Interview with Barbara Uderzo

Interview with Barbara Uderzo

NO-GRAM: How and when did you discover contemporary jewellery ?

BU: When I finished studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, I started to think that the jewellery world could be a possible future career for me. I was living in Vicenza, one of the most important centres for industrial jewellery in Italy. This was in the early '90s and there was an art gallery called Cheiros in Vicenza, also dealing in contemporary jewellery. I had the opportunity to come into contact with this type of jewellery and started taking part in exhibitions there, with my first jewellery pieces, which were the result of research I was carrying out on the transferral of my art into a smaller scale, and to the experience I was acquiring as a jewellery designer within the industry. Curiosity brought me to travel throughout Europe, where I met other artists and gallery owners. This gave me the opportunity to see innovative jewellery and continue to experiment with forms and materials.

NO-GRAM: Your work spans many different materials and themes. Is there a fil rouge between the pieces or is every group of works placed on a separate level?

BU: Many of my collections came to life in that early period. For example, both the Succulent rings made from wood containing small live succulent plants and the Blob rings, which experiment with plastic and the pop world, came to life in 1993, and as early as 1992 I was experimenting with food jewellery. Over the years other collections were added and I took on different materials with extreme freedom, sometimes leaving a project on stand-by and resuming it at a later date. There is a no real chronological succession and I have used many materials and worked on very different themes. I believe the fil rouge in my work to be the research on organic shapes and on materials, a world of infinite possibilities that continues to interest me, that I explored through painting when I was at the Academy and that reoccurs in my jewellery, for example through forms in the Deinos collection, or on the surfaces of my Chains, or in a more global sense with my Succulent rings. In my Blob collection, the plastics I use are treated as a magmatic substance, although the focus shifts to the surreal, imaginary world of Pop Art. Small objets trouvés or tiny objects created by me, that interact with pearls or minerals, are englobed into the plastic relating curious stories and tales. These works continue to inspire me even after so many years.

NO-GRAM: is your approach to jewellery making closer to design, art or craft?

BU: I believe my work lies between art and design, as I think that today the confines between these categories are no longer so clear. I was initially formed at the Academy of Fine Arts and later as an industrial designer. This is why some of my works are closer to the art world and some to that of design. The pieces that can be reproduced and that take wearability into consideration, I would classify as design, whereas the works that are more experimental, intuitive and thought provoking can be considered closer to the art world. But classifying is the least of my worries!

NO-GRAM: how do you select the materials you use?

BU: I choose to use a material for various reasons: because it attracts me and I think I can experiment a new language through it, for the symbolic meaning it bears, for its properties and performance from the technological point of view, but I also consider the cost of the material at times. I have mainly used silver in my works and sometimes gold. Silver gives me the possibility of creating many pieces and to develop ideas, which is a little more difficult with gold. Moreover, the specific weight of silver is about one third less than that of gold, and so this makes it more suitable for creating voluminous pieces that must not be too heavy.

NO-GRAM: Do you have a preference for a particular type of jewellery (ring, brooch, etc.)? Why?

BU: A friend of mine once called me “Lady of the rings” because of the fact that I primarily make rings. It was an instinctive choice, probably because I consider rings to be the form of jewellery that is closest to sculpture, insofar as it stands as an independent object and becomes protagonist of the surrounding space, but at the same time creates a dialogue with the wearer and those observing it being worn. For me, it is a challenge that lies between the necessity of making large forms – for example my blob rings must be large enough to contain many elements – and the wish to make rings that are comfortable to wear. In actual fact, besides the rings, I also like to work on the Chains Collection, which is the development of silver modules that are chained together, resulting in necklaces, bracelets and earrings. I enjoy working on this project as it brings me to experiment more with goldsmithing techniques.

NO-GRAM: How important is wearability to you? Does wearability ever become a limit in what you do?

BU: There is a part of my work where I create pieces that have been defined ephemeral, pieces that carry an idea and that refer back to the function of jewellery (I am referring to the pieces that can be eaten – made from chocolate – that when worn melt on the skin, or the ice jewellery “free zero”, eliminating form and matter. In this case, wearability (indended as the possibility of wearing a piece of jewellery on a daily basis) does not interest me, even if the body is the place, the catalyst of the event. For the other jewellery I make, I pay particular attention to weight, equilibrium and form, because I believe it is important for jewellery to be comfortable and ergonomical. Even the Succulent rings, the wooden ones containing mini cacti on the top (including earth for their survival), are worn like this: the ring is worn on the index finger so that the person - in order to respect the position of the plant so that it stays upright – does not need to be with the hand turned unnaturally. Seeing is believing!

NO-GRAM: What is your attitude towards new technologies in jewellery making?

BU: New technologies are most welcome! In the '90s, I started an adventure with electroforming and was one of the first in Italy to transfer this technique from the industrial world to the making of unique pieces (deinos, snark, splash) because it worked well with organic shapes that I wanted to develop. I have also used laser cutting for steel and wood and 3D printing with titanium. Technology related to 3D printing helps in the production of small series and customization, bridging the gap between the production of edition pieces and the creation of one-off pieces, opening the door to new horizons.

NO-GRAM: Do you think the internet age we live in is positive or negative for a jewellery designer? In what way has it helped or hindered you in what you do?

BU: In addition to being an opportunity for the creation of jewelry, for me, technology is an aid in communication. The circulation of information the technological era has created is certainly a favorable factor; the possibility to know what happens in places far away from us, to know where exhibitions and fairs are held, being able to report our work on the web and even to offer it for sale online, although all this does not replace the human presence and relationships, nor the possibility to see or show jewellery “live”.

NO-GRAM: you have always been very active in promoting your work through exhibitions, performances, etc. Is there any special event that you will be taking part in?

BU: Among the various forthcoming events, there is one in particular I would like to mention and it is ongoing now. It is an exhibition at the Design Museum - Triennale in Milan called “Women in Italian Design”. There's time until 19th February 2017 to go and see it!

Rita Marcangelo Author: Rita Marcangelo. Director of Alternatives gallery. Jewellery designer. Co-founder of AGC Contemporary Jewellery Association. Curator of numerous national and international exhibitions. Curator of the Cominelli Foundation permanent collection. She has written numerous articles on contemporary jewellery.