& & An exhibition of jewellery inspired by 18 artists being stranded in Mexico City under the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud. Curated by Jo Bloxham
Memories of Mexico
Dedicated to Jivan Astfalck
In April 2010 I was in Mexico City to attend a jewellery symposium called Walking the Gray Area. After a week of wonderfully inspiring talks and exhibitions, it was time to come home. I said my goodbyes and went back to my hotel to pack in readiness for my flight home the next morning. Then, I heard a news flash, which said the skies over Europe were closed due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland. This was too ridiculous to be true? I had to get home as I was travelling to Australia in two daysâ€™ time. But, as the hours morphed into days it quickly became clear that I was going nowhere soon... A blitz-like camaraderie developed as dozens of jewellers gather in disbelief, talking of nothing other than how they were going to get home. We were all stranded under a dark cloud, and there was nothing anyone could do but wait for it to pass.
I sat in my hotel room, reluctantly listening to the screech of the organ grinder who had based himself beneath my window. It sounded cute at first, but after a week it became a nerve grinder. To block out this noise I began to think about my time in Mexico and its rich and colourful culture of chaos. It had been a wonderful experience, and I felt sad that this cloud, which was holding me prisoner, would overshadow the memories of my time there.
Then, it all became clear. Why not make something positive out of this? The idea for a new exhibition was born... Needless to say, I never did get to Australia.
Jo Bloxham, curator
Jewellery for the Stranded Traveller “...chi ha respirato la polvere delle strade del Messico, non troverà più pace in nessun altro paese” Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano, 1947 In the early morning of April 14th 2010, the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull entered into its second eruptive phase, ejecting 250 million cubic meters of tephra in an ash plume that rose to a height of almost 9 kilometers, invading the jet stream and forcing the interruption of all commercial flights between northern Europe and America. Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded on both sides of the ocean, as flights were cancelled and it was not clear when it would be possible to fly again. Among the grounded travellers there was an eclectic group of jewellery artists that had arrived in Mexico City to attend the Gray Area Symposium; an encounter aimed at promoting the understanding and appreciation of the diverse ways to view, experience, and create jewellery by encouraging a cultural exchange among jewellery makers in Latin America and Europe. In their search for cultural diversity in the rather Eurocentric field of contemporary jewellery, those artists found themselves unable to return home and having to negotiate with a foreign and somewhat bewildering environment. Under that Cloud is a jewellery exhibition conceived by independent curator Jo Bloxham in response to a natural phenomenon that affected the lives of millions of people in different parts of the planet.
The exhibition presents a collection of jewels and artifacts created by 18 jewellery artists from the most diverse backgrounds and who were stranded in Mexico City under the silent cloud of Eyjafjallajökull. The artists were encouraged by the British curator to develop a corporal ornament that explored the reactions, feelings and wishes of the trapped jewellers. Each individual piece deals with the situation in a different way but, as a whole, the collection conveys the desire of all the artists to return to their home countries as soon as possible. A series of the most varied portable artifacts aim to soothe the worried traveller, to explain the forces that drive destiny or to make the most out of a rather bizarre situation. Having grown up in Mexico City, Jorge Manilla learnt how to deal with disasters: just pray and make use of your most influential friends. And so he did. When the artist learnt that his flight to Belgium had been cancelled indefinitely, he prayed to the greatest authority in heaven, the powerful Black Christ of the Metropolitan Cathedral, asking him for help to return to his home. Manilla transformed the replica of a crucifix into a small airplane that could fly him through the darkened clouds.
Other artists also resorted to the iconography of the airplane. A swarm of 117 miniature airplanes forms the piece by Nanna Melland, representing the delicate balance between order and chaos and analyzing the impact that human migration has in the social and natural systems. Lucy Sarneel successfully captured the colourful, religious atmosphere of Mexico City in a zinc necklace that portrays the clash between the forces of nature (a bird), technology (an airplane) and the will of the gods (a cross). Some artists spent their additional time in the city learning about Mexican folklore. A visit to the Arena México, a place where wrestling matches are held weekly, inspired Caroline Broadhead to produce her own version of a traditional beaded bracelet which can be bought in local markets. The new bracelet is a self-portrait, stuck in a Mexican frame but resembling an English needlepoint embroidery work. Broadhead provided herself with a familiar point of reference in a strange and foreign environment. Benjamin Lignel designed a single gold-plated, inflated metal object in the pyramidal shape of a ‘swimmy’, which also resembles the bulging muscles of a wrestler. Through his work, Lignel seeks to evoke the contradictory images of strength, and fragility, of cockiness and bashful masquerade that is often found at the wrestling ring.
There were artists who couldn’t resist the visual richness of the country. Mexican colours captivated Tore Svensson. His work, usually monochromatic, had already taken a direction towards colour and his stay in Mexico provided him with the opportunity to study and incorporate the rich palette of the country. A series of boat-shaped brooches serve as a metaphor of the great contrast between the cold Swedish winter and the sunny, colourful Mexico. Other artists like Gemma Draper, developed tools to deal with the uncertain. Draper proposes a series of brooches and pendants that help to calm the mind through a catchy mantra. Emergency artifacts that have a double function: to decorate the traveller and to comfort him when needed.
A natural disaster became a good opportunity to learn more about a distant culture and draw inspiration from it. Under that Cloud is an immediate consequence of the Gray Area Symposium that will add a new chapter in the history of contemporary jewellery, and contribute to the broadening of a field that is in much need of cultural diversity.
Valeria Vallarta Siemelink
Agnieszka Knap Sweden
I want to illustrate the condition of being a part of something but not being able to connect with it emotionally. Something that creeps up slowly, becoming larger and larger so that in the end there is no point of return: you must face the fact despite how unpleasant or scary it turns out. We need fear for our survival but it also encourages us to make decisions that are far from logical, perhaps not the best or even clearly dangerous. When I was told about the volcano eruption I continued my stay as if nothing had happened. I made no effort to rearrange my itinerary; I just hoped that all would end as planned, only a few days later. Like in a dream uncanny feelings appeared - as if I would never come home or see my family again except this time it was for real.
The atmosphere at the hotel where I stayed was semi-relaxed; you could feel the tension in the air despite quiet lift music in the lobby and big flower arrangements. It was very interesting to watch the different reactions of my co-passengers, certainly better than confronting my own fears. Some people were calm and accepted the situation as it was; others panicked and devoted all their time and energy trying to get home, most often with no success. The spectrum of different behaviours - the stages of fear, was my point of departure for this investigation.
â€˜Anatomy of fearâ€™ Pendants Copper, silver, enamel, silk thread
‘MEX... and elsewhere the skies were silent...’ ‘AMS... the skies were silent...’ Brooches Sterling silver, porcelain (with ceramic transfers)
Andrea Wagner Netherlands
When Skies Were Silent An Icelandic volcano, its name unpronounceable, awakens. Its massive volcanic cloud fall-out clogging the northern sky with ash particles. Airspace in Northern Europe is closed for 6 days. Thousands of flights to and from destinations in Northern Europe grounded. Chaos. Hundreds of thousands of travellers stranded. For the first time I realize how vulnerable our travel system around the globe really is. The rapidity and ease of Modern Life we take so much for granted. And to what extent Nature’s calamities can disrupt all that. But there was also Beauty. Spectacular ash sunsets, and a peaceful silence in the skies. Myself, stuck for a few days in Mexico City, at the airport mainly, trying to return home to Amsterdam. My flight having been cancelled, I couldn’t help but intensely envy all whose destinations hadn’t been affected. Like being able to fly home on golden wings.
Benjamin Lignel France
That night. Friday, April 16th 2010, 8.30 PM, Arena Mexico - Explosive star-studded programme. Hand to Hand Combat. Their names read like a doomsday directory of eager goodies and baddies forced to share a tight repertoire of apocalyptic monikers, like two football teams sharing a bag of assorted sweets. That night, wrestlers El Terrible and Disturbio took on Rey Cometa and Blue Panther. The cartoonish outfits, bombastic pseudonyms and forced ‘epic’ magnitude of the !"#$%&!'()* fights fuel a suburban cinderella myth for men: men who dream that average citizens can become popular legends by trading their first and last names for superhuman anonymity and a spandex uniform (sweat optional). The magic at work in the& !"#$%+,) mask is premised on a pre-teen pact with reality, whereby a gash drawn in makeup across the cheek is sufficient evidence of a pirate pedigree. Likewise here, masks are patched together from a basic panoply of stylized scowls, snarls and shimmering fire-bolts to add perfunctory colour to the persona of the !"#$%+,).
The names and outfits, like the fights themselves, seem to the non-initiate the products of a farcical self-parody, built for show rather than grit. That night, I thought we were watching the allmale cast in the millionth episode of an ongoing telenovela, featuring a lot of grunts and no pain at all. The men’s metamorphosis into wrestlers is both theatrical and endearingly tentative (there is a notso-fine line separating protective padding from glittering tights, which they all happily crossed, never to look back). The result is a superbly ambivalent celebration of male stereotypes at their cockiest and most wishful. That night, I imagined an educational toy for the aspiring! "#$%&'(), paying tribute to the conflicting messages sent to us by thugs in tights.
The show will go on.
‘Bracito de Oro’ Tin, copper, gold, air, glue, polyester laces
Caroline Broadhead UK Bracelets Glass beads
Being stranded in Mexico made me feel distinctly more foreign and very English. The evening I thought would be my last in Mexico City, I went to a Lucha Libre fight at the Arena de Mexico. The array of associated merchandise outside and throughout the city markets was abundant. Visiting an artisan’s market the week before there was, amongst a huge number of beaded bracelets with more traditional motifs, a design with an image of a Lucha Libre mask, which I bought.
I have made a version of this piece with my image - stuck in a Mexican form, but looking a bit like an English needlepoint embroidery. The cost of the Mexican bracelet was less than £10. The cost of mine has been worked out by the numbers of hours it took to realise the design, charged at the minimum wage for over 21s, which is £5.93 per hour.
“Minor-Histories, Larger-Worlds” 2010
1 book, 2 photographs, an engraved silver and gold ring
“In the pages of “Minor-Histories, Larger-Worlds”, which I bought on my last day in Mexico, the reflection and critical exercise on contemporary visual arts enhance our perspective on artistic practice, its players, its contexts, its platforms and its orientations, in the present as well as in the future, in Mexico as well as in the rest of the world. In them lives the creative effervescence that characterizes the Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art, which through these publications present us with new challenges, both conceptual and aesthetic to continue to think about Culture in our times.“
In the first chapter John Kelsey interviews the artist Claire Fontaine. Claire Fontaine describes herself as a fiction and as a ready-made artist. What does it mean, from the perspective of subjectivity, to say that a contemporary artist has become something like a urinal or a Brillo box?
This is the opening question. At that moment, and in a very spontaneous manner I began a photographic record of the pages of this book, especially the Fontaine interview.
Simultaneously I photographed the sky through the window of the aeroplane. The sky was a Celestine blue and the white of the clouds was immaculate. I rested; the much talked about black cloud was very far away. I returned to the interview. In her reply Claire Fontaine said: ... For us, the creative process is primarily a form of participation and it involves quite a few gregarious components; it’s the result of a lot of compromise and questioning, and that reinforces the work. To appropriate our selves of situations, moments, experiences, works and objects have been recurrent in the creative process of artists throughout the centuries of the History of Art and of Humanity.
Photo: Eduardo Ribeiro
It was with great pleasure that before my trip back to Lisbon I placed this book in my hand luggage so as to begin reading it during the long flight to Lisbon via Madrid.
Brooches and pendant Plastic coated steel
Gemma Draper Spain
First-aid Easy Mantras for passengers involved in travel disruption due to the Ash Cloud. The first person who told us that a long dormant volcano in Iceland had resumed his expulsion of smoke and ash, a dense cloud that was forcing the closure of airports in Northern Europe seemed to us an inspired storyteller. A joker with a gift for telling stories. Our subtle system of certainties was still protecting us, keeping our planned agendas untouched. The surprise took a while to settle but then quickly penetrated, we were all soaked and the unforeseen event breached the planned course of things. The waiting and its elastic time.
My proposal is a series of brooches and pendants that have a role in helping to calm the mind through an immediate slogan, a catchy mantra. The formal resolution of these provisional jewels is easy on purpose. My intention is to recreate the possible emergency jewels we could have used during those days under that cloud. Pieces that like emergency objects (survival cot, toiletry or food kits) are not meant to survive but to be available at a time of particular need, and can then be discarded or stored.
Janina St端bler Germany
Mexico City, a huge, crowded and exciting city, with many kinds of architectural houses. One of these houses inspired me and I had the need to work with it. The outside, a grey rough structure with a hint of red. The walls on the left and on the right were black from the pollution. Small windows where many beautiful turquoise air conditioning tubes seemed to grow from.
Inspired by this beautiful and interesting building, without knowing what was happening inside, I started this project. Researching how an air conditioning system works on a building, I recognised an interesting parallel to the lung system within the human the body. Taking shapes from the air conditioning system and the organic shape of the lung, I created new forms. A mixture of organic and inorganic forms evolved and I allowed my work to grow.
Object Steel, Ytong (aerated concrete) Brooches Steel, spray paint
â€˜Arboresqueâ€™ Brooch Camera lens, painted, blackened silver
Jiro Kamata Japan / Germany
This piece reveals a new element of expression in the work of Jiro Kamata. Surrounding his workspace with photographs, which were taken whilst stranded in Mexico, it was the vibrant colours and ornamental details within the Arabesque architecture, abundant in Mexico, which has obviously left an impression.
Combining the words Arabesque, and Arbour, provides him with the title of this piece. Using the photographs as a starting point at which to diversify and experiment in a freer, fluid, and some may say, more feminine way.
‘Two possibilities’ Necklace Leather, copper, cotton, asphalt
‘Please do it for me’ Necklace Leather, bio resin, copper, steel, rubber
Belgium / Mexico
April 2010. After the first international symposium of contemporary jewellery art in Mexico, dozens of people were preparing to leave the big city, to return to their home countries or countries where they currently live... one of them was me. To our surprise we found a total chaos when we arrived at the airport. This chaos was caused by an ash cloud from the erupted volcano in Iceland. Tons of people were walking around the airport, desperately looking for an answer to their questions... When I can get out of here? When can I go home? It was strange to see the frustration, anger and confusion in people’s gestures due to the fact of being trapped in Mexico city... A very strong, tense and chaotic feeling was present every time I had to go to the airport.
My question... what would you do if you were trapped in a city of 25 million people, not knowing when you may leave? I’m Mexican, so for me the idea of staying in Mexico without knowing when I could return wasn’t that hard. But then I started thinking about what I would do when I got stuck in the same situation but in another country...
My answer... ask a saint. This answer was the starting point of my first piece. I already saw myself talking to a saint, asking for a big favor, like every good Mexican would do. But I wouldn’t go to a random chosen saint. No, I would go to the one with the most influence, with the greatest authority… The Black Christ of the metropolitan cathedral. I would ask him to help me return to my country. My Christ, my good friend, would help me by changing his cross into an airplane. He would say: “hop in and I will get you home safely”. My second piece is a bit more serious. I created it, thinking about the feelings that people had at that moment... It’s not difficult to recognize the predominantly black in both pieces. The black material refers to the ash cloud as well as to the doubt that people had and to the darkness of the night. But black can also be seen as positive. It can give hope. It can refer to a new beginning, ‘a tomorrow’. Another day that might be a better day...
‘Global’ Brooch, silver, stainless steel
‘Local’ Brooch, silver, stainless steel, synthetic rubies, synthetic sapphires, Zirconia
Jürgen Eickhoff Germany
Hanging around at different airports, looking after nervous people, tired, bored, taking pictures, drawing a bit, whatever will let me forget the time I’m wasting in these places of human movement... These interfaces between home and far away, where you normally spend as little time as possible, suddenly make you feel like a prisoner of this erupting mountain far away in Iceland.
We all are part of nature, so we are an influence and influenced by; at the same time - the local has global effects.
Karin Seufert Germany
Sun, bright glistening light, heat, dizziness, music, sounds, noises, opulent colors, variegated, chaotic, flavor, smell, malodor, loss of appetite, fever, exhaustion, astonishment, pleasure …. The list is endless to describe all the impressions you get in Mexico. Colors and food, music and people, flavor and sun. Sometimes it was on the edges or even too much of everything. I tried to express this atmosphere, like when you have a lot of candy, colorful and luring and of course you start to eat and of course you can’t stop because it is so tasty and sweet and delicious and
Brooches PVC, paper, steel, silver
soft and creamy and all the colors and different shapes and flavors and what an amount… The two brooches of pvc are memories of moments in Mexico. One is the view from the hotel window towards Torre Latino Americano. Beside the permanent noise you had there, it was one of the most beautiful views I ever had from a hotel. Unforgettable! The other brooch displays a moment when we went to Teotihuacan and walked between these amazing pyramids. Also this was too overwhelming to be real.
Necklace Plastic, silver, press-stud Brooches Plastic, silver, steel
Lucy Sarneel Netherlands ‘Deadlock’ Necklace Zinc, wood, paint, plastic, steel thread, UV-protection varnish
I enjoyed very much being in Mexico City. It was my first meeting with a non-European country. At the same time I missed my family and began to really miss them in the end of our stay so I wanted very much to fly home...
The necklace I made for “Under that Cloud” represents a deadlock between nature (the little bird), human technology (aeroplane, ‘metal bird’) and God (wooden cross). What force determines whether we go home? Furthermore the piece reflects the atmosphere of Mexico City with its colours and religiosity.
Manon van Kouswijk Netherlands / Australia
A series of 5 necklaces of which the beads are hand made by applying a strict method; No.1 - made with 2 fingertips, No.2 - made with 4 fingertips, No.3 - made with 6 fingertips, No. 4 - made with 8 fingertips, No. 5 - made with all 10.
‘Perles d’Artiste’ - the volcanic version Series of 5 necklaces Modelling porcelain, black pigment, thread
â€˜Swarmâ€™ Installation of 117 planes Aluminium, steel
Nanna Melland Norway
Most species move to some extent, despite the fact that it is energetically costly and can involve great life threatening risks, but migration is essentially a positive thing. For example it is important for gene flow, and in difficult habitats without suitable food migratory strategies are essential.
The migration of humans over the last decades, helped by the development of airplanes, has had a severe impact on our social systems and nature. It has become a normality we depend upon, but it does have both positive and negative consequences. A fragile balance between order and chaos.
Nedda El-Asmar Belgium
Having to stay longer in Mexico City was not a punishment for me and gave me the opportunity to understand better that amazing city. The impressions that I have of Mexico, are of a huge, colorful and chaotic city but everything has its place and the city functions. My starting point in the creation of this piece is the actual word Mexico, and what it means Meztli = Luna Xi = Ombligo Co = Lugar Mexico = Ombligo de la Luna / Naval of the Moon.
The obsidian and the coloured clotheslines I used for this piece, were bought during the extra days that I had to stay. I bought them because for me they represent Mexico City.
â€˜Structured Coloured Chaosâ€™ Necklace Nylon and obsidian
‘Net-Work Series’ (ARQUITECTURAS LIVIANAS) Brooches Nickel silver, patina
Ramon Puig Cuyàs Spain
“Every adventure is a journey to the place of oneself, and directed to the centre of oneself, so that all routes lead to the same centre and to a single destination: to reveal in the traveller all that is dark and unknown.” Antoni Marí in “The will of expression” Travelling has become a daily, ordinary and inconsequential activity. Speed and efficiency are crucial for transporting people and things but more importantly, and besides people, is the transport of information via networks. Flows of information, people and goods are managed, collected and transported by networks. Networks develop into channels and nodes and connect the simple to the complex, creating a cartography of connections and junctions in their wake, the diluted identity of contemporary man, always going faster and faster. But we are reminded of the fragility of the system when only a slight technical fault or an explosion within the forces of nature occurs, such as the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in April 2010. Suddenly we were once again faced with the uncertainties of travel, with the unexpected, the unmanageable and above all with a new, slower tempo in which to live, in which to
see and feel, to perceive our own individual reality and reconsider the space in which we move in order to realise that when we travel we are not only moving from place to place but that we are also building an emotional journey. Perhaps for these reasons the “Net-Work” series and especially the three brooches entitled “Under that Cloud”, are built of separate elements as assemblages, creating a polyphony of virtual spaces. The composition aims to draw the viewer across a subtle network of visual journeys to avoid the piece being perceived in one glance. The viewer’s gaze is encouraged to wander and explore, to discover the different parts of the object, necessarily spending the time to fix on all corners and details avoiding the passive glance in favour of actively engaging the viewer’s gaze.
Sarah O’Hana UK
“Expressions like the very food that is eaten. Crushed and sour, the lime faced man who sold his soul for a CD copier. Now his literature speaks pockets of copied US images. Windows, Mac, Norton, The Sims. ‘Lo tengo si quieres.’ I have it if you want it.” S. Grainger News that Europe was at a standstill due to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano in April 2010 barely caused a ripple in Mexico City, a land accustomed to living under the threat of its own local Popocatépetl. Momentarily, all that is a given was put on hold under a cloud of surreal paralysis. The enforced, extended stay of some delegates caused by Eyjafjallajökull allowed time to reflect and so to crystallise impressions and perceptions such as the one written by Sam Grainger who reported for the Gray Area symposium. The full text picks out some salient rich threads from the Mexican culture that create a vivid image of the scale and impossible colour of this extraordinary country, the chaos of traffic, the mystery of ancient heritage, the hot-sour flavours of food on the street, the undertones of disquiet from those with less, reminders of a Spain long gone.
Early in December 2010 snowstorms that ground most of Britain to a halt caused many workplaces to close for nearly a week. Planes were once again unable to fly and once again we are reminded of how the fabric of civilisation is fragile and paperthin (Ravilious 2010). Many ex votos are offered in gratitude when normality is resumed or afflictions healed. These elements are reflected in The Candid Culture of Mexico City, ten pages of parchment that unfold to reveal Grainger’s text engraved to the critical point where material structure begins to break up and fall apart. A votive reminder hangs in thanks of restored transport while Icelandic obsidian ties up the text in a colour from Xico, the oasis of our volcanic escape.
‘The Candid Culture of Mexico City’ Parchment, felt, Icelandic obsidian, base metal, linen cord, gold
â€˜Series of broochesâ€™ Steel, paint
Tore Svensson Sweden
When I arrived in Mexico my view was focused on colours. At that time I was already busy with a project about colours.
One of my last days in Mexico I visited The Floating Gardens in Xochimilco, where you can find boats, gaudily painted, gliding around in the channels.
To come from a long cold winter in Sweden, where people are dressed in grey or black to a sunny Mexico, seemed a huge and obvious contrast. People, houses, cars... in fact, everywhere around you the colours were sparkling.
I have tried to catch them in a series of brooches. For me the black cloud felt far away.
Thank You! I would like to thank everyone who helped make this project happen: Elizabeth Shypertt and Mike Holmes of Velvet da Vinci Gallery, in San Francisco for inviting me to
Jo Bloxham, curator jobloxham!aol.com, www.jobloxham.com
curate a show for them, which is why it all started!
The 18 artists involved, who not only created such wonderful new work, but also gave their photos for the collages of Mexico. Thank you so much, Agnieszka, Andrea, Ben, Caroline, Cristina, Gemma, Janina, Jiro, Jorge, Jürgen, Karin, Lucy, Manon, Nanna, Nedda, Ramon, Sarah and Tore. Valeria Vallarta Siemelink, for the generous essay she has contributed to this publication. Also, without her Gray Area symposium (and Carol and Hes), this exhibition would never have materialised.
Jonathan Keenan and William Chitham for making the photographs.
Under that Cloud is a travelling exhibition. I would like to take this oppotunity to thank the participating galleries for their support: Galerie Spektrum, Munich, Germany www.galerie-spektrum.de
Velvet da Vinci, San Francisco, USA
Marc Schmidt and Sarah O’Hana for their help with translation.
Mia Bengtsson for doing a wonderful job of all graphics, with such patience, calm and understanding.
Mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art), UK
A huge Thank You goes to the funders of Under that Cloud. During such difficult times, some have given their time for free; others’ have managed to find the funds to make it happen. For which, I am truly grateful.
Last, but not least, let’s not forget to mention all the Tequila, which I’m sure contributed something along the way!!
Manchester Art Gallery, UK www.manchestergalleries.org
Klimt02 Gallery, Barcelona, Spain www.klimt02.net
Published by Picnic Creative 2011 picniccreative!live.com © Jo Bloxham 2011 ISBN 978-0-9568231-0-6