Space Defined

Exhibition review Jewellery by Brenda Ridgewell, New Collectibles Gallery, East Fremantle WA 20 November - 1 December 1996

The intimate space, that space we inhabit and share only with a lover or child is the realm that Brenda Ridgewell explores in her current body of work.

Ridgewell is one of a number of prominent Western Australian artist-jewellers who, like their counterparts on the eastern seaboard, are making their mark internationally. Australian jewellery, like film and dance, is well received overseas and Ridgewell is exhibiting a similar body of work in Japan concurrent with this exhibition.

The collection currently showing at New Collectibles reflects an evolving practice over a period from 1992 through 1996. During this time Ridgewell, who originally trained at Curtin University where she now teaches, has completed a Masters Degree at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In 1995 she won a major award in Upfront a national non-acquisitive award exhibition of contemporary jewellery. That piece, Resilient Flight was subsequently purchased by the Art Gallery of Western Australia. In 1996 Ridgewell won one of the Open Awards for Excellence in the City of Perth Craft Awards. Similar work to the award winning pieces are on display.

The thirty three works are well integrated into the gallery space eliciting an overall expression of cool minimalism. On closer inspection the viewer is engaged with a variety of forms and materials and well balanced designs with multiple mobile elements.
The work was informed by her fascination with the social dynamics of evolving relationships. Conceived for the body as vehicle they also debate jewellery's affinity with sculpture. Unencumbered by the traditional concerns of jewellery as functional indicators of wealth and status, contemporary jewellers are exploring ornament as a vehicle for social, sexual and political issues. In the majority of works in the current exhibition the intimate relationship between the object and the wearer remains central despite the trend in recent work towards less functional pieces.

With the exquisite engineering, geometry and repetitive accuracy of modern bridge construction, these works have at once a highly refined tension and a chaotic growth force. Silver tipped stainless steel wires fly out of their taut symmetry evocative of electrons orbiting the nucleus of an atom in an electromagnetic field. These are not merely decorative ornaments. They are extrovert pieces of jewellery. With the movements of the wearer the pieces transform as the elements glide in relationship with each other.

While successful as sculptural reliefs on the wall, pieces such as Personal Space, a neckpiece in oxidised sterling silver, 9ct gold and stainless steel wire, really activate their meaning when in relationship with the body. This piece describes a private space which, if entered uninvited, would be violated.

A series of articulated box-forms employing sterling silver, 9ct gold and stainless steel pursue purely sculptural concerns. The layered wire elements slide with precision in seemingly endless permutations ultimately collapsing the described space.

The technical virtuosity evident in this work is counter balanced with a thoughtful and sometimes playful vocabulary. Lightning Followed the Moon, an articulated brooch in sterling silver, 9ct gold and fine gold, has a curious mystery. Multiple layers of wires form a grid construction defining a three dimensional space. On top of which are counterpoised enigmatic symbols suggestive of a game, a manoeuvring of elements in relationship to each other.

Bracelet, combines 9ct gold and Argyle diamonds to create a restrained work that succeeds as an object independent of the body or equally in interaction with the body while being worn. Executed with perfect precision Bracelet articulates with an aerodynamic coolness.

Ridgewell's concerns with personal space and intimacy 'needs', in an increasingly crowded but alienating society, are articulated in Space for Me (bracelet) and Private Space (neckpiece). Each of these pieces makes their presence known to the wearer by virtue of their proportions and the way they hug the body, requiring a specific commitment to be worn. They delineate an aura and restrict movement creating an acute spatial awareness.

In all an exhibition of technical precision with some intriguing examples characterised by the juxtaposition of tight geometric constructions contrasting with exuberant expressive elements.

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