Attai Chen. “IN BETWEEN” exhibition

20, May 2014 · interviews

Attai Chen is a contemporary jeweler, the winner of the Andy Prize for Contemporary Crafts for 2014. Born in 1979, Attai is a graduate of Bezalel School of Arts and Design, Jerusalem and the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. For the last five and a half years he lives and works in Germany. A solo exhibition of Attai Chen “IN BETWEEN”, was opened May 22nd at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (closing October 25th, 2014).

Leonid Zeiger: Your field of work is new to me. What I mean is that I am not acquainted with its historical context, and I do not know what is happening in that particular department of the Art World. Would you say a few words about whether working with materials collected from Nature is an existing trend in Jewellery or if it is something unusual.

Attai Chen: The kind of Jewellery that I make is usually called “Contemporary Jewellery”. Jewellers who identify with this trend aim at widening the scope of their expression beyond the borders of conventional dictates of decoration or fashion, introducing individualized artistic expression into their work. In general terms, this is a direction that emerged around the 50′s -60′s of the 20th century, particularly in Europe (Munich, Amsterdam). A number of avant-garde artists, and a few educational institutions accepted this branch of Jewellery as a recognized academic artistic discipline. From then on, this field of Jewellery expanded and spread to include other parts of the world. At present, Contemporary Jewellers form an intimate microcosm yet it is global, active and recognized as an academic discipline. There are galleries that specialize in Contemporary Jewellery, there are International Contemporary Jewellery fairs, journals, public collections and exhibitions in a number of the leading art or design museums in the world.

Jewellery originated in the decorative arts and crafts where Nature played a major part. The preoccupation with Nature in the past and present was and still is of an uppermost concern to Jewellery. Nature is a source of materials and inspiration.

In my present body of work, interaction with Nature indeed plays a main role. I rely here on Nature as both the source of aesthetic inspiration and as a source from which I collect my raw materials. At the same time, it is important for me to note that what I aimed for in this project is to create a body of work that cannot be identified with the Natural context alone, or with any other specific frame of reference or a particular time setting. I hoped to achieve something that belongs to the territory extending between the ‘Natural’ and the ‘Manmade’, meaning an in-between territory forming a spectrum between these two spheres.

On the one hand, in my work I am trying to relate to the references from the world of Jewellery (the European as well as the ethnic traditions), and on the other, I wish to expand into other less defined and classified grounds. The present body of work is destined to primarily be exhibited on three dimensional forms in space rather than on the human body. Despite this fact, the human body plays a central part in my work in its relation to form, proportions and weight. I constantly return to it in the process of making the pieces. I would like to create pieces that could exist in their own right in space without relying on the legitimacy provided for them by the human body, while at the same time the pieces would necessarily take on another identity and presence when worn.

L. Z.: Did you start as a “classical” Jeweller or were you active in an altogether different media? Do you have examples of your work in another discipline?

A.Ch.: I have concentrated my creative efforts within the parameters of the field of Contemporary Jewellery. In my opinion there is certain freshness in this field that attracts me and a certain curiosity that goes with the hitherto unexplored ground, waiting to be tilled. The reason I decided to study at the Department of Jewellery at the Bezalel Academy for Art and Design, was in fact because of its preoccupation with tangible materials as the point of departure for the creative process. The inherent demand of such work was to create ‘miniature’ pieces within an intimate environment. This was the other reason that I was attracted to this field. I became interested in Jewellery as a central issue at a later stage.

For most of the time my work stays within the boundaries of Jewellery. Some of the works to be shown at the forthcoming exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum for Art will be presented as objects, but even these pieces contain something that still connects them to the field of Jewellery – perhaps the actual materials, the concentration on detail or their proportions.

L. Z.: Concerning the use of elements (objects) taken from Nature, is this a decision based on aesthetic considerations only or is there a wider philosophical meaning to their use, or is it an artistic statement? Do these works carry a specific connotation attached to the name; for instance a subject or a relation to a place?

A.Ch.: Some of the works have names, occasionally some names have a literal meaning, and some carry a particular sound or association with something else.

My decision to use and integrate elements from nature into my work is not merely aesthetic; there is also a conceptual motive involved. It is difficult for me to clearly articulate the ideas behind my work, or indeed classify them. However, what is clear to me is that the recurring use of elements from Nature in my work stems from a certain kind of search for identity, questions of belonging and the need to look for a context.

Within the present works, I have collected raw materials mainly from Nature, found in different places. Those from the Jerusalem Mountains represent my natural habitat, from Germany, where I live now and other places that I have visited. Somehow it is easier for me to connect and develop a sense of belonging through the contact with Nature than through the Manmade World.

I am discovering over and over again, that the central motif of the cycles of growth and decay represent challenges on a personal level, and preoccupy me. I find my self concentrating more on the second stage of the process meaning that of disintegration. I am drawn to the beauty of the process of decay aesthetics and tension inherent within.

My concern with the cyclical processes of growth and decay is primarily aesthetic, manifested in forms found in Nature. In my eyes it is an allegory that mirrors the same processes in other territories of life. I believe that, in fact, all forms of life eventually participate in a single all-inclusive cyclical process.

L. Z.: Why do you choose to work on a small-scale? Wouldn’t you like to create object on a large-scale?

A.Ch.: Working with small-scale objects generates closeness and a sense of security. It seems that for some reason, perhaps by chance I chose to apply myself within this minuscule “environment”, like the choice I made to study at the Jewellery Department. Had I taken a different route I may have found myself working on a different scale, experiencing sense of belonging and an ability to express myself none the less.

Nevertheless, I now work primarily within the medium of Jewellery. The human body and its proportions help to define the ‘rules of the game’ within this discipline.

L. Z.: We live at an age when the boundaries of different artistic disciplines are blurred. It is difficult to see your works through the prism of functionality. Looking at your work from this perspective, would you connect your work with the field of sculpture? To what extent is it relevant to characterize your work as Jewellery in the sense of craft?

A.Ch.: I agree with you that the boundaries of art have become blurred. Jewellery is a somewhat problematic concept for if it is translated as Goldsmith, the concept will not be quite applicable regarding my work.

However, if the term Jewellery refers to work with Jewellery taken in the wider sense then yes – I am making Jewellery in spite of the fact that I am pushing the boundaries of the same concept. I express myself through the use of the craft aspect of Jewellery and its technical skills which I have acquired during my studies. The human body or the piece of Jewellery is only a point of departure from which I direct myself. It means to me that this kind of Jewellery can simultaneously also belong to the field of sculpture.

Today Jewellery is like an organic cell that can divide and develop in different directions from Craft to Applied Art, Design, Fashion, Fine Arts, or Sculpture.

April 2014, Jerusalem

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