Head, Heart and Hand. The Importance of the 3 Hs
Cristina Filipe (PIN) in conversation with Marie-José van den Hout (Marzee) at Galerie Marzee
Nijmegen • 12 Junho 2014
Earlier this year, PIN invited Marie-José van den Hout, founder of Galerie Marzee in the Netherlands, to curate 'PIN 10 Years', an exhibition celebrating the organisation's 10th anniversary. Cristina Filipe, President of PIN, interviewed Marie-José about her background, the history of the gallery and asked her for her thoughts about the current state of contemporary jewellery, what it is that for her makes a good jeweller and what advice she would give to emerging jewellery artists.
Cristina Filipe (CF): Who is Marie-José?
Marie-José van den Hout (MJ): Who am I?
I am Marie-José van den Hout and I’m the owner of Galerie Marzee. Marzee is short for Marie-José which was my nickname, the name my brothers and sisters called me, when we were children.
I started the gallery in 1978-79, nearly 36 years ago, but back then it wasn’t just a gallery for contemporary jewellery. Originally I showed both my brother’s jewellery and fine art but gradually jewellery became the gallery’s main focus.
I’m not sure if you know where I started the gallery? It was first located in a shop on one of the main streets in the centre of Nijmegen. Even then, it was bigger than most ‘normal’ jewellery galleries. In 1987 I moved again, to larger premises, and then in 1995 I moved into where we are today, a former granary overlooking the River Waal. We have nearly 1,000 square metres of exhibition space arranged over three floors, plus one at the top where I live. So this is sort of my life. This building is my life.
CF: You have been an artist, is that right?
MJ: I studied at the art academy in Maastricht. My father and grandfather were quite well-known gold- and silversmiths and they worked for the Catholic Church. They made chalices and other pieces of ecclesiastical metalwork. As a small child I used to sit in my grandfather’s workshop and help him, at least I thought I was helping him! In order to get a hallmark here in Holland you have to go to an academy and study and that’s why I went to Maastricht Academy…
CF: To study metalwork and jewellery?
MJ: Yes but in the end I changed to painting and sculpture, which I found much more interesting.
CF: As an artist?
MJ: Yes, but my metalwork and jewellery studies meant that I was able to understand how things were made, which was incredibly helpful, as you can imagine. Having also studied painting I select work for the gallery with several things – painting, fine art and jewellery – in mind.
For instance, if I like this [Annelies Planteijdt] necklace it’s not just because it looks so beautiful around your neck but also because it is a drawing in itself [removes the Annelies Planteijdt necklace that she is wearing and lays it out on the table to show the drawing that it also represents]. So if we do this and this and this [rearranges the necklace] then you have your drawing and that’s what I find so very interesting – it works beautifully as a drawing or as a sculpture in itself and also as a wearable piece [puts the necklace on again]. And these different ways of looking and thinking all come from my education, my background.
CF: In the 1980s I know you visited Lisbon and discovered Galeria Artefacto 3?
MJ: I can’t remember how I found it. It was on a small street, one with all those bars and pubs…
CF: Travessa Água da Flor, in Bairro Alto.
MJ: Yes. I met the three of them sitting in the jewellery workshop inside the gallery space.
CF: I believe you met Pedro Cruz, Tereza Seabra and Alexandra Serpa Pimentel. Later Filomeno and Manuel Júlio joined the group who exhibited here [at Marzee] during that time.
MJ: You know the story better than I do I think!
CF: I know you invited them to come and have an exhibition at your gallery sometime in 1986. Do you remember your impression of their jewellery in the context of what was going on around the world in this field during that time?
MJ: Well, I was curious about what was happening everywhere. It’s not that I had a clear opinion of what was going on in Lisbon, just that I found everything interesting and for me everything was new. What was happening in Lisbon was different from what was happening in Spain, for instance, although to be honest not that different. But it was different from Italy, different from Germany, so I was just looked and embraced everything I saw.
Today there’s a lot happening all over the world – there’s a lot that is different but at the same time everything also seems to be becoming a bit more the same, which I think is such a pity because I like it to see some variation. Lisbon was distinct and that was what I liked. I like to see a Portuguese soul or a Dutch soul, and so on, in jewellery. For instance, I think this Annelies Planteijdt necklace that I wear is completely Dutch, very Mondrian, very minimal and that´s what I’m looking for.
CF: But in the 1980s you found that there was a Portuguese soul in the work by the artists you met?
MJ: Well, I thought it was unlike work I saw elsewhere.
At the time, I mostly visited Germany so I saw a lot of German artists and I knew the Portuguese work was different. I could explain to you now why that was but I couldn’t have done so at the time because back then I didn’t know as much about jewellery as I know now.
At the moment I see a lot of new work at the annual graduate shows, for instance. I see lots and lots of things and I think it’s such a shame that there has been so much global assimilation.
CF: You had this first meeting with the Portuguese jewellery artists during the 80s. Why do you think that in general Portuguese artists have not exhibited in your gallery since then?
MJ: I think maybe there’s just too much ‘hand’ in the work – there are just lots of ‘nice’ things.
CF: Just from that time or all along?
MJ: From that time. ‘Nice’ things, ‘nice’ jewellery. I’m not interested in ‘nice’ jewellery – there has to be something more to it. Of course, I’m not interested in ‘ugly’ jewellery either but I think you know what I mean.
I think if a country, or an artist or a group of artists gets more attention or more exposure then the work gets better because you have to work at it. But if you don’t get the exposure then you just don’t have the same opportunities. And without opportunities why would you work?
CF: There is no motivation?
MJ: There’s absolutely no motivation.
And today a lot of young people have no motivation because they have nowhere to exhibit their work and that’s very difficult for them. I think that’s one of the problems. If I had carried on exhibiting them [the Portuguese] as a group or as individuals something more might have happened.
CF: What is your first criterion when you select work to show at your gallery?
MJ: Marzee is a jewellery gallery and I want to represent people who are making real jewellery. It’s very difficult making jewellery with content that is well-made and…
MJ: Yes, wearable. I don´t mind if it’s big but it must be wearable. Like Dorothea Prühl, for example. Her work is big, it´s art, it’s well done, it’s wearable. It’s sort of universal.
CF: You are probably one of the people most aware of what’s going on in the contemporary jewellery field around the world. When looking at the applications for the PIN 10 Years exhibition what was your general impression?
MJ: My impression, after being in Lisbon recently, is that there’s hardly any jewellery being made but lots of conceptual work which comments on it. Everyone’s doing it. You do it. And I think it is a dangerous trend. Making jewellery is so much harder than making art which comments on jewellery. So why not focus a bit more on making jewellery in Portugal? That would help you get more attention in the jewellery world. This sort of visual commentary is something that is being done everywhere now. And in the end, without jewellery, where are you? Not in the jewellery field anymore. You’re in-between and you belong nowhere. That’s a difficult situation for jewellery artists I think.
CF: That depends. In all fields you have artists who are more conceptual and others who are more hands on. I think you can have both and both can be serious ways of working. Maybe you can have only ‘hand’ work or just ‘head’ work and of course you have to find the balance.
MJ: I agree. And in the group selected, there are some very good people. I didn’t want to select conceptual pieces for your exhibition so the work I chose is more about aesthetics - more aesthetics than ‘head’.
I have nothing against aesthetics because I think that’s a crucial element. I always say that a successful piece must balance the 3 Hs – the Head, the Heart and the Hand. And every piece of jewellery should be made well, with love and with care. For me, that’s so important but it’s not always easy to see it. I still believe in these three elements because if they’re not in balance then the work is not ok - it might be too nice or too sentimental, too much heart, or just a concept and nothing else, just very intellectual.
CF: Your selection shows an eclectic group of work. Can you say a bit about your criteria? What was important to you and where did you find quality?
MJ: That’s difficult. Of course, everyone has their own likes and dislikes. I like organic work, for instance. I like it if I can see life in it, love in it. I also like sculptural work very much but otherwise it’s hard to tell you exactly what it is that I like and what I don’t like.
In the end, though, considering the number of applications, there aren’t so many people in the final show [PIN 10 Years]. To be honest, if I was to make a similar selection in Holland and judge it in the same way I wouldn’t chose that many people either.
Cristina, you know how it is. All the work arrives and you think you’ll never make an exhibition out of it but in the end you do. You make an exhibition, you put everything in the right context and it becomes something really good. I know that you are very good at making exhibitions in Portugal. I have seen very some beautiful shows there so I know you can make the work look good even if some pieces are a bit weak. You can put things together and create a beautiful, strong exhibition.
CF: Looking at pictures is not the same as looking at pieces. In your experience what changes the most?
MJ: Using images is completely the wrong way to make a selection.
CF: Do you think it made your selection different?
MJ: Yes, absolutely. You need to touch, to smell, to see the work. Without using all your senses it’s impossible. I really didn’t like the process. I have to do it that way for the Marzee graduate show as well and it’s always so hard.
CF: We thought it would be the easiest way. In total we had around 60 applications and that meant around 500 pieces of jewellery so it would have been hard to have all those people and all that work there for one long day.
MJ: I understand but I really don’t like making choices this way.
CF: You thought you were going to see the pieces?
MJ: No, I knew that I would only be selecting from images.
CF: It would have been a huge effort to set everything up and to bring all the pieces together and we didn’t have the logistics to organise it. I too really believe selecting from the pieces themselves is the right thing to do but we thought we’d have to do it this way or we wouldn’t do it at all.
MJ: What often happens when I use images to select is that when the pieces arrive I am really disappointed with them. Sometimes artists make fantastic images and in reality it [the work] just isn’t very good. Conversely, some people have very good work, with beautiful details, which you don’t see in the images. So I think it’s always so much better to actually see the jewellery itself.
CF: So, in your vision and experience, it is not the best way to select?
MJ: No. For me it’s always such a joy to see the work and meet the artists but in reality it hardly ever happens that way.
CF: Why did you come up with the idea of making portraits of different people wearing some of the jewellery in the exhibition?
MJ: To make it more alive. I like to see people wearing jewellery and I think that it’s important to see it on the body.
CF: We talked to Fernando Brízio, our guest exhibition designer, about your proposal to have 15 portraits of people wearing jewellery from the exhibition and he suggested we ask 15 photographers to each make a portrait of a different person. It will be much more alive than just a gallery of pictures from the same photographer, each with the same background.
So this idea of asking each photographer to take just one photograph made the project possible and has really enriched the concept.
MJ: It’s a very good idea and it also gets more people involved and aware of this sort of jewellery.
CF: Yes. It was very interesting to see how everyone involved reacted to the project and we are very curious to see the pictures when they’re done. It’ll be a surprise!
We now have 15 groups of 3 people each working on a picture - one photographer, one person being photographed and one jewellery artist.
CF: I am very happy with this portrait project that you suggested. It’s created a dialogue between 3 different people. We gave the jewellery context by asking the people invited to participate in the project to select the jewellery they wore. Then we asked the photographers to talk and exchange ideas with them [the participants – a selection of people who have supported PIN over the last decade] and, through this dialogue, they decided the context of each picture.
MJ: Very good!
CF: So my last question is what would be your recommendation to an artist who makes jewellery today?
MJ: Just work hard. I think a good jeweller should make a wearable piece, well-made and with good ideas behind it.
CF: What is a good idea?
MJ: Well, for instance, if you are a nature lover you will be tempted to use this for your inspiration. I like to use this example involving Dorothea Prühl. Galerie Marzee has workshops at atelier Ravary in Belgium and once, when Dorothea arrived at Ravary, she immediately disappeared. There’s a pond in the grounds with geese and swans and that’s where she’d gone to – she was studying the birds and the way they moved. She sat there by the pond with some wire, bending and forming it and in the end she made a necklace called Swans. Its forms are the abstractions of their movements and that’s what I like - how you can transform nature into something universal which everyone recognises and which is still a beautiful piece to wear without being overtly just swans.
CF: The reference is present but it is not absolutely obvious.
CF: The ability to translate.
MJ: Yes, the ability to translate your thoughts and the things you like into a material that you choose. It can be any material. Why do I prefer drinking water from a glass? Because it is clear and I can see the water. I don’t want my water in a coloured glass, that’s not something I’d want to drink from. You should choose your material according to what you want to express and then you should work that material as best you can. Just because you can solder steel doesn’t mean you know how to use it to make a good piece of jewellery. First you have to find out how to work with the material and the more you work with it, the more knowledge you have and the greater your technique. So then with this knowledge and skill, your mind is more free to think about what you could create. You can afford to be more lavish, more expressive in your thoughts and ideas. I think these things really are key – knowledge and discipline and technique.
As a material I like gold very much. And I also like wood. I never liked plastic much but even so I have seen beautiful pieces made with it. I always hated aluminium but once when I visited the academy in Halle I saw a fantastic piece of jewellery in aluminium. It was very big and I loved it so I bought it. I never thought I would buy a piece in aluminium because there’s something about it, something about its feel, that I don’t like. After that I also bought a piece of jewellery by Dorothea [Prühl] in the same material. Some people, like Dorothea, can work in aluminium as if it were gold, as if it were very valuable and that’s what you should do - treat your materials with love and care. That’s what jewellery’s about, finding something and looking at it and thinking, my God, I could make this and this – there are so many possibilities. You need to use your senses and continue to develop them and sadly I think a lot of artists don’t do this any more. Without these senses you lose so much of what should lie at the heart of a piece of jewellery.
Proof reading Lizzie Atkins
Photographs by Cristina Filipe and Beatriz Filipe Conefrey
"À Conversa com Marie-José van den Hout" aqui.