A bit of ruff: image by Boris Bally.

I've just re-set the house and am preparing to get myself back to work for the final two weeks of the year. The last ten days have been a whirlwind, what with the ACJ Conference - the image above was taken at that - and entertaining and getting to know the marvellous Melissa Cameron and Boris Bally, both of whom have been staying with me in Birmingham after the conference ended in Sheffield - though not, thankfully, at the same time.

The conference was, frankly, a triumph. That might sound a bit egomaniacal but aside from suggesting that we take a political theme and giving the names of a few speakers who might be involved. The main body of the work was done by our organising committee, the board of the ACJ, our administrators, Tam and Haru, and the two conference organisers, Rachel Darbourne and Laura Bradshaw-Heap.


I kicked off on the Friday with a visit to Birmingham Airport to collect Boris from his flight - that could have gone better but somehow British Airways took well over an hour to get the bags off the plane. We headed straight up to Sheffield and got there just in time to go on the visit to the Sheffield Assay Office.

ACJ Conference - 20:20 Visions - Sheffield 2017 - 1

We then returned to Sheffield Hallam University for the main conference.

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A roster of famous faces in the front row!

First up was our keynote speaker, the ever-engaging Simon Fraser, who spoke to us on the theme of "Crash! Bang! Wallop! Designing strategic narratives for the 21st Century":

ACJ Conference - 20:20 Visions - Sheffield 2017 - 4

Considering how all aspects of the jewellery world - both commercial and art - have changed and how they are likely to change through the impact of changing demographics, geopolitics and technology. This was followed by "Contemporary Jewellery as Stuff" by Liz Shaw.

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Liz talked about the problems of mass-production and -consumption and the issues arising from the "sustainable studio".

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After a break, we came back to Johanna Zellmer and her "Visions from the Colonies" looking at identity, collaborative practice and how her own work around displacement, passports and identity looks at ways in which jewellery can engage with the displaced and people struggling with their identity.

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Next up was our pre-dinner "entertainment" with Rachael Colley and Nuala Clooney, who presented an aperitif, as it were, in the form of "By|With|By", a multisensory experience derived from their backgrounds in jewellery and silversmithing but very much focused on food...

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There were edible menus:

Strange cocktails in even stranger cups:

Beautiful and disturbing objects:

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All cast from Nuala's own mouth....

And all very delicious food!

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Appropriately enough, it was time for dinner, which was followed by a short talk by the first Chair of the ACJ, Norman Cherry, and the current chair, Terry Hunt. This was followed by a series of Pecha Kucha talks from the regional groups about what they have been doing over the year.


First up today was Norman Cherry again, this time discussing "The Chinese Question". Norman's own personal experiences in China have given him a unique insight into the issues around working with China and the Chinese approach to creativity. Interestingly, he was much more positive about the future of working with China than Simon Fraser was in yesterday's keynote.

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This was followed up by Boris Bally (of whom, much more later!) who was talking about his pro-peace project about gun crime, "I.M.A.G.I.N.E. Peace Now", a show in which I have a 'piece'!

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Some of you will recall this:

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - 24

Which appeared in the presentation about how artists can make powerful points. It was great to see him point up some of the idiocy of people who oppose an exhibition of work which represents a move towards a safer, more peaceful society by showing us some of the emails he had received from gun-nuts.

This brought us on to our first practical sessions where people could choose to learn about tool-making with Tim Blades, learn soldering techniques with Rebecca Skeels or take part in our innovative jewellery walk, "Seeding the Cloud" by Roseanne Bartley which involves removing hard plastic waste from the environment by turning it into jewellery. Fortunately, it was a fine, sunny day and even though Sheffield is one of the cleanest cities in the UK, we still managed to find lots of waste!

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ACJ Conference - 20:20 Visions - Sheffield 2017 - 31

ACJ Conference - 20:20 Visions - Sheffield 2017 - 27

ACJ Conference - 20:20 Visions - Sheffield 2017 - 36
Work in progress - seeding the cloud.

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Rebecca Skeels demonstrating soldering.

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Tim Blades talking tools.

After the break-out sessions, it was back to the talks and this time it was Christoph Zellweger with a talk which caused a slight outbreak of nausea in the audience as he showed some rather intriguing slides of cosmetic surgery in action!

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In his quiet, humorous way, Christoph was probably the most controversial of the speakers with his talk on "The Cultured Body - an artistic investigation" which questioned notions of 'beauty' and I think that he has been the dominant theme of all the main conversations I've had over the last ten days.

This hard-to-follow act was followed with calm aplomb by Melissa Cameron and "The Body Politic" which outlined her move towards being a politically-engaged maker.

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ACJ Conference - 20:20 Visions - Sheffield 2017 - 39

Talking about the sense of distance between her born identity and her adopted identity and how this distance allows for critical observation, especially in the post-Trump, post-truth USA.

Light relief came in the form of the irrepressible Silvia Weidenbach with "The Cherry on the Top", a talk about her research at the V&A and the digital work she has produced from that.

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With titles like "Granny's Chips, Reloaded", her work takes a very playful, feminine, intuitive approach to digital creation - one which is very much at odds with much of the cerebral work and precise work which tends to be associated with digital productions.

The business day finished with a performance of Zoe Robertson's "Flockomania 4", about which I have written before. As ever, it takes time but eventually everyone got into it and tried on the pieces...

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Which only left dinner and the legendary Pin Swap! Unlike the SNAG Pin Swap, the ACJ one went for one pin from each maker and a lottery to re-allocate them and what a fantastic collection we had:

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ACJ Conference - 20:20 Visions - Sheffield 2017 - 23

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Keen-eyed observers will notice that mine is missing... I left it in the house when I set off to the conference but fortunately, it was won by Boris, who was staying with me after the conference, so that worked out well!

My pin is "The B Of The Bang":

The B Of The Bang - WIP - 1


Brought Sian Hindle to the podium to talk about jewellery and embodiment, "Jewellery at the boundary of the self".

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Illustrated with her own drawings of the conference participants so far...

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To be fair, she did invite the conference participants to draw her and send the drawings to her

This was followed by Maria Hanson and her "Making as Agency: a jeweller's reflection".

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In which she looked back at her practice in a range of areas, from the JUNK project to working with NGOs in West Africa. After a tea-break, it was back to a couple of technical presentations from Cóilín Ó Dubhghaill and AnnMarie Shillito.

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Cóilín spoke about a very exciting development in metals, "friction-stirred" metals which he has called "Mikana" and which looks amazing:

It is emphatically NOT a mokume... have a look at the website for more details.

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AnnMarie spoke about and gave a demonstration of her Anarkik3D haptic software which is an innovative way of generating more intuitive and sculptural 3D work. Unfortunately, it only generates STL files. If only it could use T-Splines to make NURBS surfaces...

A plenary session followed with Maria Hanson, Norman Cherry, Boris Bally and audience member and ex-student of mine, Anne Walker.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I think the pressure is on for another one in the next few years.


After the conference, I took a few days off work to show both Melissa and Boris around Birmingham, kicking off with introducing Boris to Kevin Gray, an international meeting of metalsmiths.

International Metal Minds

We headed off to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter after that:

Museum of the Jewellery Quarter - 2017 - 6

There was a trip round the School of Jewellery (which I did again with Melissa later in the week), a visit to the Staffordshire Hoard (which Melissa went to later in the week: I declined a return visit, having seen it several times before!), dinner with Professor Norman Cherry (which I did again with Melissa later in the week) a trip to The Custard Factory to check out the local graffiti - where I found a pink Bialetti coffee pot in the street:

And made a little promotional piece about not taking drugs:

When Melissa arrived, the pace changed a bit and we went to the amazing Compton Verney, a Robert Adam building set in grounds by Capability Brown.

A Visit To Compton Verney - 2

The museum has a lovely, well-curated collection in the main house and while we were there, an exhibition of "Op-Art" in the contemporary gallery, which was excellent - can't beat a bit of Bridget Riley! One of the most remarkable parts of the collection is the British Folk Art, which I loved:

A Visit To Compton Verney - 7

We then headed off to the Pen Museum, another of my favourites:

The Pen Museum - 2017 - 1

The Pen Museum - 2017 - 5

The Pen Museum - 2017 - 4

Where some old ladies critiqued Melissa's calligraphic style!

I now have my own brooch by Melissa, too:

Altogether a fantastic 10 days.

Meanwhile... back at the School, it's been the exhibition of work by school children who have been working with both staff and students to create work as part of the Crafts Council's "Make Your Future" event:

Make Your Future - 3

Make Your Future - 1

Somehow or other, I've still been managing to get a bit of work made too:

Making Stock - 2

Making Stock - 1

Making Stock - 3


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Comment by The Justified Sinner on July 19, 2017 at 5:15am

We'd love to welcome you here! Are you meeting with Stephen Bottomley soon? If so, there might b opportunities there.

Comment by Brigitte Martin on July 19, 2017 at 5:07am

Thank you so very much for this incredibly detailed and interesting news update. So good to see Melissa, Boris and you together. Wished I could have been there with you. Maybe next year.


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