Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Juhls silvergallery

You probably know from previous posts that I love brutalist jewelry. I guess you all know the work of  Laine, Sarpaneva, Vidal and Larin, but I thought I'd show you one of my norwegian favorites. 

Juhls' Silver Gallery is located in Kautokeino, in the very north of Norway. The story of Regine and Frank Juhls is as lovely as it is fascinating. In the 1950s Regine, who is originally from Germany, studied at a theater school in Wienna, Austria, when she started her journey to escape urban Europe, and find a place more favourable to her creativity. Up in the north of Norway she met Frank from Denmark, that was pursueing the same 'non-urban project'. In 1959 they started a small workshop. This was in the earliest years of the Studio Silver Movement in Norway. They were true pioneers who started out empty-handed to build up something in the wilderness. In the Fifties there were no roads across the tundra yet - not even a path to where they wanted to build. And therein lay the challenge. At first the building materials had to be rowed over a river and then carried up a mountain. With indefatigable pleasure in their work the two of them put up a house. The workshop developed over the years into a gallery in a large building with interesting architecture, reflecting the shapes of the surrounding landscape.

The Juhls were fascinated by the nature on the tundra, and by the Sami people who lived there. They started to repair silver jewelry for them and this developed into a renewal of the tradition of jewelry used with their folk costumes. Gold- and silversmiths were unknown here. Because of their unsettled lifestyle it was difficult for the Laps to develop a craft that would have required fixed workshops. Nevertheless the Laps had centuries old traditions concerning the wearing of particular jewellery which they acquired through trade. Driving the Laps' enthusiasm for self-adornment to greater heights and thereby taking into account the particular ideas of the Sami is still an important task for this workshop - the first of its kind in all of Lapland. Some of the jewelry, inspired from old grave treasures, have animal shapes and are similar to modern studio jewelry with naivistic influence.

However, it is the modern jewelry of the Juhls' workshop that has been internationally acknowledged. He paints - she creates sculptured jewellery. Both of them are inspired by immense, untouched Nature. Regine's collection, named 'Tundra', in her own words 'inspired by the eternal Wasteland of the arctic', has a tough elegance. It is the result of a life in isolation, far away from large cities, in fascination for the nomadic lifestyle, near to nature, stones, bones, lichen and moss, from which it has borrowed it's shapes. The collection is characterized by uneven surface texture, negative space, raw unpolished white silver surfaces, and sometimes brightly colored stones. The very earliest pieces and the prototypes are made of small pieces of silver hammered and then soldered together.

Some of the pieces from the 'Thundra Series' were exhibited at Expo 67, the Montreal World's Fair in Canada, where Regine Juhls and Tone Vigeland (another great favorite!) were chosen to represent Norwegian art of jewelry making.

There's an awful lot of text in this post, I know.... Still I want to show you Regine's jewelry accompanied by her text "Winged nomads", which is so beautifully written and gives you a glimpse into her artistic prosess and her loving appreciation for the landscape that surrounds her and that she draws her inspiration from. Her words are truly beautiful, I promise you won't regret spending a few minutes on them.

Winged Nomads
"If I want to describe beauty, the first thing that comes to my mind is the majestic appearance of large birds of passage, and it seems to me as if I feel something like the resonance of their calls inside me. - Each time they're always overhead quite unexpectedly. Before I grasp their presence they're already flying across distant skies. - These few seconds are like an initiation into the mysteries which are forever unfathomable to mankind. Everything I am holding at that moment - things and thoughts - I simply have to drop. For I feel as if I am seeing a miracle. - After that there is a void, as if the birds have taken something away with them. As if to replace it, I try to form shapes. Sometimes I succeed."

"Being creative, - is it not like filling a deserted sky? Or is it like with certain uninhabited rooms? As soon as the door opens they swarm out from all over. They are the ideas woven in secrets which have been waiting for someone to knock ... Picture a Tundra landscape, a vast Arctic plain. Snow has covered it, but no-one has yet trodden out a path. - Nature is practically crying out for it; - and somebody comes ... Being creative is like an act of defiance to the knowledge of the meaninglessness of the individual. It is an attempt to portray the longing for perception. Sometimes it is perception itself - other times a simple game, and it is again different and so much more. - But how to realize an idea? - At first glance the work of a goldsmith can seem to be an accumulation of mere trifles."

"Saw this, file away that, solder it together again, sand it down - what pedantry! The empty room, the vast plains, the bewitching calls of winged nomads - where has it concealed itself, that which opened the door to creativity? What was it that had me jump over an abyss, only to leave me with good workmanship? At times I feel deceived. Or I am plagued by doubt: creativity, - what is it worth? Doesn't it always harbour a seed of destruction? Why reveal secrets, why tread footprints in virgin snow? Look at the birds who don't form anything - but they don't deform anything, either ... 

Another time I am overcome with scorn for my work: "What am I making? Baubles for vain ladies?" One consolation is that much is form enough in itself, - regardless of use and weight, - a form which could be made of iron or silver - could be a sculpture or jewellery. However, that I then wrestle with it, as if it were vital,. simply to make nuances harmonize with ideas what ridiculous seriousness! And yet I continue, out of a feeling of obligation and out of obstinacy, - and each time the resistance melts and disappears completely. It is always the mysteries of a microcosm that attract me and seek to suck me in, until I suddenly catch hold of the end of a thread, and thereupon cast myself wholeheartedly into this unknown. Soon it is my soul which takes the lead as if to head a magical parade. It determines the rhythm, the formation, and before a couple of days have passed I am again convinced that there is nothing more important than creating something beautiful."

"I am no technician. An "old-fashioned" person, I stand helpless when faced with apparatus with knobs, - barely able to reconcile myself with a pair of compasses and a ruler. Nor am I one of those who must under all circumstances work with their hands. After all, I am always surprised at being able to solve aesthetic problems with my hands. I work with my eyes. Indeed, I love beauty. Most of all, though, I am basically geared to making something out of nothing - on no matter what subject. Everywhere I discover" something, find, pick up, collect what others would overlook, scorn even, and disgard. In the tiny remains of broken, half-decayed things a whole world of possibilities can open up to me."

"When enthusiasm overcomes me, I become like a child, not noticing that I am sawing my finger or singeing my hair. And be it child or sorceress - no, the enthusiastic servant of a sorceress who juggles with corrosive acids, sulphur, gas and fire, I am warm and raw with gratitude because I know: I serve Beauty ... Until I have finished and woken up sober in order to let the new piece of jewellery pass through the hands of our friendly employees. Now the model has to be copied so that it resembles the original as closely as possible.   

The Lap Tundra: During Summer's embrace the earth breathes beneath a phosphorus-green net embroidered with a pattern of tiny plants. Mushrooms, moss and lichen - the claim to be able to recognize this abundant sprouting of the tiniest plants in my jewellery, - is it not just the wishful thinking of the well-disposed? Or can living a long time in a particular landscape develop a style? - the ability to experience Nature with fervour, - we understand that it fills the soul. Likewise we understand that in the profusion the soul gives of itself. But what is it that is added and produces poems that have to be written on paper, and forms that have to be made with tools? - It isn't known."

"It is very sad that I hardly get a chance to make jewellery, - if I do, it's winter, and then only rarely. There is always something else to do to preserve what we've built up. Sometimes more than a year passes and my hands are no longer used to the tools. Even touching them almost requires an effort, and all the doubts find excuses to put off making a start. - Finally I clear a big table, root out what I have collected and tip it out over the bare surface. That helps give me a perspective. And already a mysterious mechanism starts up. ..

"Well, look at that, - that's not bad," I can hear myself mumbling. "This half-molten fragment here - and that one over there, - surprising that I've still got that!" And I brood over all these metallic curiosities. It is like in the summery Tundra, - when I am engrossed in the "forest" of the thousands of individual tree lets" that make up the reindeer moss. - Finally I go to my workbench. And there I stay, - day and night. And I love my work! - Now the ideas assail me. It is as if I were being wrapped up in crackling garlands, just like the Northern Lights when I stomp through the snow on winter nights. I saw, file, sand down, as if anaesthetized by the flowering pot plants around me. Now I experience the practical work as something precious, - something that glows, smells even, - like white hyacinths in dark sunless days. ...

Outside storms can rage and the frost can hammer mighty blows against our walls. "That's Winter," we say and smile. So what? We face the fact that he will stay for at least eight months. - But all of us here in the North - people and animals - long for Summer. We are beside ourselves when she comes. And when she goes, we feel as if we'd had her for a long time, for we loved every moment of her presence. - Then the Tundra colours, blazes, glows, and we know... now it is at its most beautiful. ...

After that it gets quiet. Autumn, late autumn - a new innocence, a submissive virginity trembles around each defoliated twig. This bareness, trusting in whatever may come ... I don't know why this season moves me so much. Reverently I follow the slightest changes, roam carefully through the silent wilderness. It is so delicate, you hardly dare approach. A shaking emanates from the straggling rusty-brown birches. The moors glisten palely around timidly grey waters. A weak, yellow-ochre glimmer of forgotten willows lingers on the open plain, - around distant heights' there is still a touch of violet ...

Standing on a hill, I am gripped by the feeling that I am looking at the end of all things, and yet I am only standing at the beginning of Siberian eternity. And I say to myself "This is where I live" and a thankful sensation of security comes over me. There, suddenly - wonderous calls. From behind denuded trees regal birds soar into the air with mighty beating of their wings, high, high into the air and away from all that ties one to the ground. - At that moment I am transfixed by a swan-white light that takes my breath away. "Yes", I think, and I find myself on knees, "I've just seen a miracle". Tundra -you demand also from us the humility which is only inherent in animals. Rarely does a human succeed in getting close to your wholeness, - and you honour that person by welcoming him."


The buildings alone are well worth a trip to Juhls silvergallery. I still haven't been there, it's a really long journey from here, actually as far as from here to Italy. Gives you an idea of our long and narrow country! My parents have, though, and told me it was an unforgettable experience. It's very high on my list. The jewelry pictures and Regine's text are from www.juhls.com. Sadly, the image quality doesn't match the greatness of their work. I like using my own pictures in my posts, but the ones below, as you've probably guessed, are shamelessly "borrowed" from cyberspace. I've downloaded them some time ago, so unfortuneately I can't remember who to credit. I'm not very proud of that bit... But I just had to show you this amazing place. The lamps in the first pic are to die for... They're called "Orient", and were designed by Jo Hammerborg for Fog & Mørup in 1963.


The roofs of the buildings spread out over the variously-shaped rooms like snowdrifts over the Tundra... The buildings are filled with art from other diciplines, paintings, prints, glass, ceramics, as well as collections of old sami artefacts.

I do not know the people in the picture below, but couldn't resist showing you the lovely Falcon chairs by Sigurd Resell....

The buildings and outdoor space contain several ongoing artworks and murals by Frank Juhls.


Regine and Frank Juhls, don't they look lovely?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Manufactured landscapes

I’ve had a bit of a dry spell with the blogging lately. I could show you my newest thrifty acquisitions, but I thought I’d do something else this time and show you something that has inspired me immensely.

I'm usually all smiles (unless someone's done a good job at winding me up), but my taste and sense of aesthetics is more on the dark and gloomy side. I've always loved steel and the way it ages. There's something about the signs of lived life and the decay aspect that adds so much conceptually to a piece of art or architecture. Steel also makes me think of machines. Large machines in a landscape is a theme that's been a constant source of inspiration. In my student years I worked a lot with steel, often Cor Ten, a steel alloy that lets the surface rust quickly to form a protective layer. It won't rust through like regular industrial steel. When I designed a small pilgrim chapel once, my professor said: you know the Cor Ten steel might "bleed" down on the ground when it rains, don't you? He then thought about it for a few minutes (while I was thinking uh- oh) before he said: of course, let's hope it does, it's perfect for your concept!!

It's sad how few projects that allow for a purely conceptual approach, on a daily basis it's all about cost and deadlines and an enormous amount of paperwork. Sometimes I feel like I'm drying out as an architect and need to go back to the experimental student work, when it was ALL about concept and see if I can still get my mind into those tracks again.

Back to my source of inspiration. I've been immensely inspired by the photographs of canadian artist Edward Burtynsky, especially his series of photographs called Shipbreaking. If you’re not familiar with his work already, check out the website (quotes and images are courtesy of www.edwardburtynsky.com). He has documented manmade landscapes, landscapes that are shaped by industrial prosesses, like quarries, oil refineries, dams and mines. His photograps have so many layers. They can be seen as purely aesthetic, Burtynsky chooses to refrain from moralizing. He photographs civilization's materials and debris, but in a way people describe as "stunning" or "beautiful," and so, without words, raises all kinds of questions about ethics and aesthetics without trying to easily answer them. There's this strange feeling of guilt for finding them beautiful.

“The original idea for “Shipbreaking” started a long time ago. About four years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill I heard a radio program where they were talking about the danger of single-hulled ships. The insurance companies were refusing to cover them after 2004, which would force all these ships to be decommissioned. Only double-hulled ships would be allowed on the open sea to prevent that kind of catastrophe from happening again.

What went off in my mind was, wouldn’t it be interesting to see where these massive vessels will be taken apart. It would be a study of humanity and the skill it takes to dismantle these things. I looked upon the shipbreaking as the ultimate in recycling, in this case of the largest vessels ever made. It turned out that most of the dismantling was happening in India and Bangladesh so that's where I went.” 

Until the end of 1900, shipbreaking took place in industrialized countries, such as Great Britain and the US. Today, the industry has moved to Pakistan, Bangladesh and India due to cheaper labour, less restrictive laws concerning handling of hazardous waste, and no great risk of legal claims for injuries or health problems. There is hardly any basic protective gear, like helmets, gloves or masks being used in the demolition, it’s man (even children) against giant supertanker, barefoot in steel shrapnel and chemical waste.

The ships are dismantled, and even the smallest steel component is sold. Only tiny fragments are left after dismantling a supertanker, the industry supplies 80 percent of the steel resources of Bangladesh. It has become a valuable source of income that sadly comes with a very high price.

The stranded giants, partly taken apart, look quite surreal, unlike anything you’ve ever seen, like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. They are robbed of their dignity as ships, but are still impressive due to their overwhelming size. You can see elements you’ve never seen before, rare views of inner constructions. Nothing has ever amazed and inspired me more. 

To see beauty in destruction is a strange phenomenon. Nature transformed by industry is a common theme in Burtynsky’s work, places most of us don’t experience, but on a daily basis contribute to the upkeep of. The photographs reflect the dark side of our consumer society, but the artist’s aesthetic fascination for these manufactured landscapes shines through. He says of his work:

“These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire - a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times." 

The documentary “Manufactured landscapes” (Jennifer Baichwal, 2006) documents Burtynsky’s travels to several areas transformed by industrial prosesses and we see him at work. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. 

Below, I've thrown in some samplers of my more abstract wrecks from my student days. Picture 2 to 5 are from a course that was purely experimental. We spent half of the semester wondering what the heck we were doing, until we discovered that was exactly the point. All our strange models were discussed very academically, it was REALLY interesting. I can't even remember how I described the purpose of my "machine" placed in the transition zone between land and ocean, I think our sensors read more into it than I had the brains to come up with... (pic number 5 of the sensor team of guest professors was taken by a friend) Although a bit frustrating, this research course led me to the idea for my diploma. 

The following images are from my diploma, where I designed a wave powerplant from a different strategy than the usual one, where the landscape is completely ruined. It consisted of several "machines", each fitted into natural gaps in the landscape and orientated according to the wave power potential. I chose my topic out of the shock of discovering that no landscape conciderations whatsoever were made in the planning of a test plant on the most beautiful island imaginable. I'm a firm believer in renewal energy, but in my country much of the resistance towards it is much due to landscape preservation. The installations leave permanent scars, while the technology is constantly being developed and they thereby have a relatively short lifespan on the site. I think a lot of effort needs to be put into the design and approach to the sites, minimizing the negative impact.

The site is very rocky and torn up, and I worked with the idea of seeing the power plant as a wreck being pushed into the gaps in the landscape by the force of the waves. I tried to examine how a shipwreck would hit land and where it would end up. I divided the powerplant into several individual “machines” that could be orientated according to the wave power potential. The company that was planning the test plant kindly gave me a lot of information and test results on the wave potential. Of course, I didn't tell them I was doing the project as a critique of their approach....

A wreck comes to rest on shore in a seemingly accidental way, but it is in fact a result of the topography and the force that pushed it there. It’s something man can't control or achieve, that's what makes it so fascinating. It is usually partly crushed in it’s violent encounter with the landscape. This produces asymmetry, strange angles and views of the inner spaces and constructions that are not usually seen. There’s a wreck on my favorite stretch of coast that I’ve often photographed, for my diploma I used some of them to illustrate my concept. 

Engineers helped me with some structural challenges, since they were a bit more "hardcore" than the usual building technology we’re expected to master, offshore construction and all. Through the whole semester I was so nervous about how the team of sensors would see it, it was the first time a power plant was designed in my school. Luckily, it all went very well. 

Wow, you must be exhausted by now if you've made it to the end of this post!! I promise I'll be more cheerful next time:-)
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