Monday, 20 August 2012

The conundrum of being German

By Gela Tölken

A while back one of my fellow Fine Ounce Collective members wrote an amusing piece about her (as she termed them) “well-organized, calm and collected” German companions at the Design Indaba Expo 2012. The writer went so far as to state that she would prefer to be German in her next life (

Being German myself (if only by descent, background, education and mother-tongue) I could relate to the writer’s observations. Some of us tend to be well organized, and yes, some of us rarely panic (at least not in an easily discernible way). There is, however, a conundrum involved with “being German”. The dilemma is best expressed in the series of images below:

How the world would look if we would all be German:

(images courtesy of a private email received)

You laugh? Me too – because the essence is only too true for me: with my tendency and/or urge to organize, label, classify and neaten everything, I often find myself taking away from things (usually considerably), rather than adding to them… especially when it comes to my creative work.

Before I elaborate, I would like to interject that being from German descent certainly does not account for my way of approaching and doing things on its own. Upbringing, habit and personality are other major contributing factors. For myself, however, I have come to refer to the outcome of the entire bundle of influencing dynamics as “being German”, and it is within that rather epitomizing sense that I use it here.

Thus, in relation to my creative practice, I often consider “being German” as both my best and my worst attribute. When it comes to technical detail and craftsmanship, my inherent need for perfection, precision and neatness is definitely well placed. I pride myself on the technical quality of my pieces – even though I have to guard against finishing them off until too little of them remains to ensure their structural integrity. Similarly, when seeking solutions to technical problems, my engineering-like “Vorsprung durch Technik” mindset usually yields some interesting, positive results.

When it comes to the truly creative part of my work, however, I often feel profoundly inhibited by my “German” characteristics. Allowing chaos to exist, even only on paper in my design pages, is often a real challenge for me. The urge to straighten and neaten lines, and to impose a system where perhaps there should be none, is considerable. Also, to embrace deviations from anticipated and planned outcomes of ideas, processes or techniques is often somewhat arduous.

How then, do I deal with the dilemma of “being German”?

I somehow realized early on that my creative practise and its outcomes are an inevitable mirror of who I am, the life I lead and the way I think and feel about it. My jewellery is such an integral part of my self-expression that, in order to have any effect on it, I would have to change the fabric of who I am and how I operate. I wanted to break through my limiting boundaries, and so worked at it deliberately: trying to be more spontaneous in my approach to life, learning to trust invisible, undefined, unpremeditated processes, seeking to exercise less control over my surroundings, attempting to steer away from perfection in everything but the technical execution of my pieces, consciously opening and exposing myself to the “strange” and “unfamiliar”, allowing chaos to exist and refraining from seeking out and establishing systems everywhere.

Did I succeed in some way?

In some small, encouraging ways, yes: my home is a bit less than perfectly neat these days, I welcome serendipity into my creative process more readily, I play and experiment more, and now and again I succeed in not taking everything so serious. These tiny changes reflect in my work, which has gradually evolved over the past years to become somewhat more light-hearted and playful, less structured and perhaps thus slightly more accessible. Yet, even though these achievements are heartening, it will probably be an on-going battle for me, fighting the urge to structure and systemize the playground and so take away from its essence and lively beauty.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Post Script to the preceeding post

It goes without saying that despite the challenges to be overcome in order to save wild places, that we should not give up; but each do everything we can, however little or much, to heal our planet and save what wild is left, and to be aware of our impact on the resources essential to all our survival.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Wild and sacred places - jane mcilleron

About this time last year I was lucky enough to be able to spend a few days in a private nature reserve in the Cederberg, and have been reminded of it now. 
Although it is still very cold (there was snow on the mountains in the vicinity when we arrived), spring is well underway in these arid parts of the Western Cape.
All sorts of improbable and exuberant flowers appear from stony ground, sand flats and thorny scrub. Plants with fat, flat, succulent leaves produce delicate shimmering blooms, like exotic butterflies settling for a few moments of rest en route to much lusher climes. Grey, almost leafless bushes are covered in pink and purple mists of incredibly intricate tiny flowers.

 The hairy grey green clumps of Arctotis daisies remind me of poppies in the way their buds are borne curled over on furry stems, to lift up and burst into haloes of orange flame. In the shelter of a rock on a hillside a mass of papery bells glow a strange blue-green tinged white.
 Whole slopes blaze in brilliant colour. I am enchanted.

Even greater is the impact made on me by the landscape. The vast space and distance, the indescribable light, the silence – it is like a healing, a benediction... - I can't find the right word.
It feels as if my soul has been washed, mended and smoothed out.

The landscape is made up of quite distinct communities of plants. It is a strange feeling; I would be walking through an area dominated by a distinct group of plants, then suddenly, without having noticed it happen, I would find myself in an entirely different collection of species. Some of the plants seemed almost sentient; as if,had I been equipped with the right language and sense for detecting it, I could have heard them exchanging strange and subtle intelligence This applied especially to a community of Euphorbias that looked like line drawings of sparse skeletal trees, reaching way above the low bushes and plants like an ethereal plan for a taller type of vegetation. I can't explain why I felt this way; I don't usually get that sort of feeling about plants, nor do I talk to them.

At night the cold clear air tastes like the delicious icy water in the stream. The stars are so thick and bright. The Milky Way is milky and the whole sky is punctured and peppered with stars, too many to comprehend, giving me the feeling of an abyss of perception or conception, a vastness of space unimaginable, and simultaneously a reminder of the insignificance of my puny self. I remember Stephen Watson's versions or translations from the /Xam, in which the narrator recalls the sound of the stars, saying “tsau, tsau”.
There are traces of the sensitive and dreamlike rock paintings done by these First People.

There are high areas with magnificent anarchic rock formations, remnants of a surely violent geological past, as well as more level sandy flat plains in the valleys, and rolling hilly areas covered in low scrub. There is quite a bit of wildlife – antelope, zebra, leopards and aardvark (we didn't see either of these two, only spoor) ostriches and some other birds.

After coming home the memory of Bakkrans clung like a fragment of music to the edges of my awareness.. Eventually I made some earrings that in some way came from the weird improbability and unlikeliness of the plants - the way a plant built as if to withstand a century of drought and hot scouring winds will produce a glowing delicate flower, or a bush that seems only to know about thorns will shroud itself in incredibly complex and tiny blossoms.
They are entirely inadequate as a response to the rare and extraordinary beauty of our semi arid landscapes such as the Cedarberg, the Karroo and the Richtersveld. Even my father's photos do not do it. I don't think there is any medium that can convey the experience. These places are unique and very vulnerable. It is unbearably sad to know how unlikely it is that they will last even for one more generation.

I think another of Stephen Watson's poems in his versions from the /Xam is appropriate; it expresses the grief of a man foreseeing the simultaneous destruction of a his people, their civilisaton and the magical, fragile land they inhabit.

Here is the last verse from
by Stephen Watson.

of this string,
because of a people
breaking the string,
this earth, my place
is the place
of something -
a thing broken -
that does not
stop sounding,
breaking within me.

(from Dia!kwain)

Photographs: Geoff McIlleron.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Taking pictures       by MAike Valcarcel

We are goldsmiths, not photographers.
But most of us do take the pictures of our jewellery ourselves. We need them for our website,
For advertising, for our records….
Hey, but it`s not easy to take good pictures. I for one have never learned to use my camera properly and its not just a matter of aiming and shooting.
Background, lighting, sharpness, composition all play a mayor role.
So I try my best but the results are limited.
But then once in a while we are treated to professional pictures.
We are asked to provide jewellery for photo shoots being it for magazines, online shops, online magazines, brochures…
The results can be amazing!:

    Left:      2 of my rings on the left and 2 of Frieda`s rings on the right
   Centre:  my felted flower rings in a photo shoot by HalfHalo
   Right:    rings of mine used in an editorial called “before you kill us all” by Darren Gwynn

 Pictures taken by Elsofie Pitout of Half Halo
Jewellery by myself

Friday, 3 August 2012

ON The Map

By: Adeline Jubi

Here Be Dragons - Adeline Joubert

I have always been fascinated with Maps. I remember as a young child I used to study a huge Reader’s Digest Atlas in my father’s study, for hours. I love Old Maps, New Maps, Fantasy Maps and even Mind Maps. They played a huge part in my spatial orientation since I am as we would say in Afrikaans “rigting bedonnerd” (Directionally Challenged). This runs in my family, there are quite a few highly intelligent family members that can’t instinctively tell the difference between left and right. It is commonly known as left-right-confusion. For this reason maps are a very handy tool to navigate around the planet, you just turn them facing the direction you are going in to see if you need to turn right or the other right. Plus Maps are beautiful and I love the feel of the paper they are printed on.

A few years ago I started using maps in my jewellery; the idea was sparked by my very creative husband, Tertius.  It started with Map cufflinks and brooches and pendants and then spread to incorporating motor vehicles and Traffic signs in jewellery. Quite a few Road Atlases and “Pass your Learner’s Licence Easy” manuals were destroyed in the process. Studing maps can be very entertaining since South Africa has fascinating and very funny place names like: Koekenaap, Pofadder, Groot Drink, Groot Doring, Koffiefontein (the birthplace of my mother), Loeriesfontein and Soebatsfontein to name a few.
Reads Gallery in Rosebank, Joburg is celebrating their centenary by hosting a special exhibition that opened this week. Fine Ounce as well as a few of the members in their personal capacity has been invited to take part in this special event. The theme is “year of the dragon”. I interpreted the theme by using old Nautical Maps that sometimes had the warning HBD (Here be Dragons). This was a warning to brave and adventurous seafarers about the dangers of unchartered territories where Sea Monsters and Dragons lurked. The maps are framed in ornate silver frames and the pieces were inspired by Renaissance jewellery pieces, my favourite.
Airport and Traffic sign Cufflinks - Firepetals
Traffic sign Cufflinks - Firepetals

The South African artist, Gerhard Marx, has been cutting up maps for years and reconstituted them by literally drawing with the fragments. It is breathtakingly beautiful works of art. Roads become lines and figures emerge like pen drawings, only it is collage. I cannot imagine how long it must have taken him to create these works.
Speaking of fragmented, my mind has been quite fragmented from stress and excitement. We (Firepetals) have been selected to exhibit at IJL (International Jewellery London), a trip sponsored by the Dti (Dept. of Trade and Industry). We have been running around trying to finish orders, making stock, getting Visas etc. We hope that the show will generate orders for us and above all, put us On the Map.

Gerhard Marx 's Sheet #2: Horizontal Figure 2 (1995) on the cover or Art South Africa