Jewellery and fashion writer Mazzi Odu listens in on Ute Decker and Bryna Pomp in conversation.
Jewellery, like any other industry sector has its titans. Practitioners, curators and collectors whose methods, expertise or body of work have undeniably shifted perspective and precipitated global conversations, so when Goldsmiths Fair hosted a webinar between Ute Decker and Bryna Pomp it was bound to be special. Decker is an award winning jeweller whose work is both an exploration of minimalism and a socioeconomic comment on existing mining practices.
Although in many ways part of the jewellery establishment, with her work in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Goldsmiths Company to name a few, her pieces are still imbued with the rebellious energy of the outsider, a maker whose previous careers as a political economist and journalist have resulted in a body of work that is about so much more than adornment. Pomp is best known for her curatorial work in New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, with the annual Mad About Jewellery sale – an important part of the jewellery calendar that has proven a launchpad for many contemporary jewellers.
Of Decker, whose work she has selected to show severally she is especially admiring, stating: “Whose work is the most innovative? Who is the most creative and who has a signature look and who excels in craftsmanship? Ute excels in every one of these things. She is such a superb artist…that I find her to be one of the most extraordinary in the world.” Decker for her part describes her work as “as sculptural architectural and sustainable” and it is these themes that anchor Pomp and Decker’s conversation.
If ever a current practitioner deserved the role of jewellery-artist it is Decker who describes her pieces thus: “how I conceive them is not so much as jewellery itself but more as miniature sculptures and then I see which part of the body they might want to be on. So this is a ring but it could also be worn on a torque as a pendant.” It is in many ways a radical proposition: the wearer’s body doubles up as gallery space, or becomes a proxy art piece in itself. And sustainable considerations are achieved by a piece having multiple locations where it can be effectively displayed. By not having a conventional approach to making, Decker frees herself from limiting codes of what a piece of jewellery can and should be.
Minimalism has often suffered from the misconception that it is boring, lacking the ability to create wonder and connect with the wearer and viewer but Pomp offers a riposte to this thesis, referring to Decker’s much lauded Articulation neck piece she observes: “[This is] what I love about your work. It is very spare. It just has what it needs. What I also admire greatly about your work is that you really maximise the metal, you’re not adding any additional almost superfluous elements. You are working with the metal itself.”
” …for Decker her work is indelibly linked to building a conscious driven creative community.”
The comment is particularly poignant as it is reflective of Decker’s own refusal to use gemstones in light of what she views as the continued failings of the mining industry, a decision that has focused her material choices to recycled silver and ethically sourced gold, and with the absence of gemstones, pushing their creative potentials. Pomp’s analysis also mirrors Decker’s own design ethos of leaving space between her work and wearer’s interpretation: “when I look at a piece of art I don’t want to be told it is about this and you are supposed to think this. An artwork will obviously have its thoughts behind it, but a good artwork needs to make you think”. For both Pomp and Decker, minimalism is in fact a portal for multiple discourses: from distilling what one really requires from jewellery, to whether adornment needs to be busy to be impactful, and in light of the climate emergency whether our aesthetic choices should be more closely aligned to conserving our planet rather than depleting its resources.
Decker has created several new pieces for the fair, most notably a pair of earrings that can be worn multiple ways that she models during the webinar. Pomp rightly notes “once someone acquires one piece from you, they just want more and more and more. Your work is just so alluring and addictive.” But whilst committed collectors have resulted in some of her most exciting commissions, for Decker her work is indelibly linked to building a conscious driven creative community. Activism did not occur in an intellectual silo but through research: “I discovered that there are other jewellers who are also very passionate about the kind of legacy and the kind of materials we use…I was one of the very first in 2011 when we launched Fairtrade Gold to use it and the UK was the first country to launch Fairtrade Gold.”
In Decker’s eyes the fair also acts as an essential conduit for makers and collectors alike. She notes “the beauty of Goldsmiths Fair is there are so many makers, so many different voices and all have a very individual style rather than a kind of you know high street style.” Jewellery is a highly emotional purchase, because unlike clothing which although personal, is also a necessity to function in society, jewellery primarily speaks to our internal landscape. It acts as a talisman, a statement of intent, a sartorial marker, sometimes all at the same time. Pomp in her work as a curator has championed excellence and expanded participation, Decker is an artist committed to communicating universal truths via her practice. They are both driven by passion and curiosity, two enduring and essential guiding lights for the human condition.
Mazzi Odu is a fashion and jewellery writer who contributes to: US Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle UK, Business Of Fashion, Harper’s Bazaar UK, CNNStyle and Wallpaper*
Watch the talk below
Bryna Pomp has spent her entire career in the field of jewellery and is a globally recognised expert in contemporary jewellery. Working for the Museum of Arts and Design in New York as Director of MAD About Jewelry since 2011, she is focused on strategically searching the world for the most innovative, creative, skilled contemporary jewellery makers to present at this annual sale at the Museum.
Ute Decker’s pieces are exhibited internationally and have won prestigious awards including Gold Awards from The Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council, UK. Public collections include the Victoria & Albert Museum, UK; the Crafts Council, UK: the Goldsmiths’ Company, UK; the Spencer Museum, USA; Musée Barbier-Mueller, Switzerland; and the Swiss National Museum.