as it has always been) we have to keep it meaningful and special, it stands to reason.
OK ∙ What about the techniques you use to make your pieces? I'm sure you must have a strong technical background that allows you to create your jewels.
MV ∙ We use traditional goldsmithing techniques, afterall, we are trained goldsmiths.
R ∙ Being a jeweller is much more than that. We use the techniques that we learn in school or somewhere else, yes. We learn how to make small things, but we are also able to extend these techniques to a higher level. A jeweller could easily make a pair of shoes, could build a bookshelf, could set up any kind of furniture without reading the manual, could repair a dent in a car or open a closed door... if you get my meaning. Technique is just a means.
MV ∙ I think jewellery technique is both under and over estimated. In theory, you need enough skills to be able to make an object. In practice you need much more. You need sleight of hand, you need to feel like when you are driving a car and still able to enjoy the view, read the newspaper and drink the coffee - and, if you do that, checking for the police. If one develops skills to a high standard, results will dramatically change.
OES ∙ On the other hand, if you stress the importance of technique too much, you risk coldness. Not the technique itself, you understand? The importance you give to it. I am dubious of people who are too good at technical mastery.
OK ∙ In what way or ways does your work differ from that of your fellow jewellery artists?
MV ∙ Well, we make it, not them! They make their own work. That's the only difference. There is no certain leeway to tell you this or that work is post contemporary or not, the post-contemporary idea having no logical grounds or style guides. There is no rule to differentiate it from other kinds of contemporary work. It's more something of a feeling.
MV ∙ We like to believe we are not bound by style.
OK ∙ Don't you have your own style? The Postcon style? Some sign that people would recognise as being "made in Postcon"?
R ∙ Style is a synonym for stale, he, he!
OES ∙ Style is another of those difficult-to-explain concepts - which is basically what a concept is all about. Definitely, there will be some kind of visible or invisible connection line between the pieces produced. Sometimes it is an aesthetic thread, at othertimes it will be a thinking path. It is quite impossible to flee from one's own individual hallmarks... even if you are a designer and have other people produce the work you create. Anyway, the point being, that it is not our primal concern that this so called "style" be visible to outside viewers.
MV ∙ Personal style is something that emerges with time. Not something that we need to strive for. It is already there. Like a child that is growing, it needs time to fully enter adult life. There is nothing the parents can do about it. It will surface as a result of the digestion of all and everything that has happened to each and every one of us. There is no necessity to control it, as it will not be controlled. It comes by itself. Best thing is not to worry about it. Most students worry too much about that: Is this really me or not? – YES, it is really you!
OK ∙ Basically you prefer not to specialise in any given technique or way of thinking, is that so?
MV ∙ But we do specialise! In quality though: quality of the aesthetics, of the technique, of the thinking, of the presentation... whichever the output.
OK ∙ Quality?
MV ∙ Quality!
OK ∙ Is that anotherof your so-called hard to explain concepts?
OES ∙ One of the easiest, in fact, because this one you don't need to explain. You know it!
R ∙ Give Manuel a blackboard and some chalk and he will show you the mathematics of it, if you're into that sort of thing, numbers and so on... if you have the time... and patience (laughing).
OK ∙ But how? Is the perception of quality something inherent to all?
OES ∙ It needs to be awakened, but "inherence" is the word. Let me try with an example most of us are familiar with. You drink a particular brand of wine, afterwards you drink a better quality one. Immediately you know it and from that moment on your quality standards will never go back. Next time you have a lower quality wine, you know it. You may still want to drink it, but you know! The point with the work we do is to try to enhance the quality of the standards and try to never go back.
OK ∙ How do you develop that?
MV ∙ Foremost, like wine, by experiencing the work of other fellow artists... and not only jewellers. The list is interminable. And then, in general, cinema, museums, shops, good restaurants, music, books, teachers, friends, lovers, time, basically, attention to detail. Love for detail.
R ∙ Yeah, attention to detail, man. The little things...
OES ∙ Contemplation.
OK ∙ What are your plans from now on?
MV ∙ The internet is a tool. Like all tools, it can be used in many ways. That is not the same as experiencing a piece which is in front of you, or in your hands or on/in your body. There is no substitute for that. I find it extremely sad when people buy jewellery over the net. Still, the internet is a medium which can supply a certain type of information and in this case I take my hat to what is being achieved. Other artists have chosen this media for self promotion and for exposure. Fine. But let's not forget the human dialectic in the jewellery transaction. It is fundamental.
OES ∙ We plan to make shows in some willing gallery, sell the work, of course. Manuel is doing his share of teaching, a little bit here, a little bit there, and that will help to make this project known to a wider public. Raul has his own ways of spreading the news, he prefers not to disclose his channels, obviously... that counts too.
MV ∙ We believe the work has an edge, the rest is up to the public, gallery owners, museum curators. But, of course, we need the gallery infrastructure to start up things.
OES ∙ And the internet. We are in the embryonic process of building a site, with Citrus, at www.postcon.com. It will display the structure and thinking of our group. We thought of also doing some projects such as "postcon_text" where we invite other jewellery artists to write some texts about their jewellery thinking and making. Another of these projects is "postcon_test", an international jewellery prize awarded each year for the worst piece of jewellery, eh, eh. Could be interesting...
MV ∙ Maybe, one day, we will open a school...
MV ∙ Also, we plan to work on a permanent basis with a few good galleries, two, three, perhaps.
OK ∙ Why three? Why not more? Don’t you want to show the work to the widest possible audience? I thought artists were always on the lookout for new places to work with.
MV ∙ To work for more than a few galleries, on a permanent basis, is detrimental. Some people love to spread their seed everywhere, well, that's a choice. We are artists, not bakers, with all due respect. If the galleries are good, the work will be shown in the right places at the right time to the right people.
MV ∙ Galleries are part of the cycle in selling our pieces. They are the public interface with the artist and themselves producers of a piece, the gallery itself. It is important to realise the importance of this element in the chain of the commercial process. It is also important to realise that through them we sell ourwork. It is very hard to show your work in a physical way without them.
OK ∙ Are there many good jewellery galleries around?
OES ∙ NO! They are few and far between. A gallery should be a space where work is shown, but also where work is exploited, in the good sense of the word. We, as artists, should be trusted to do our work and our work alone. The rest should be up to the galleries. We spend time thinking, researching, making. They should give us the rest - the photos, the marketing, the exposure. Afterall, that is their job, they are business men and women (women mostly) that are also making their piece. Do we as artists know how much a piece of ours is worth? No! The market will provide for that, and the interface between us and the market are the galleries. There is, as everybody must know, a commercial agreement between the artist and the gallery - as there is between the farmer and the supermarket chain - it is fair only up to the point where each one does their part.
So, let it be done well. With respect for all. The Artist, the gallerist, the public.
Galleries should not represent more than fifteen artists at any given time. That would make them strong. That would enable them to build on the artists character and work and forward it into the future, together with all the due profits. Sometimes I think if it would not be better to work with other kinds of galleries, other than jewellery ones, for most of them are just shops.
But the artists would have to accept this commitment of exclusivity and be really honest with their work and towards their galleries. Work sold personally should have a gallery fee. Wherever you are, to whomever you sell it to. In a perfect world things would be different. But then again, in a perfect world...
MV ∙ The artist/gallery duet is a long time relationship, it takes years of mutual trust to build. Basically, both do the best for each other. If that be the case, then, it's a good thing indeed.
Most of the times, that is not the case. I know there is money involved and all that, but, can we, please, please do it decently? There is enough for everybody, I'm sure. Ah, and we need the trust, if that is lost...
OK ∙ Does this all pay? Actual money, I mean, how do you support yourselves?
OES ∙ That, I think is one of the main issues and strife for the majority of people doing this kind of work.
The field of contemporary jewellery is not a bounty for makers. The market for this kind of jewellery is still relatively small. If, in the past, artists were supported by powerful institutions such as the church, the state or big corporations, today, that perspective hasn't changed much.
In some northern European countries, grants are offered to artists to develop their work, and more and more, Museums are buying it, also collectors and the public in general, but not as a bread and butter kind of work. I'm talking about the majority here.
MV ∙ As for Postcon, besides the independent work each one of us does, such as teaching, doing repairwork, selling pieces and other things, we are using an offshore trust fund from a devoted art collector which we obviously cannot name - we like to call her "Mrs. Z" - who is supporting us for a period of five years. Four have already elapsed, one to go. at the end of this period if we have no tangible results Mrs. Zed will just say "Thank you, goodbye fellas" (yes, she's American).
OK ∙ Tangible?
MV ∙ Tangible!
OK ∙ Tangible how?
MV ∙ Well, money coming out of it, exposure, fame, for fame money brings, and openings. Afterall, she is a businesswoman. Let's give due credit to that. And she believed in our project. That is great. We would like to give something back.
OK ∙ You mean, you'd quit jewellery altogether?
OES ∙ No, no, no... It is our passion. We'll just stop this project. For the time being, at least. Sometimes, things do not go as we planned. But that is normal, right? We have to take changes in the same way we make our pieces. Not knowing the result.
MV ∙ Maybe we'll continue our paths individually, maybe I open a restaurant - forjewellers only, ha, ha. Really... we don't foresee such a drastic result, we just started, no? Osborne will finally open his record shop in Portobello... Raul will go back to his much loved tropical forest... Maybe this interview will be the first and last appearance of this group. Maybe it will.
OK ∙ When you sell a piece in a gallery or exhibition, what happens to the income?
OES ∙ All income is equally divided between the three of us, expenses paid, although we thought about lowering Raul's percentage on account of all the beers he slips into the developing costs tray. On the other hand, part of his income goes to Greenpeace, the Soil Association, you know... sentimental type
R ∙ The work is the joint effort of all family members. We are a family. No? That's what we agreed, that's how it stands. Shall we continue this after dinner? Getting tired here.
OK ∙ OK, I'll go for a short walk outside.
Back from the garden, a beautiful scent greets me as I pass the doorway. Osborne was carefully laying the table, Manuel was meddling with the pans. Raul was nowhere to be seen, as usual.
Dinner was exquisite. Some light gossip filled postprandial time.
Outside, the soft breeze brought some rain and now the air smells earthy. Raul shows signs of having had his share of beer for the day and is getting into a sullen nostalgic mood. More clouds gather. At the window, a bird shakes some droplets from its minute body. Then flies away.
OK ∙ Back to the conversation then. What do you think about the so-called New Jewellery Movement?
R ∙ It's now the Old jewellery movement!
MV ∙ It is the base for the majority of contemporary jewellery thinking of today. Many great artists expanded the existing barriers around the overall concept of jewellery and stretched those boundaries to new levels of understanding. They showed us that Jewellery could be perceived as art. Their impact on a specific public was strong enough to produce an actual change of paradigm in all fields of jewellery, trade and industry included. Besides setting quality standards that are stepping stones for each new artist arriving on the scene.
OES ∙ But not strong enough to hit the general public in the face. If things have to change, they have to implode to create a supernova.
OK ∙ Do you think this movement, or period, if you prefer, is finished?
OES ∙ Dead and buried!
OK ∙ What is taking over? Postcon?
MV ∙ Ah, ah... yes, we are taking over the world... (sneering) undoubtedly not. Postcon is only one amongst many of the manifestations of this general feeling of change. Don't ask me to verbalise this feeling because I can't. Other people are doing excellent work riding this wave of transformation in their own way.
OES ∙ If you take a retrospective look at the major jewellery books and catalogues, you will realise that over time, jewellery has moved further and further away from traditional boundaries. And when I mean traditional, I'm already talking about the so-called fathers of contemporary jewellery in the 60's (the dinosaurs). The melting of barriers between jewellery and the fine arts is by today's standards an uneventful process. And it is gathering momentum. A strange momentum, I might add. At this rate, jewellery schools will become redundant. Jewellers will enter Art schools. Finally. Duly.
OK ∙ Do you think that, in the future, the result of this transformation, as you call it, will have definite parameters, certain common aspects that will be able to define a style? The New, New Jewellery movement, or something of the sort?
OES ∙ Most probably, but at that time there will be the need for the New, New, New Jewellery movement, won’t there? In the words of Rilke, if I may: (standing up in a serious pose)
Will transformation. O be enraptured with flame,
wherein a thing eludes you that is boastful with changes;
that projecting spirit, which masters the earthly,
loves in the swing of the figure nothing so much as the
point of inflection.
What shuts itself into remaining already is starkness (...)
R ∙ (clapping his hands) Quite, quite.
MV ∙ I Love it when he does that... how elegant.
OES ∙ Usually these names are coined after the movement has passed away. A new book presenting the work of the younger generation of artists will undoubtedly appear on the scene. Let's wait for that. Let's see if some thinker is able to appose a decent name to it. Not just something with the word "New" in it...
OK ∙ What will be your first public appearance?
OES ∙ This interview is it... But, to be honest with our ideas, we may say that we've already had our as-you call-it "appearance". When Manuel does his shows, that's also the result of our thinking together.
OK ∙ What are your long term objectives?
MV ∙ Nothing long term. Much in the way we do our jewels, things will happen as the project proceeds. We don't know and are not worried about fixed goals. Most of the times, Reality, capital R, tends to play some funny games with the feeling of security. No goals, no stress.
R ∙ Love is the ultimate goal... (raising his glass).
OK ∙ Will you continue to show your work as individual artists?
MV ∙ Again let me remind you that any seemingly individual outcome is the result of our thinking together. For some projects we'll use the Postcon label to represent the work, that's all. All things added up, see it as a rock band or as an orchestra, the result is the music being played...
OK ∙ OK, last questions...
OK ∙ It seems to me that most of what we have been talking about is just a semantic re-structuring. You seem to have a keen interest in definitions and what is what.
OES ∙ I think that the greatest dilemma is to be talking about the same thing with different names to it, or vice-versa... That is the basis for general confusion. Look at couples, for example - I love you, I love you too - but are they talking about the same kind of love? A rose is a rose is a rose, someone once said. Let's take a simple example: chair - we all know what it is. Picture a chair in your mind, you will most certainly have something with four legs and a sitting plane and maybe some sort of backrest. But you could use a tree stub as a chair. So, chair would mean - the quality of something that is made to be sat upon with a back rest. Then again, take your visualised anything and think of it as an object with a chairness to it. Done. All is well and running.
What we aim to do is to create a platform of thinking where the concepts we use to forward our work will be understood in essence. The purpose? To be able to exchange information, thinking and knowledge freely with other artists, with other people. No more discussions about "is this jewellery or not", but, instead, is this quality work! I believe that would be a good tool to have.
OK ∙ What is, in your opinion, a Jewel?
MV ∙ A jewel is a man made or man adapted object whose primary function is that of being worn by human beings. The accomplished piece of jewellery is the result of a precarious equilibrium of conscious thought and unconscious thought, conscious making and unconscious making from the part of the artist, and of conscious wearing intention and unconscious wearing intention in parts ten to one, respectively form the part of the wearer. In this way, jewellery becomes a dynamic function as opposed to a static definition. No wearer means no jewellery.
OK ∙ That sounded prepared in advance...
MV ∙ Yes, we wrote this definition back in '98, I memorised it.
OES ∙ Jewels are the physical result of a jewellery speaking dialogue, or monologue, for that matter... But let's take it a little deeper. Jewellery is the "happening", the "manifestation" that occurs when jewels are worn by human beings. Now that opens some doors, don't you agree?
OK ∙ Mmm, perhaps... So, the ideas of value, preciousness, uniqueness are not a point?
MV ∙ Jewels are creatures of meaning, they are the carriers of meaning, for the maker and for the wearer, independently of each other. Preciousness is what you make of it, but precious they are. If not, why would one buy them? On the contrary, they are of the utmost relevance, only in a different way to what traditionally is thought of about them. High carat diamonds and ounces of shinny gold are no longera value to look up to. Many fine jewellers have already and thoroughly stated that in their work. By the way, there is no more need for it now. To state it, I mean.
OES ∙ Modern living brings us an infinity of new stimuli. Values keep changing constantly. A wider awareness towards humane aspects of life are the order of the day, or should be. You have to be purposely deaf, dumb and blind not to be willing to accept that. Forests are swiftly and gradually disappearing, the environment is polluted, individualism is up to egocentric levels, I mean, there is war everywhere, I repeat, there is war everywhere. We, as artist have a social responsibility. We should enforce it.
OK ∙ Do I sense a revolutionary streak?
R ∙ Oh, yes you do! But as they said in the 90's, think global, act local. So here we are. Maybe our concern, fears and doubts are not directly stated in the pieces we make, but, believe me, we are concerned, we have fears, we doubt. It will take a long time till the idea of co-operation, or to take it even further, co-creation, is understood and applied to modern living.
OES ∙ We endeavourto make that time shorter.
OK ∙ With your pieces?
MV ∙ And with our acting.
OK ∙ Just before we finish, how do you evaluate the contemporary jewellery scene in general?
MV ∙ I see it as a family. We, meaning contemporary jewellers, gallerists, critics, aficionados, are one. And as a family, it is kind of unhealthy. It is a pity. Differences in opinions should be a lever for quality, not misunderstandings. If we honestly are trying to forward the media as a social phenomenon, and I heartily want to believe that most people are, we need unity. Unity of feelings, not opinions. Only then we’ll have enough momentum for an evolutionary jump that will place jewellery at par with other visual arts. For that we need friendship, respect, open-ness. And a little self abandonment. "Courage" being the operative word.
OES ∙ "Ambition" as a forwarding concept, not as a self fulfilling game. There are people in power positions that have a saying in what can be done with the medium, they shape opinions and control the context. Sometimes it is hard to let go of that power. It is time to create new positions, new pro-positions.
OK ∙ How do you propose that?
OES ∙ Well, Postcon is one seed for such positions. A call to arms, let's indulge. In the long run, each individual will be a power position in it's own right.
R ∙ Love, man. That's all.
R ∙ Shall we sing a song?
OK ∙ Really, boys, I don’t see the need to...
MV ∙ But we insist!
The three dreadful minutes that followed made me seriously doubt about the mental sanity of this small group of artists and about the integrity of all that was said. Alas, they never tried to hit the music scene. Still, they looked happy as puppies. One thing I'll have to admit: theory is good for party talk and interviews only.
As a scholar, I was out of my usual logical boundaries. Does all thinking have to be rational? Is there an octopuss-like quality that makes one think with the whole body, with the hands? A question breezed through my mind: does everything have to have a definite purpose? And if not? Havoc or discovery?
I stayed at the house for four more days. During this time I was pampered to the limit. There was no more talk about Jewellery. I even wondered if the conversation had actually taken place, but the tapes proved it had.
Raul turned out a real gentleman, I even accepted his invitation to enjoy a night out in town.
Manuel gave me a jewel, "made especially for you", he said.
Osborne drove me to the airport and saluted me in his usual flamboyant way, the blue smoke of his cigarette drawing impossible solutions in the check-in lounge.
The smell of rain washed over the tarmac.
© Ozra Kallian, 2000, under written permission from Postcon
Manuel Vilhena actually opened a jewellery school in 2015 (The Postcon Project). It didn't last much and it closed its doors in 2017 for lack of students. He continues to lead Postcon into new educational ventures, lately focused in adult education and teacher training. Raul, sadly, passed away. He left a treasure trove of music and lyrics and "seeds". Osborne took to high finance and is currently a player in the international Ethical Banking scene. Things change.
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