Projects

Projects are campaigns that invite artists and the public to think about materials and sourcing in unusual ways...

Ethical Metalsmiths uses both conventional and alternative strategies to carry out its mission. The "Projects" section of this site showcases our various projects since the organization was founded in 2004.

This text has been adapted from, "Ethical Metalsmiths: Jewellers for Social and Environmental Responsibility" a paper and lecture by Susan Kingsley, co-founder and senior adviser of Ethical Metalsmiths for a conference at Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth, England in 2009. Click Here to download the complete text (pdf).

As artist Nato Thompson, has described, 'Tactics can be thought of as a set of tools. Like a hammer ... they are means for building and deconstructing a given situation.' (Thompson 2004) Our learning about mining was the result of years of research, reading, trolling the Internet and talking with experts.

To authenticate our own 'expertise,' we needed more tools. We decided, as 'public amateurs,' to spend a week in the field, in northeastern Nevada. Nevada has produced 200 million ounces of gold and approximately 9% of the world supply in recent years. If Nevada were a country, it would be the world's third largest producer of gold.

Our project, titled 'Road Trip: going where metalsmiths have never gone before' took place in May 2007. It was an epic metalsmith quest for first hand knowledge and 'grounded' experience. We imagined ourselves living classic American 'road trip' movie. Each day was an adventure, and we returned home 'wiser for our experiences.'

Another tactic, in keeping with our goals of bringing attention to sourcing and fostering collaboration and collectivity among jewellers and metalsmiths has been to organize exhibitions. We chose to do 'virtual exhibitions,' because digital images could be submitted easily and could reach a wide audience on our website galleries.

For the first exhibition, artists were offered a Golden Opportunity to contribute to an exhibition about gold. They were asked to explore the paradox of gold, using any material to reflect on any aspect of gold and to send us a digital image. More than eighty artists from nineteen countries responded with work in various media, from metal to digital, from precious to dirt, from performance to paint, from chocolate to wood. We organized a 'digital premiere screening' and reception at the Society of North American Goldsmiths conference in 2006.

Our second virtual exhibition was titled Composting Good and Evil: Redesign for Sanctimonious Sinners. We know we must reconsider how we use the world's resources, and we may want to make changes in the way we live, but our good intentions are often undermined by simple inertia, bad habits or a hectic life. We asked artists to imagine what would happen if we 'composted our shameless sins, our saintly intentions and our fertile imaginations and pledged to use the resulting fecund glory to redesign and nurture the world?' The resulting exhibition is a subtly subversive and engaging visual essay about choosing change. This exhibition premiered at the 2008 Society of North American Goldsmiths conference, with the images displayed on an outdoor, billboard- sized led screen.

Another project developed by Ethical Metalsmiths deconstructs the supply chain and creates an alternative system in the form of a reality-show inspired 'public performance' of creative jewellery making. Radical Jewellery Makeover brings together volunteer miners, people who dig out and donate their old jewellery, with volunteer jewellers and students, working together as refiners and designers. The project concludes with a public event, an exhibition and sale of innovative, 99% recycled designer jewellery. People who have donated jewellery receive discounts on purchases and profits benefit Ethical Metalsmiths continuing efforts to promote responsible mining.

Why is this Radical jewellery?

  • Asking people to donate jewellery, including its sentimental value, is radical.
  • Collaborating with students, educators, metal workers and the public on a project is radical.
  • Transforming all kinds of jewellery into artifacts in through an alternative process is radical. 
  • Producing multiple pieces of jewellery in intensive workshops is radical. 
  • Directing the creative energy of jewellers and metalsmiths to a group project is radical. 
  • Intervening in the flow of regular school curriculums is radical.
  • Disrupting the usual flow of commerce is radical.

Thus far, Radical Jewellery Makeovers have taken place in four (since publicationof this paper there has been a 5th Makeover in Brisbane, Australia) places in the United States and there have been many requests for more. Along with being a lot of fun, the project encourages people to consider where raw materials come from, how jewellery is produced and that mining for precious materials has social and environmental impacts. As intended, the project draws public attention to the creativity and skills of jewellery makers and the mediocrity of much manufactured jewellery.

As Claire Pentecost has written, (Pentecost 2009) 'The more we learn about our world the more we realize that our system of production and consumption is practically and socially untenable. Changing this system is a vast creative project being addressed now by countless artists who have decided that the world we want is something we are going to have to make. No one invested in the status quo is going to do it. To actually live an authentic life richly experienced requires that we create social arenas to remake our own subjectivities.'

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Please feel free to contact Ethical Metalsmiths with with questions and opportunties.