My second solo exhibition, Lost in Thought comes at a turning point in my making.
I was lucky enough to have Christian Hall, Creative Director of the Metal Design Studio, Jam Factory open the exhibition. Hands down, one of the best opening speeches I've ever heard (without bias of course!)
“Bench Batch Bunch or The importance of small things”
Alison Jackson has done the impossible.
She has created a self-sufficient and viable, full-time practice for herself as a silversmith in Australia. Where many grumbling and perhaps jaded, but none-the-less well-informed practitioners have wandered from the field, hammers in hand muttering complaints about there being no market for such time consuming work, Alison has stubbornly persisted, adapted and succeeded in connecting with one.
So a little background on Alison’s practice to start… In co-operation with her partner Dan, Alison self-produces her range of handcrafted jewellery and tableware that is retailed around the country. The range includes Cheese Tools, Tea Scoops, Planter Pots, Copper Vessels, Little Spoon Big Spoons and Butter Knives and of course jewellery.
These objects are designed with an idiosyncratic minimalism. While ultimately hand-made Alison employs the use of locally available industry. This combination of craft and industry finds a parallel in the maker in a powerful mix of pragmatism and passion. While Alison doggedly dedicates herself to the continued tradition of the silversmith, she does so in a way that respectfully considers the realities of manufacturing and the market. She comes across as an advocate for the local within the global mind-set.
Alison also regularly attends the national network of artisan and design markets that have grown to critical mass over the past 5 years. She has come to Adelaide for the opening of “Lost in Thought” directly on the back of a weekend design market in Canberra and you can also find her at Big Design Market in Melbourne on the 2nd – 4th of December, and at Finders Keepers Sydney from 9th – 11th of December. In this way Alison connects with new audiences, directly marketing herself and her work and benefiting from increased sales and an ever broadening loyal client base.
Her work is also available directly via her website alisonjackson.com.au. Alison self-manages sales from her website that also represents the broader scope of her creative practice. This includes special, large-scale commission-based projects and the exhibition of one-off or limited edition work. Alison’s work is regularly selected for inclusion in national and international exhibitions.
With her hands, from a bench in a studio in Queanbeyan, NSW, on the outskirts of Canberra, Alison moves metal into unique and often functional forms. Her workshop is affectionately titled Pocket Studio and was founded in 2008. From here Alison and her small team, made up of Dan and a newly acquired studio assistant, run all the production required to meet orders. It is a space that is both necessary and sufficient and has steadily grown to meet the increasing demands of Alison’s practice.
The studio even has its very own website through which students can enrol in Pocket Studio’s workshop education program. Alison runs regular classes in jewellery and silversmithing providing a second tier of business and an additional stream of income. Sharing her infectious enthusiasm for her craft means Alison connects with her local community and builds a more robust network and business model. It also follows the traditional path of seamlessly enfolding teaching into the practice of making and reinvesting craft with meaning for a popular audience. Alison’s workshops are always full, usually with regular, returning students. She has a waiting list of those wishing to enrol if a place becomes available. It is a gentle kind of exclusivity.
Alison received her initial training at The Australian National University in Gold and Silversmithing and graduated with honours in 2008. Whilst completing her degree Alison travelled to Germany on a student exchange where she would return under an Australia Council JUMP mentorship in 2012 to work with German Silversmith Maike Dahl. Since 2012 Alison has also worked intermittently as tutor and sessional lecturer for ANU and Sturt Craft Centre. From 2008 to 2013 Alison worked for Fink & Co. with the late and great Robert Foster. Perhaps it is here that the first inklings into running a craft and design business took hold.
Yesterday when I was talking with Alison about her approach to the business of her craft I asked Alison about whether custom jewellery commissions was something she considered. Alison’s response was a definitive no. It is refreshing to encounter such certainty in a relatively young maker.
And this brings me to “Lost in Thought”.
Alison clearly has a passion for functional and well-made objects but in looking at “Lost in Thought”, Alison’s second solo exhibition, one might deduce that it is the vessel that sits at the centre of it all. Perhaps it is the passion for the vessel fuelling the fire that makes all the rest possible.
In this exhibition the vessel, with its implied function and tacit, body/object relationship has given Alison a chance to let her mind wander. She has sketched out, in in three dimensional space, concepts that relate to domesticity. Working at a domestic scale with abstracted domestic forms Alison has created a quiet body of work that is about weight, balance, touch, the dialogue between inside and outside and the preciousness of small things.
In looking at the work I was reminded of the assertion that Gaston Bachelard makes in the Poetics of Space; there is always more inside a closed box than an open box, as the closed box is invariably filled with the vastness of the viewer’s imagination. Through the use of abstracted function and contained space both physical response and memory are mobilised by this work. The viewer is invited to explore the interiority of the object. “Intrigue” is the word that Alison used yesterday to describe this process.
For me the word that comes to mind is tenderness. Through various ways Alison’s wanderings have captured different aspect of the tender relationship that people can have with objects. Imbuing objects with that kind of humanity is an intuitive task and an essential component of good design practice.
This body of work falls into a series of groupings that are each determined as separate through material and formal characteristics. The contrast highlights what Alison describes as separate characters or personalities in the works. From the catalogue; “Lost in Thought is a glimpse into Alison’s making process, where the initial spark of an idea is free to change as the object develops, giving each a unique personality and together they form an eclectic bunch.” The collective noun that Alison employs to describe this group is instructive; as any maker knows it is the bunch and not the batch that recharges the creative battery.
It is an important insight into the context of Alison’s practice that from the bench comes the bunch and the batch. The bench is the foundation of her practice, setting the constraints of scale and the pace of production and supporting these two diverging paths of making.
Tacit exploration of material and form create the individual outcomes that together can be curated into a bunch. When exhibited this reveals, in Alison’s case, a kind and tender subjectivity at work behind the scenes. This in turn supports and is supported by her commitment to batch production, and not just in financial terms. The skillful repetition of known outcomes produces the muscle memory of the maker. As the bunch gives rise to new ideas the batch hones the skills required to see them proliferate.
Bench, batch, bunch; bench, batch, bunch; bench, batch, bunch; the alliterative potential of the words mirrors the rhythmic strike of the silversmith’s steel hammer onto fat and annealed copper sheet. As the metal moves under the watchful eye of the maker form emerges from flatness. So while Alison Jackson gets “Lost in Thought” she is simultaneously sustained in practice.
Alison’s work is an antidote to our disposable world of invisible objects that leave no trace in memory. It contributes to a growing movement that supports the artistic and environmental sustainability of our material culture. Whether for production or exhibition Alison makes objects for the home. Objects that endure physically and emotionally by eliciting a tender response from their owners. Owners who care for the objects they collect.
"Small was feeling grim and dark. He was playing toss and fling and bang and crash. Break and snap and bash and batter. Small said “I’m a grim and grumpy little small and nobody loves me at all”. “Oh Small,” said Large. “Grumpy or not, I’ll always love you no matter what.”
Small said, “If I was a grizzly bear would you still love me would you still care?” “Of course,” said Large “bear or not, I’ll always love you no matter what.”
Small said “But if I turned into a bug, would you still love me and give me a hug?” “Of course,” said Large “bug or not, I’ll always love you no matter what.”
“No matter what?” said Small, and smiled, “What if I was a crocodile?” Large said “I’d hug you close and hold you tight and tuck you up in bed at night”.
“Does love wear out” said Small, “does it break or bend? Can you fix it, stick it, does it mend?” “Oh help,” said Large “I’m not that clever I just know I’ll love you forever”.
Small said “but what about when you’re dead and gone, would you love me then, does love go on?” Large held Small snug as they looked out at the night, at the moon in the dark and the stars shining bright. “Small look at the stars – how they shine and glow, but some of those stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies. Love, like starlight, never dies”.
Christian Hall is an Australian designer and maker. Originally trained in object and jewellery design at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney, his practice now encompasses industrial design, jewellery, sculpture and lighting. Christian completed a masters of visual arts in 2003 and has held a number of lecturing positions and been the recipient of numerous grants. He is currently the Creative Director of JamFactory Metal Design Studio, Adelaide, South Australia, a position that he has held since 2009. In this role Christian designs and manages the manufacture of beautiful and useful things that contribute to the JamFactory product range, is lead designer and project manager on bespoke commissioned works and oversees a workshop education program. Christian is responsible for the development of the emerging designers that make up the team of the Metal Design Studio and contributes to training across a broad and demanding two-year program. Christian is an active, independent designer and maker in his own right.