Common Era – Vanessa Arthur

11 August – 9 September 2017, SPA_CE Gallery, Napier

Much like ceramics, contemporary jewellery in New Zealand has been reborn and is now placed firmly in an art context.

Vanessa Arthur uses metals and concrete as sculptural mediums to create jewellery, vessels and objects. She has assembled a hoard of delightful things which reflect our streetscapes, the un-monumental scrawls in wet cement, graffiti on grey corrugated iron alleyways and mismatched painted patch-ups. There is an immediacy to her signet rings, brooches and trays; we can see layers, rubbing, scratches in the surface, the “mark making” of the artist at work.

The title of the exhibition Common Era (CE) refers to the notation system widely used to date objects from AD1 to the present day. Vanessa’s practice acts as a kind of urban archeology, an “excavation of the everyday”. Her narrative-filled objects create an urban treasure trove, elevated to “art status” in the gallery, but not too precious to be touched.

The work in SPA_CE Gallery is not under glass in remote museum-style vitrines, or locked jewellery cabinets, but displayed on a work table in the main gallery space. There is an implicit invitation to pick objects up, feel their weight, try them on. Curiosity and humour play a big part in this show: a series of rings go by the collective title ‘Dent Collector’. The inspiration of visits to European museums of art and archeology is evident in the beaten form of a charm bracelet called ‘From Pompeii to Parkvale’.

The ongoing slog of making and re-making work is reflected in an enamel and aluminium tray ‘Paint, Erase, Repeat II’. Everyday materials such as concrete (coloured on with thermo set-paint) and scrap metal, sit alongside copper, brass, fine silver and gold.

I came away from Common Era ever more convinced of the preciousness and beauty in the everyday.

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