Body of Language: Roseanne Bartley

Craft Victoria Melbourne 5  28 August 1999

To enter the gallery at Craft Victoria during Roseanne Bartley's exhibition Body of Language was to enter a space of tranquillity and stillness at odds with the mad, dirty, noisy world of Gertrude St just beyond the door. A lone and silent old typewriter stands sentinel at the entrance encouraging you to enter but not to engage with its keys.

The work, consisting of brooches and necklaces, are mostly monochrome silver or white and are very simple and repetitious, the same circular floral form being used for each brooch; variation occurs only in the number of petals. The necklaces are long trailing chains with small insect-like forms suspended at intervals along their lengths.

The works are placed in groups around the gallery space that appear random but are in fact very methodical. Each floral or insect form is simply constructed from folded and riveted metal but closer inspection reveals that the silver is very subtly patterned with a detail of lace embossed onto the surface. And within the forms of each petal or the wings of each insect is held a striker key of a typewriter. Each brooch spells out a word and each necklace or group of brooches speaks a whole sentence.

"We love the spring quality", "This is a resting place for contemplation", "I want to compose a melody to your uniqueness", messages from maker to wearer? Or messages from wearer to maker? In Bartley's previous exhibition Homage to Qwerty at Linden gallery, St Kilda and Fisher Gallery, Auckland in 1997/98 Bartley made use of the plastic keys of old typewriters in the work. She included a typewriter in the gallery space as a vehicle for people to write their comments on the show and these comments have become the sentences of Body of Language.

This 'body of work' is much quieter than Homage to Qwerty; the text is small and is secreted within the folds of the petals or the exoskeletal structure of the insects. The nature of the strikers means that the letters are inverted and one must take time with the piece for the message to be read and understood. In the gallery setting this is a lot easier than if we were to try and read the brooch while it is worn. In this way the work is very intimate and personal but at the same time referencing the role of jewellery as a public voice making a contribution to culture.

Bartley's work is very much concerned with the status of craft as it is now but also in terms of its history and tradition. Her use of symmetry and repetition of form and the simplicity of the folded metal references a modernist craft tradition. She also acknowledges a lengthy and rich history of jewellery in her use of botanical forms and found objects and the incorporation of text. The use of text has a long history in jewellery from the engraving of lockets and the insides of rings to the slogan emblazoned on the political badge
Writer Madeleine Fogarty was commissioned by Bartley to write some text in response to the work in the exhibition. The results are three short poems published in the catalogue, "Lost", "Found" and "The Gap in between". The poems are intimate reflections on communication and language. Bartley has opened up this line of communication between herself and the writer by making two large floral pendants called "Lost" and "Found" and a series of small textless floral pendants that were placed 'in between' these two pendants in the gallery. The forms of "Lost" and "Found" echo the brooches but they are more complicated in their construction. They hang on long lengths of chain and when worn would rest in the centre of the belly. The small textless pendants have between 3 and 6 petals and their lack of text opens up the possibility to imagine what words could be contained there.

Bartley's work follows a tradition in contemporary jewellery of investigating the lines of communication between maker and wearer, between wearer and object and between object and maker. In her previous work for Homage to Qwerty this communication or these conversations were quite basically and very publicly explored. The brooches spoke. But this work investigates a much more intimate and intensely personal conversation. These brooches and necklaces whisper.

Support independent writing on the visual arts. Subscribe or donate here.