Emotions for the Advanced: Matters of Life and Death, Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery, Salts Mill, Bradford.

Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery specializes in contemporary jewellery, silver and metalsmithing, showcasing diverse collections by over 70 renowned designers and emerging talents from Britain and abroad. Each year, Kath Libbert travels to Schmuck, the definitive jewellery event in Munich where contemporary art jewellers from around the world exhibit their work to an international audience of gallerists and collectors.Kath uses the experience of Schmuck to inspire her annual summer show, meeting jewellers, and identifying themes. This July, Matters of Life and Death opens at Salts Mill, an exhibition that explores the responses of nine international jewellery artists to the proliferation of natural disasters and man-made destruction in our world. We caught up with Kath to find out what goes on behind the scenes.

Do you go to Schmuck with a theme in mind?
This year I travelled to Munich thinking about humour. I felt that I’d be looking for work that expressed humour. When I got there and explored the various exhibitions however, I discovered other themes that struck me more acutely. I was particularly struck by themes of darkness and found that many jewellers had created collections that dealt with issues of darkness and destruction. This was a complete contrast to last year’s show when I came back inspired by all things floral and went on to curate the exhibition IntoFlora!

Why do you think that these themes are emerging?
Art jewellery is a form that has a particular ability to express the Zeitgeist. In addition it has an added currency and potency because of its connection to the human body. Our concerns about both natural and man-made destruction are reflected in the work that many jewellers are currently making.

How difficult is it to maintain your vision when visiting such a huge exhibition as Schmuck?
It’s important to remain open minded and yet to maintain vision – there are so many beautiful pieces that aren’t necessarily relevant to the theme that is emerging. But I can store them up to use as inspiration for later shows. There are a myriad of other possibilities!

Why not just go to the show, pick out your favourite work and exhibit it all together?
The way I like to work is to find a way of unifying the experience. Curating an exhibition on a particular theme helps greatly with the display and of course also with how we promote the exhibition. As the work we exhibit at the gallery may often be made of unfamiliar or surprising materials, working thematically can give visitors a route into the work, adding interest to what is presented visually. Having a curatorial theme greatly helps highlight what has gone into the making of the work and the themes behind it.

So what will you be bringing from Schmuck to Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery in 2011?
The exhibition that has emerged is called Matters of Life and Death, about big, elemental themes of life and death, creation and destruction with an injection of light-hearted humour to provide contrast or light relief. This reflects the current concerns I mentioned earlier.

Which jewellers’ work struck you in particular?
We will be exhibiting work by Sophie Hanagarth, who is this year’s winner of the Herbert Hofmann prize, the world’s most prestigious contemporary jewellery award. Her Trap collection includes wrought iron bracelets that resemble wolf traps with sharp, articulated claws. Hanagarth calls them jaws, dentures or mouths worn on the arm, and I love the brutality and sensuality of that idea. Some of our collectors are already very excited about Sophie Hanagarth’s work. I was also very struck by Swedish jeweller Agnes Larsson’s work. She creates super statement dramatic neckpieces from carbon and horsehair that explore areas of life and death, darkness and light, surface and depth, fragility and strength. I really liked Bernhard Lehner’s work – he’s a multimedia artist who makes jewellery which he describes as symbolic disarmament – he deconstructs weapons, literally saws them apart, and then reforms them as pieces of provocative jewellery.

And will we be able to see these jewellers’ work in Matters of Life and Death?
Yes, these three jewellers and also collections of work by Akiko Kurihara, Samantha Queen, Angela O’Keefe and Peter Vermandere.

You have become known for a very original and fun-loving curatorial style. What else will be happening as part of Matters of Life and Death?
Well, we will have an interactive element to the exhibition. Visitors will be invited to be photographed wearing pieces that move, excite or even revolt them and to record their response on our Chain of Thought, an installation that will become an integral part of the exhibition. There will also be two provocative videos on show by renown installation artist Gisbert Stach.

Matters of Life and Death runs from 8 July – 25 September.


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Courtesy the artist and Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery.