Sunday, 29 July 2012

A Big Week for Jewellery in Melbourne

So much going on!

This Tuesday 31 July is the opening of five new jewellery exhibitions: a great night to make the rounds of the city galleries.

Blanche Tilden's Wearable Cities opens Tuesday at Gallery Funaki, from 6-8pm. The exhibition will run until 25 August.

 Blanche Tilden's Wearable Cities (exhibition media from Gallery Funaki)

Pieces of Eight presents David Neale's Love Letters also opening Tuesday from 6-8pm. This exhibition runs until 1 September. RSVPs for this opening are essential: email by Monday 30 July.

David Neale's Love Letters (exhibition media from Pieces of Eight)

Three gold and silversmithing exhibitions by RMIT students and alumni open Tuesday at First Site Gallery: Wondernamel is an exhibition of RMIT student enamelling, Doko he iku? is a solo exhibition by RMIT's 2011 Maggie Fairweather Undergraduate Gold & Silversmithing Residency Award winner Naoko Inuzuka, and Urbanhabits is a solo show by RMIT graduate Bin Dixon-Ward.

These three openings will be held from 5:30 - 7:30pm and run until 10 August, with artist talks at 1pm Friday 10 August. First Site Gallery is located in the Storey Hall basement, 344 Swanston Street, Melbourne.

On Thursday 2 August from 5-6pm, New Zealand jeweller Warwick Freeman will give a free lecture about his practice at RMIT City Campus Building 10 (Swanston Street), Level 11, Room 3.

The launch of Craft Victoria's annual Craft Cubed festival is also on Thursday night from 6-8pm at Craft Victoria. RSVP is essential: email by Monday 30 July. Craft Cubed runs throughout August, with a number of associated exhibitions, workshops, seminars, open studios and other events. More on the festival soon...

Friday 3 August is the RMIT Practice as a Site for Enquiry III: Unexpected Pleasures: Exposed seminar, beginning at the NGV International and finishing with a panel discussion at RMIT's Kaleide Theatre. The third annual Practice as a Site for Enquiry seminar will look at the capacity of contemporary jewellery to absorb meaning through making, wearing and belonging, with keynote speaker Dr Susan Cohn, curator of Unexpected Pleasures, and panel members Warwick Freeman, Manon van Kouswijk, Dr Karin Findeis, Simon Cottrell, Roseanne Bartley and Katie Scott. The seminar will be followed by celebration drinks at the three gold and silversmithing exhibitions at First Site Gallery from 4:30-6:30pm. Registration is $20 / $10 students before 31 July or $25 / $15 students (cash only) at the door. To register contact or for more information contact or visit

Also on now is Julia Deville's confronting new taxidermy-based exhibition Sarcophagus at Sophie Gannon Gallery, looking at the way we eat and use animals in our society, highlighting the negative/unknown aspects of the meat, dairy and poultry industries while trying to illustrate ethical options. This exhibition runs until 1 September. 
 Custard, Julia Deville (exhibition media)

Friday, 27 July 2012

Jewellery Education needs our help

This May the Ballieu government announced funding cuts of $300 million from the Victorian TAFE sector. As a direct result of these funding cuts, TAFE programs across Victoria are in danger of being cut, and in some cases whole TAFEs or TAFE campuses are facing the real possibility of closure. Swinburne has already announced the closure of its Lilydale campus and the end of its TAFE courses in hospitality, leisure, recreation and tourism, resulting in a loss of 240 jobs.

The Victorian TAFE Association has estimated that more than 2000 TAFE teaching and support jobs will be lost across Victoria as a result of the funding cuts, affecting thousands of students. The Victorian TAFE Association website includes a list of course closures already announced in the media (see Item 17 of the document). The list includes a number of arts programs including visual arts, graphic design and furniture design courses.

The cuts come in two areas: firstly, the Ballieu government has drastically reduced funding to many courses, resulting in higher fees and course closures in cases where funding drops below a point that is viable to the TAFE provider. Secondly, the government has eliminated what is known as Full Service Provider payments, which fund the support systems of TAFEs, including libraries, student services, and student counselling. This means these costs too will have to be covered by student fees. An overview of the funding cuts can be found here.

Although some some apprenticeships and other vocational courses are receiving additional funding, creative and design fields such as jewellery programs and visual arts are facing deep cuts. A strong, diverse and committed education sector including both university programs and creative design-based TAFE courses contributes to a strong jewellery community and arts culture in our state. Melbourne is known for its vibrant contemporary jewellery community and innovation in contemporary jewellery and the arts. TAFE courses like the Diploma and Advanced Diploma of Jewellery Design provide pathways to professional practice as a jewellery artist, further study at university, and opportunities in jewellery design and business. TAFE graduates start their own jewellery design businesses, become exhibiting artists, open galleries or jewellery shops, or expand their innovation through further study at university or through higher degrees. A healthy, properly funded education sector provides the foundation for innovation, quality and diversity in the arts. It's been said before, but I'll say it again: when we de-fund education, we de-fund our future.

So what can we do? 

Sign the petition: If you see me in real life, I will have petitions over the next couple of weeks urging the government to retract the funding cuts and commit to proper funding of our TAFE education system. If you are keen to collect signatures on the petition, email to request a petition kit with petition forms, stickers and a pre-paid return envelope. Note that the signatures need to be returned by 14 August in time for the 16 August Rally to Save TAFE.

Attend a Rally to Save TAFE: The next rallies will be held on Thursday 2 August at 12:00 noon at RMIT city campus (Building 1, corner of Bowen Street and Latrobe Street) and on Thursday 16 August at 12:00 noon on the State Library lawn.

Email Premier Ballieu, Treasurer Wells, Skills Minister Hall and your MP. Visit the TAFE4All website to send a message urging the government to reconsider its detrimental decision that is putting TAFEs across the state in jeopardy.

Spread the word: The de-funding of education is an outrage, so let your friends and colleagues know what's happening and ask them to support our TAFE sector. Don't let our jewellery programs and visual arts courses disappear without a fight.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Local Colour work at Studio 20/17

Local Colour has ended, but if you're in Sydney in the coming weeks you can still catch a glimpse of some of the works from the show at Studio 20/17.

 photo by Jeremy Dillon

The gallery will keep a number of the works on display or in the drawers for the next several weeks, so do stop by if you haven't had a chance to see them! Studio 20/17 is always a treasure trove of interesting works, and even more so now that the gallery has doubled in size with its new dedicated exhibition space this year.

You can also catch the current exhibition Oh, Opal! Reimagining Australia's National Gemstone, a contemporary look at the much-misunderstood opal by Melbourne-based jewellery group Part B. Oh, Opal! is on until 28 June and is followed by Once More, With Love, a not-for-profit travelling jewellery exhibition raising concepts of sustainability, recycling and ethical production. Once More, With Love runs from 31 July - 18 August with celebration drinks Saturday 4 August from 4-6pm.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Traditional Japanese Weaving of Taketomi-jima


Earlier this year I spent a week in the remote Yaeyama-shoto archipelago of the Okinawan islands of Japan, where, on the island of Taketomi-jima, 300 local residents live in traditional Ryukyu homes in what is often referred to as a "living museum" of Ryukyu culture. Ryukyu is the Okinawan people's name for their chain of islands, and traditional Ryukyu architecture involves wooden houses topped with ceramic tiled roofs surrounded in white grout that gradually fades to black as it ages.


The homes are protected by shisa on the roof or at the gate, dragon-like ceramic creatures from Okinawan mythology. Shisa are usually found in pairs - one with mouth open, one closed. The open-mouthed shisa wards off evil, and the closed-mouth one keeps the good spirits inside.


Each yard is surrounded by a low coral rock wall, and many of these have become home to brilliant flowers or even edible plants like the fiery island pepper.

Even the island's roads are made of crushed coral, traversed by pedestrians, water-buffalo-drawn carts, bicycles and the occasional car. An informational map at our bed and breakfast gave statistics about the island:


Population: 304
Traffic lights: none
Police: none
Cows: lots

The island's constitution includes laws forbidding residents from building non-traditional structures, selling their homes to non-islanders, or even renting "in a disorderly manner" to unscrupulous tenants!

The island's most famous beach is Hoshisuna-no-hama, or Star Sand Beach. The sand here is made up of regular sand particles mingled with the skeletons of tiny starfish. A sign on the beach tells visitors they must only collect the starfish as souvenirs, and not take the regular sand.


The traditional craft of Taketomi is kasuri weaving, a type of ikat dyeing and weaving process in which individual threads are bound tightly in patterns and then dyed. Where the threads are tied, the dye does not penetrate, leaving a white patch against the dark dye, usually indigo. These threads are used as the weft of the weave, with the pattern pre-dyed into the threads before weaving. 

The Taketomi Field Museum has a collection of looms still in use for weaving kasuri fabrics. Taketomi has its own traditional woven pattern, the mukade moyo (centipede pattern), made up of a checkerboard-like pattern of white squares on a dyed background, which was traditionally used on minsa sashes.


In the Taketomi process, long lengths of dyed threads made from local banana leaves are stretched on a frame to dry and before weaving. The drying racks are simply poles stuck into the gaps in the coral fences outside the houses. There was a time when the number of weavers had decreased dramatically and a concerted effort is now made to keep the kasuri tradition alive.

I have used another Japanese dyeing technique, shibori, adapted to metal manipulation, in some of my brooches, so I was particularly interested to learn about kasuri dyeing and weaving. Used on metal, the shibori technique creates folds in a thin sheet rather than dyed sections that are later unfolded.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Practice as a Site for Enquiry III: Unexpected Pleasures Exposed

image of Crayfish Reconstruction (Section 7) by Nicholas Bastin, from seminar media

The Gold & Silversmithing branch of RMIT's new Department of Object Based Practice will be hosting the third annual Practice as a Site for Enquiry seminar on Friday 3 August 2012. This year's topic is the current jewellery exhibition at the NGV, Unexpected Pleasures. Unexpected Pleasures: Exposed will look at the capacity of contemporary jewellery to absorb meaning through making, wearing and belonging. Discussion will be promoted/provoked through a panel with a view toward unpacking the exhibition premise with the broader jewellery community.

Guest Speaker: Dr Susan Cohn, Curator of Unexpected Pleasures
Discussion Panel includes: Warwick Freeman, Manon van Kouswijk, Dr Karin Findeis, Simon Cottrell, Roseanne Bartley, Katie Scott

The seminar will be held from 10:00am until 4:00pm Friday 3 August at two venues:

Registration and lecture from 10:00am at the NGV Inernational's Clemenger BBDO Auditorium, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. (Entry through the north (side) entrance via the Arts Centre Forecourt.)

Followed by a panel discussion at RMIT's Kaleide Theatre, 350 Swanston Street, Melbourne.

Post-seminar drinks 4:30 - 6:30pm at the opening of the RMIT Object Based Practice exhibitions at First Site Gallery, Storey Hall Basement, 344 Swanston Street:

Wondernamel 2012, an annual exhibition of enamelling work by undergraduate students of RMIT Object Based Practice

Doko he Iku (Where is it going?) by Naoko Inuzuka, winner of the 2011 Maggie Fairweather Undergraduate Gold & Silversmithing Residency Award

Urbanhabits by Bin Dixon-Ward
exhibition images from exhibition media

These three exhibitions run from 31 July - 10 August at First Site Gallery, with an opening reception on Tuesday 31 July from 5:30 - 7:30pm and artist talks Friday 10 August at 1pm.

For enquiries and booking forms for Practice as a Site for Enquiry III: Unexpected Pleasures: Exposed, contact

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Pink City

Some of the architecture I saw on my recent three-month around-the-world honeymoon was just incredible. There was Gaudi in Barcelona, Bernini in Rome (we'll get to those later), and in India: Jai Singh.

Jaipur, in Rajasthan, India, is known as the Pink City because of an 1876 decree that the whole city be painted pink, the traditional Indian colour of hospitality, in preparation for the visit of King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales. To this day the pink facades must be maintained by law. The city is remarkable for its pink, wacky architecture, built under the direction of the maharaja Jai Singh.

The majestic five-story honeycomb structure of the Hawa Mahal towers over the Old City, which is divided into districts by the type of craftspeople who work in each area: the sari district, the resin bangle district, etc. The Hawa Mahal was built in 1799 as a nearly two-dimensional facade structure backing onto a large courtyard, with 953 small windows for the royal ladies to look out onto public life in the city streets while maintaining purdah (keeping themselves from being seen). 

The windows on the lower floors mimic the honeycomb structure of the facade, and are glazed in primary colours, clashing delightfully with the pink and yellow walls of the interior courtyard.

As you make your way up the building, the windows and staircases become smaller and narrower with each successive floor, in an almost Alice-in-Wonderland experience.These tiny shuttered windows at the top are barely bigger than a person's face. 

Just near the Hawa Mahal is the City Palace, still used as a residence by the current maharaja and his family. The City Palace is home to two silver jars (below), thought to be the world's largest silver vessels. These were once used to carry and store water for the royal family. At the time I visited, the palace was swarmed with people setting up for an elaborate wedding at a remarkable speed.

Jaipur is also home to the Jantar Mantar, a veritable playground of huge astronomical equipment, including a giant sundial accurate to 2 seconds when read from the top of a giant staircase leading to nothing.



What an incredible city. Even the local cinema is famous throughout India for its majestic meringue-and-marshmallow style pink architecture both inside and out, reminiscent of a time when a night out at the cinema was a major social event.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Jewels of India

Now that I've finished all my work for Local Colour, I thought I'd get back to some photos of my travels earlier this year. During a month in India I was surrounded by intricate ornamentation on everything from people to animals to trucks, including lots of jewellery styles I'd only ever seen in historical, "ethnic jewellery" books.

Many women of Rajasthan wore these traditional large hoop-style gold nose rings held in place across one cheek by a thin chain connecting to an earring worn at the top of the ear. Brilliantly coloured clothing is also popular, perhaps as a contrast with the dry, dusty landscape.

These heavy silver anklets, worn in pairs on both ankles, is said to be common in rural areas. This family carries their luggage on their way into (or out of) Varanasi, a holy Hindu pilgrimage city on the Ganges.

Turbans, although worn for religious reasons by some, are also worn by others as a cultural adornment or fashion. We saw many men in pink turbans, which we were told was the current fashion, although it seems that the choice of colour, size and style of turbans is also influenced by a number of social factors such as region, community or caste, occupation and season or specific occasion.

The blanket-shawls (like the green one on the man on the right) were popular with men during the cold winter mornings when we visited Delhi and the surrounding area, as a way of keeping warm before the sun takes the chill off the day.

Larger turbans also serve to protect the wearer from the heat of the sun. A traditional Rajasthani turban, unraveled, is 82 feet long!

This woman's nose ring, although difficult to see in the photo, was a large paisley shaped gold wire hanging down from her nose over her mouth.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

18th Biennale of Sydney Part 2: on the mainland

On my recent trip to Sydney for the opening of Local Colour, I spent a day exploring the 18th Biennale of Sydney, the theme of which is All Our Relations. I spent a good chunk of the day on fascinating historic Cockatoo Island, and afterward had some time left before my flight back to Melbourne to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of NSW.

The Biennale exhibition Possible Composition is showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring artists bringing together disparate elements to create a new heterogeneous whole from what was broken and scattered.

The walls of one gallery have been transformed by Alwar  Balasubramaniam in Nothing from My Hands, in which the very fabric of the building appears to have been squeezed from the white walls and moulded by a giant hand.

The Mending Project, a performance installation by Lee Mingwei, fills the gallery space with spools of thread, some waiting to be used, some already connected to a "mended" garment displayed on a work table. Participants are asked to bring a damaged garment, which the mending artist will transform with brightly coloured, decorative mending stitches. The works are tagged with the names of their owners and displayed until the end of the exhibition, when they will be returned.

Liu Zhuoquan's Two Headed Snake appears at first glance to be a massive, confronting collection of jars of preserved snakes and snake parts, but up close it turns out the bottles have been painted using the Chinese traditional folk art technique neihua, in which bent brushes are used to meticulously paint the inside of glass bottles.

This work was in the permanent collection of the museum, not a part of the Biennale, but I love a chance to see the intricately ornamented life-size porcelain busts of Ah Xian.

The Art Gallery of NSW contains the Biennale exhibition In Finite Blue Planet, exploring a new consciousness of the finite, rather than the infinite, nature of our planet and its resources. There are some really stunning works in this exhibition, but photography is prohibited, so see the Biennale website for images.

Binh Danh's Ancestral Altar series, where the artist has printed photographs relating to his birthplace in post-war Vietnam on leaves using the chlorophyll of the leaves themselves as a printing mechanism in his photosynthetic chlorophyll prints.

Nipan Oranniwesna's City of Ghost is a sprawling conglomerate map of 10 cities merged into one, drawn in stenciled baby powder on a huge plinth to create a ghostly white-on-white apparition of a city. The effect is far more powerful in person than in photographs, as you move around the shimmering powder and try to make out the details of rivers and streets.

The Notice - Forest series by Yuken Teruya consists of dioramas of trees cut from the brand name labels of shopping bags and folded down to form a delicate, miniature world within the bag, the colours of the trees' leaves formed by the letters of the brand names.

A short stroll through the park from the Art Gallery of NSW is the State Library of NSW, which is currently showing the World Press Photo Contest 2012 award exhibition and Photos 1440, an exhibition of photographs for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011-2012. I couldn't pass up the chance to see the phenomenal World Press award-winning photographs in large format in person. The overall winner is a sensitive glimpse into a moment of a mother's grief for her wounded son during protests in Yemen, and there are some incredible, heartbreaking shots of the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, efforts to protect endangered rhinoceros from poaching, the Libyan revolution... With over 200 of the 350 winning photos on display, there really are too many to list. If you're in Sydney this winter I highly recommend seeing it in person, but for those of you who can't make it, all of the winning photographs can be viewed online.

There's also a marble inlay replica of the fascinating Tasman Map of Australia in the NSW State Library foyer, showing a vast interpretation of the continent including an attached Tasmania and Papua New Guinea, and sea monsters off the coast of Western Australia.

The Sydney Biennale is on until 16 September, and the World Press Photo Contest 2012 / Sydney Morning Herald Photos 1440 exhibitions run until 22 July. Both are free, and so is the special free Biennale ferry to Cockatoo Island, running every half hour from Circular Quay (but get there early to avoid the queues).

Friday, 13 July 2012

Local Colour: Artist Talk

I've been asked to post a written version of my artist talk from the opening of Local Colour last Saturday. If you couldn't make it to the talk and you'd like to know more about my work and its explorations of place, migration, Impressionism and the changing urban landscape, read on. The talk is reproduced in full below, with links to the work it refers to, where possible.

And a reminder: Saturday 14th July is the last day to see Local Colour at Studio 20/17, and Saturday is tomorrow, so get in quick!

Mel Miller

Local Colour: Artist Talk


Local Colour is a collection of jewellery and objects exploring the significance of place in the everyday, through the observation of seemingly ordinary places. Each work is informed by a specific place at a specific time and season encountered along my daily commute. Moving through these spaces, learning their contours and colours, we learn the feeling of home, of knowing a place. Within the repetition of personal experience, the mundane is transformed into the magical, and background becomes foreground as landscapes are transformed into jewellery objects.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

18th Biennale of Sydney: Cockatoo Island

Over the weekend I had great plans to spend lots of time at galleries while I was in Sydney for the opening of Local Colour. Unfortunately some of my plans were foiled when I spent 3 hours in the Melbourne airport instead of on a plane! I missed seeing Nicole Polentas and Christopher Earl Milbourne's artist talk at Gaffa Gallery, and Shadowplay, the exhibition of jewellery and drawings based on shadow puppetry on now at Metalab.

But I did get to spend a day exploring the 18th Sydney Biennale: All Our Relations, and what a treat. The Biennale is on now until 16 September at several locations: the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of NSW, Pier 2/3, Cockatoo Island and Carriageworks. I first took the free Biennale ferry out to fascinating Cockatoo Island, which would be well worth the visit even if it weren't Biennale time. Just a scenic 20 minute ferry ride from Circular Quay, Cockatoo Island is a former industrial site on a cliff-faced island, once worked by convicts, now littered with majestic, rusted remains of mysterious industrial giants - the abandoned machinery and equipment. 


During the Biennale, the historic buildings (divided into the Convict Precinct, Historic Residence Precinct, Industrial Precinct, etc) are filled with a variety of installations, many of which are site-specific or engage with the existing industrial ruins. Walking around the island and exploring the buildings was like discovering treasures in a maze, at least in the morning. By lunchtime several ferry trips had filled the island with crowds, and some of the historic charm of the place was dispelled. I recommend getting there early!

One of the most poignant was Ocean of Flowers by Li Hongbo, a rainbow installation of what appear to be specially made expanding paper lantern decorations. There was almost a funhouse atmosphere delighting children as families weaved their way through the space.

At the far end of the room are large shipping crates where participants can open and close these expandable forms, revealing how they work... and what they are. Suddenly the whole atmosphere becomes sinister when you realise each expanded paper form, when lying flat, is a gun.

Philip Beesley's Hylozoic Series is an interactive sci-fi-esque installation of translucent white structures resembling ferns, spiderwebs, and egg sacs, hanging in mid-air and lit from within. As the viewer weaves their way through different sections of the sculpture, various motion sensors are activated, causing the fern-like fronds to open and close, light up, or vibrate. Other motion sensors trigger different parts of the work to come to life: tiny egg-sac-like balloon forms emit a waft of frankincense, spidery thorns begin to move, and clusters of large sagging balloon forms above inflate as viewers walk below.

When I visited viewers were made to wait in line and groups of 20 were admitted for a limited time. The group was told what triggers the installation included, so we would know what to look for, but the delight and surprise of the audience was in no way diminished by knowing what to expect. What fun!

In Snow Ball Blind Time by Peter Robinson, a tangled mass of snow white chains is draped over the abandoned equipment of Cockatoo Island's Industrial Precinct. The chains, some of them mammoth in size, are constructed of polystyrene blocks, and sit supported by large uncarved blocks of the same material as well as the industrial machinery. 


 I'm sure I didn't find all of the works on Cockatoo Island, but some of the others I really enjoyed were the La O series of photographs of abandoned classrooms in Colombia by Juan Manuel Echavarria, and Class in the Class by Junying Yang, where animated videos of children's imaginative doodles on a desktop are projected onto a classroom installation.

from La O series by Juan Manuel Echavarria

I also went to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of NSW components of the Biennale, but I think those will have to wait for another day!