Interview with Stella Chrysostomou

New Zealand jeweller, Stella Chrysostomou has initiated many collaborative projects.  Her latest being a Nelson based event called SKATE organised by the group called CJP.  I asked Stella about CJP and to reflect on some of her past projects.  Thank you Stella for the fantastic answers!

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KD: Who is CJP, how long has the group existed and how did the idea the SKATE project emerge?  Is there a second event in the works?

SC: CJP stands for Community Jewellery Projects. I set up this group last year in an attempt to provide something outside the confines of either the traditional gallery exhibition or production selling models that are prevalent in contemporary jewellery making. CJP encourages jewellers to produce ideas driven work within a framework that is playful and non-threatening. Hopefully this will lead to a more vibrant  jewellery community in Nelson which builds connections between like-minded artists and instills a sense that jewellery can be interesting and challenging. Membership of the group is not confined to jewellers. While the focus is the jewellery object, anyone can participate in any event run under the auspice of CJP. The participants in SKATE, our first event, included jewellers, installation and performance artists.

SKATE was an idea I already had been playing with and felt that it would convert nicely to a group exhibition. SKATE required the exhibitors to find a music box and make a related jewellery work. Taking the exhibition idea to an one-night event gave the show immediacy and an extra dimension – we hired a church hall, (they were happy for us to skate in the hall – wheels no problem, highland  dancing prohibited!) and provided cups of tea and appropriate eats for a hall meets roller rink experience. 

More CJP are planned for this year. A Bejewelled Winter Solstice (- I’m thinking a nice cold refrigeration truck in the middle of town with some lovely icy jewels) and An edible jewellery picnic is on the cards for Spring possibly to tie in with Nelson’s first fringe festival.

KD: Are you approaching CPJ as a side project or an extension of your personal practice?

SC:  CJP is probably more of a side project for me. But saying that, it does tie in with my philosophy about what jewellery can be. I have been living in Nelson now for just over ten years. I felt that I still had stronger ties to the Wellington jewellery community (I trained at Whitiriea), but realised that  the time had come to participate more fully in my own community. I’m passionate about jewellery, and the more conceptual it is, the more my passion for it. For me, Nelson was offering very little in terms of a challenging jewellery environment, despite the reasonably large amount of jewellers here. So, hence CJP – an opportunity to add a bit of conceptual spice. Also from a practical viewpoint, CJP works can be immediate in the making and are not too time consuming which is useful for me at the moment with a family and a full-time job.

KD: Many jewellers spend time honing their skills, what motivates you to go beyond the act of making to incorporate other aspects (i.e demonstrated in your project Hidden: Lost)?

SC: While advancing my technical ability is always in the back of my mind when I’m making, ( I usually feel the eyes of my technical master watching and tutting over a clumsy solder or saw-cut), I’m more interested in the end goal or the whole picture. (The desire to perfect is something that can trip us up.  With jewellery the mistakes are noticeable, but sometimes its the ‘error’ which makes the work interesting, or teaches us something new.) Somewhat unfashionably I’m a fan of metal and have a preference for working in sterling silver, but hardly ever in a conventional way. Technically I like to give myself a challenge, but ideas are what drive my work. If on the way to the end goal, there’s a technical hitch I find a solution.
Much of my jewellery-making is project based, so the objects tend to be groups of jewellery and often these are supported by some aspect of installation or specific display.

KD: Who are your jewellery/art heroes and where do you go for inspiration? 

SC:  While I don’t have any specific jewellery/art heroes there are a few that stand out for different reasons. Mostly I’m drawn to artists who have a strong focus and conviction in their work. I’d have to say that I admire Peter Deckers (who I trained under) for his total commitment to jewellery and teaching. I think I was incredibly lucky to find a tutor who paved the way for me to incorporate my intellectual ideas with a practical skill. I like the work of jewellers Erik Kuiper and Caroline Gore, artists Joseph Beuys, Eva Hesse and Rachael Whiteread, Du Champ’s chess playing, and I’m a big fan of literature. I have a double life as a bookseller. Fiction has a big influence in my life as a jeweller. Authors of inspiration include Haruki Murakami, Jose Saramago, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Viktor Pelevin, and Elizabeth Knox. 
Mostly I find inspiration in the everyday, the small things that we fail to notice unless we are looking… the way in which a drain pipe meets the ground, a perfect circle of grass growing in a missing piece of footpath, the forgotten and obsolete. I explored this idea in a project called A Month in May.

KD: I read that Roseanne Bartley considers her practice as three-pronged.  One aspect of her work focuses on making based on memory, one is making bodies of work for exhibitions, and the final aspect has a performative focus.  Do you see your practice as multi-focused, and if so how?

SC: If I made a division in my practice it would be along the lines of making and curating. As a maker, my work for exhibition, tends to intersect and grow from and between the projects. So while the  projects are distinct in feel and content, there is a fairly singular focus in what I am trying to achieve in the realm of contemporary jewellery. As a curator, I’m only just dipping my toes in the water. While I’ve co-organised a few group shows, and the CJP takes a bit of planning, LIKE was my first major show. 

Planning and organising are things that come easily to me. I find that making and curating offer different kinds of challenges and rewards.

KD: Looking back on your different projects, what are the common themes? 

SC: I have explored ideas of memory, loss, perception and observation through my work. I am interested in how people interact with their world, and how and why they interact with jewellery objects. 

KD: I am interested in the current status of the Hidden: on Loan project, where you gave ‘a piece’ with two components to one person instructing them to pass half of it on. I wondered if you could give me an update. Are people still wearing the work?  Have they been lost? Recalled? Has a mini-community formed around the participants? Are they in contact with one another?   

SC: That project feels so long ago. some of the jewellery pieces came ‘home’, while others have disappeared into the ether. A few I don’t even know if they made it to their destination. At least two pieces have been lost by participants. There was a mini-community between the participants, especially of those works that had been lent twice. I found people’s reactions greatly varied, from being offended (affronted that I had asked them to participate without requesting their permission first) to a kind of elation to be part of an art project.

 KD: Was the on Loan format successful and did it achieve the desired results?

SC: It was surprising (in as far as the diverse reactions from the participants) and partially successful. Where the participants reacted, whether positively or negatively, it succeeded. When there was no response the thread was lost. This format relied on a continued communication through the jewellery object, so as soon as no one engaged with it the conversation stopped.

KD: In a quote from your website regarding your project, Hidden, you said.  “The object is our visual reference point. It is the catalyst for a conversation.  Do we need the object to be present to enable the conversation to take place? How important is the object to our art experience or to our understanding of it? Do we need a physical object to interpret ideas?”
Reflecting back on the work, the show and the feedback, what do you think?  Do we need a physical object, especially in relation to jewellery, to interpret ideas?
SC: We don’t need a physical object, but we do need the idea of the object. Ideas are built from what we know, and what exists, and with flexible and imaginative thinking new possibilities arise.

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