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Where Moth & Rust Decay

by Katheryn Leopoldseder

Where Moth & Rust Decay A jewellery exhibition by Katheryn Leopoldseder Opening Thursday the 14th of March 6 – 8pm e.g.etal – basement, 167 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Opening Times: 11th of March – 6th of April Mon – Thu: 10am – 6pm, Friday: 10am –7pm Saturday: 10am – 5pm Closed Sunday and public holidays To arrange disability access, please phone e.g.etal. Tel: (03) 9639 5111

Cover: Suburban Dream 3BDR Silver Brick Veneer House Ring Sterling and fine silver

Security Amulet Screen Door Pendant Oxidized copper, sterling silver, yellow Howelite beads, silk



Tata Nano Traffic Jam Car Choker Porcelain, silk, sterling silver


Waking up from the suburban dream

the preciousness of its miniature detail, particularly the sterling silver rivets. The shack is strung with silk thread on which are knotted roughly faceted kynite stones, which exude a power despite their crude surface.

In 2008, Katheryn Leopoldseder travelled through India, visiting the slums of Mumbai and remote tribal communities in Orissa. What struck her was not so much the desperate poverty of marginalised Indians, it was instead the wonder that people seemed to have towards the West. Such aspiration is at odds with the actual experience of living in a Western country, where the limits of the consumerist lifestyle are evident in the worry about waste and never-satisfied desire to accumulate goods. Rather than feel ‘lucky’ to live in the comfort of an affluent country, Leopoldseder is concerned to find the sense of common human experience that is shared between the two worlds. It was the search for this experience that lead to the work in this exhibition.

This duality of rich and poor is transcended by ‘Sun Brooch – All under the same sun. All the same under the sun.’ This is a Platonic form made from gold plated silver. It boldly asserts a truth that subtends these worldly differences. Sun Brooch completes the triptych, bringing the opposing worlds of rich and poor together. So we have Australia, India and the sun under which they come together. Let the conversation begin… The other works involve a dialogue between the two realities. Trading Culture for Coke – Bangle adapts the Indian technique of foil-backing to transform a Western brand icon into jewellery – recasting consumption as ornament. Continuing the ‘Venetian Blind Tragedy – Necklace’, evokes the eyes of the suburban house, which open and close with the arrival and departure of the day. The disordered arrangement of the blinds suggests some breach of this fragile security. The partner piece ‘Security Amulet – Screen Door Pendant’ is sawn from copper sheet and strung with Howlite stones. Like the ornate grills in Moghul palaces, the Venetian blind and security door allow the person within to see out, while being obscured from the outside. The writer David Malouf evokes this element of Australian architecture in his description of the Queenslander veranda in his memoir 12 Edmonstone Street. Much creative labour in Australia is directed towards breaching the walls of its suburban Bastille.

Suburban Dream – 3BDR Silver Brick Veneer House Ring is based on the floor plan of her husband’s grandmother’s 1950s home in Burwood. The work is an extraordinary feat of skill and invention. Leopoldseder created the silver roof tiles by roller printing steel wires into a silver sheet. The brickwork is painstakingly soldered to form an open lattice. In this process, she has transformed the castle-like bastion of security that is the brick suburban home into a breathing membrane. What sits solidly on Victorian basalt now becomes a delicate finger ornament. Precious Aspiration – Collapsible Indian Slum Dwelling Necklace is located on the other side of the fence. By contrast with the rectilinear suburban home, the joins in this piece are lose and lack cross support. A slight knock on the table is all it would take to bring it down. Rather than detract from the work, this precariousness only accentuates



Precious Aspiration Collapsible Indian Slum Dwelling Necklace Kynite stones, silk thread, re-used mild steel, sterling silver, natural rust and enamel paint



Sun Brooch All under the same sun. All the same under the sun. Gold plated sterling silver, stainless steel pin 8

Finally, ‘Tata Nano Traffic Jam – Car Choker’ translates this western consumerism into an Indian context, evoking the spectre of micro-consumerism such as the Tata Nano, the no-frills small car designed for the Indian market.

This combination of quotes from Matthew spans the moral ambiguity of Leopoldseder’s body of work. On the one hand, there is the developmental story of our desire for ever increasing security. Architecture seems to evolve naturally from the shack to the suburban dwelling. The inhabitant of an Indian slum looks longingly to the middle class home, offering protection against theft, running water and shelter from the elements. But this search for security doesn’t necessarily stop on arrival at the suburb. While there is little physically that might destroy a house in Burwood, there are other kinds of loss. The attraction to the online cloud, in which we increasingly store our memories, music and information selves, offers an almost existential escape from the contingencies of ‘moths and rust’ that affect our cluttered material lives. And the lingering sense of dependence on material things, particularly given our ultimate mortality, leads us to look with envy at the resilience of slum dwellers, able to re-fashion their normal lives from nothing on a regular basis.

Leopoldseder has gathered these works under the quote from the Complete Jewish Bible from the Gospel of Matthew: ‘Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal.’ (6: 19-21) She evokes a theme of stoicism, which pervades not only Christianity, but is also found in eastern religions such as the concept of karma in Hinduism. This is echoed elsewhere in Matthew, where the metaphor of ‘bedrock’ is offered to convey the surety of following Christ (7:24-27). Matthew contrasted the true path with heresy, which is to consign oneself to GeiHinnom, Jerusalem’s slum, considered a glimpse of hell.

But Leopoldseder offers us another way of looking at it. If we focus solely on architecture, our focus is narrowed towards a hierarchy that distinguishes the solid building in Australian suburbs from the jugaad hotchpotch of informal settlements in third world cities. But we should remember that this exhibition consists of jewellery. If you stay a little longer with her exhibition, you may discover another path that links Australia back to India in an intriguing way. Besides personal security, the suburban home is also a powerful symbol of social capital. A person’s standing in Melbourne society is clearly indicated by the location of the home and its fabric, ranging from double-brick, to

Beyond the architectural defenestration of the Australian brick home, Leopoldseder attempts to bridge the Indian Ocean by ‘idolising’ suburban normalcy. The nose rings ‘Looking Skyward’ and ‘Dead end, new hope’ transform these architectural elements into symbols of portable wealth, usually associated with nomadic peoples. The ‘Household Idols’ feature gods of distraction, comfort and self. The transformation of everyday items into precious miniatures is exquisitely done, evoking the age of the charm bracelet. But they are also elegiac. The gods which these gadgets replace were public figures, found throughout home and street in India, from personal shrines to gigantic monuments. In their place we have objects we depend on every day, but whose purpose is to cut ourselves off from the environment.


Trading Culture for Coke Bangle Copper, repurposed Coke can, patina ‘Coca Cola India - little drops of joy’


Venetian Blind Tragedy Necklace Aluminum, enamel paint, silk, sterling silver


Household Idols – Ring series The God of Distraction: Ear-phone ring The God of Comfort: Ceiling fan ring The God of Self: Vanity Mirror ring Sterling silver



narrow ledge on a wall that holds the Mithi river. Rubbish tossed by truck drivers from the road occasionally blows back onto the ledge, offering rare and unmolested opportunity for scavenging. This insignificant sliver of space offers Sunil a precious security that transforms his life. Like the untouchable Velutha in Arundathi Roy’s God of Small Things, Sunil finds a place for himself in a space we would find ephemeral. Leopoldseder’s exhibition is a unique jewellery contribution to this literary genre of gritty Indian realism. The fraught quest to find a niche for oneself is something we can find in both cultures.

veneer and weatherboard. Security operates just as much in terms of one’s place in the social hierarchy as one’s physical being. A parallel, of course, can be found in traditional Indian societies, where family wealth is signified by the kind of jewellery worn by wives. A common surprise for tourists is to find sari-clad women with thick gold earrings digging ditches on the side of a road. This symbol of wealth is as permanent as a brick house. This opens the possibility that the Australian focus on the home is equivalent to ornament in Indian society. We share the same need to establish ourselves in the world – one finds the answer in bricks, the other in gold ornament. Of course, to see this equivalence involves transcending the value of architecture as a form of existential security. We may find it a little easier now to put ourselves in their shoes, or at least sandals.

In terms of Australian jewellery, Leopoldseder’s work makes a remarkable contribution. A work of such fine architectural detail is quite rare. To find something similar, we have to go back to Norman Creighton’s The Australian Farm Game, which featured in the 1980 exhibition Objects to Human Scale. She is one of the few Australian jewellers post-1980s making work as small sculptures exclusively for exhibition. And now with an emerging contemporary jewellery scene in India itself, her work invites a reciprocal response.

Leopoldseder’s work contributes to an evolving creative exploration of the Indian slum. We have recently become more familiar with the aspirations of Indian slum dwellers through the film Slumdog Millionaire. More recently, the much-lauded book by Katherine Boo Behind the Beautiful Forevers tries to delve deeper into the lives of those on the edge by following individual characters around the Mumbai slum, Annawadi. The precarious nature of life is well represented in the figure of Sunil, who has to combat increasing competition among waste-pickers for the scraps found around the Mumbai airport. Eventually he finds a

Leopoldseder’s exhibition is a reminder of the powerful role that jewellery plays in connecting the symbolic realm of culture with the private world of the body. She has cast the moth and gilded the rust in precious objects that ornament the promise of a common humanity. Dr Kevin Murray


Looking Skyward Red Roof Nose Ornament (Natth) Mild steel, sterling silver, enamel paint


Dead End, New Hope Brick Wall Nose Ornament (Natth) Sterling silver, 18ct yellow gold


Where Moth and Rust Decay is presented by e.g.etal and is supported by City of Melbourne’s 2013 Arts Grant Program. The exhibition is a L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program event and forms part of Sangam - Australia India Design Platform, a creative dialogue between Australia and India. With special thanks to: Emma Goodsir and Tess Braham of e.g.etal Avril McQueen and The City of Melbourne Team Jeremy Dillon of The Photography Department Ilona & Colin from Cone 11 Ceramics Marian Hosking Dr Kevin Murray Maggie Maguire Helen Punton Rosemary Trudeau Nola, Richard and Adah Hawkins Ashley Leopoldseder Egon Leopoldseder


Where Rust & Moth Decay  

A jewellery exhibition by Katheryn Leopoldseder

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